New Minneapolis school district headquarters shine bright

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2012 - 8:58 PM

Minneapolis district headquarters encourage collaboration.

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The new Minneapolis school district headquarters at 1250 W. Broadway and N. Fremont Avenue.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Its new neighbors hope the new Minneapolis school headquarters on West Broadway will be good for business. But school leaders' most prominent hope is that the twinned buildings will transform how school employees work.

The $41.7 million complex, which is nearing completion, marks the first time the Minneapolis district has built a headquarters, decades after St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin, the other two big metro districts, built theirs.

The first employees are scheduled to move in six weeks into space at 1250 W. Broadway that projects a utilitarian image, in contrast with such government palaces as City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center.

But judging by a preview tour Friday, it's light-years ahead of the rambling warren of offices in a former factory the district has occupied since the 1930s, a little more than 2 miles east on Broadway. The current space "kind of sucks the life out of you," architect Tod S. Elkins said. The district sought a flexible, modern headquarters, but also one that wasn't too fancy for the tough economic times, he said.

The district reserved the frills for technology, not furnishings. There's no marble or granite, unlike the monuments to city and county government downtown. Floors are mostly finished in carpet squares of varying hues, with slate-like vinyl in some high-traffic areas.

The complex's technology reinforces the district's push to go as paperless as possible. Computers will have fewer printers. Desks will have fewer filing drawers. The district digitized and shredded more than 90,000 pounds of paper that it won't have to haul to the new quarters.

It's an open design intended to encourage collaboration. Meeting space was at a premium in the old headquarters, and trucks on Broadway or window air-conditioners sometimes drowned out discussion. The new space has dozens of conference spaces, many of them concentrated in a glass-walled link that connects a four-story building on Broadway with a five-story twin set behind it. But cubbyholes for two-person sessions also dot the complex.

The district and its contractors are aiming for gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council after setting out to get the silver level. Besides handling all of its stormwater on the site, the design maximizes natural lighting, uses movement-triggered lights that also adjust themselves for outside light, and flushes urinals with just a quart of water. Carbon dioxide monitors will adjust ventilation according to the number of people occupying space.

The district will even ban most small portable appliances, such as heaters and refrigerators, from individual cubicles, something it never could have done at the drafty 1914 onetime light-bulb factory it now occupies.

The complex will house some 600 workers, coming from four scattered buildings. The district projects it will spend $2 million less annually on administrative space by halving the amount of space those workers use. But with an expected 1,000 people a day using the space, counting adult basic education, employee training and school registration, demand for parking could exceed the supply, according to Mitch Trockman, a district's project team member. The district is reserving spots for carpools, encouraging employees to bus, and providing showers and lockers for bikers.

Many district residents visit its headquarters mainly to attend board meetings, and they'll get a boardroom that's plush only in comparison to the homely room now used. It's one-third bigger, with wiring to handle board meetings on the dais and less-formal discussion meetings. Projection screens and speakers will make the discussion more accessible. The building's cafeteria will serve as overflow space with more screens.

Both St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin built their headquarters in the 1970s. Minneapolis bought its current headquarters in the 1930s. It put its facilities workers there first, but the workforce at that complex swelled in the 1950s when the district, long a stepchild of Minneapolis city government, was granted its independence by the Legislature and moved out of City Hall. Ironically, just as Minneapolis occupies its new headquarters, Anoka-Hennepin is preparing to move its headquarters into a converted factory once occupied by other district programs.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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