Some Minneapolis schools easier to close than peddle

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2012 - 10:52 PM

Concern over disposing of closed schools prompts city and district officials to discuss ways to work more closely on property issues.

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Northrop School in 1948.

Hear the one about the Minnesotans who pulled up to a four-way stop and spent years waiting for each other to proceed?

That's one way to describe a standoff that has left the former Northrop school building shuttered and empty seven years after the last students moved on. This one involves Minneapolis Public Schools, the city, a would-be housing developer and seniors who wanted to live in new housing to be built on the Northrop site. "I really would like to see something happen," said Stearline Rucker, president of the Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group, which takes its name from area schools. "What would be the upside of leaving the building the way it is?"

The district has sold or leased a number of schools forced to close by dwindling enrollment. But some, like Northrop, remain tough to shed. That's one reason several City Council and school board members met recently in hopes of solving the problem of mothballed schools.

"All of the electeds want things to get figured out, all of us want things to move quicker," school board member Carla Bates said.

Northrop, 1611 E. 46th St., is one of 10 district-owned schools that closed in 2005. If all had gone to plan, the school would have been razed and 106 cooperative housing units for people over age 55 would have been built.

But the poor economy intervened, and some potential purchasers worried they couldn't sell their current homes. Developer United Properties either wants the school district to lower its price for the property or the city to help pay for demolition and other costs. But because the project is market-rate ownership housing, it doesn't meet guidelines for tax-increment financing, which would allow the use of taxes generated to pay some costs.

A deal remains elusive. The city wants a development that will create tax base and make neighbors happy but isn't changing its subsidy policy. The district wants to get rid of a vacant property, saving money on mowing and plowing, but doesn't want to drop its price. People who put down $2,500 to choose a unit have their money back and little apparent prospects of living there.

"We were disappointed," said Ronald Peterson, 73, who once attended the school and had reserved a spot in the new housing.

The school closings in 2005 were the biggest wave in 23 years. The city rents the former Hamilton school for police training. Holland school was sold to a church for a community center and charter school. Banneker and Powderhorn are used for other district programs. Phillips was sold to a parochial school. Franklin is rented to a charter school.

The debate over Howe school's reuse went on so long the district decided to renovate and reopen it as a school next year, to handle burgeoning enrollment in the Longfellow neighborhood. That's why the district is hanging on to Willard on the North Side and Cooper on the South Side, according to Mark Bollinger, the district's chief administrative officer.

Bollinger said the district is working on a partnership with the city's development agency that would include agreements for that agency to market and handle proposals for the Northrop site and the soon-to-be-vacated district headquarters at 807 NE. Broadway St.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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