Mpls. district wants to raze Shingle Creek Elementary

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2012 - 7:46 PM

Minneapolis neighborhood leaders and a city planner hope to stave off demolition of the old Shingle Creek Elementary.

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A city planner says Shingle Creek Elementary’s unusual design, with clusters of classrooms connected by enclosed walkways, makes it worth saving.

Photo: Chris Zuppa, Star Tribune

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The fate of the mothballed Shingle Creek elementary school in the far northwest corner of Minneapolis will be up for debate Tuesday as the city Heritage Preservation Commission decides whether to grant a request to raze it.

Minneapolis Public Schools has applied to demolish the 54-year-old, one-story brick building and possibly add the vacant land to adjacent Creekview Park. The demolition would be the first involving one of the 14 schools that the district closed over the last 10 years as enrollment shrank.

But the Shingle Creek Neighborhood Association opposes demolition, saying the school at 5034 Oliver Av. N. is a neighborhood asset. A city planner has recommended that the demolition application be denied long enough to study whether the building is worthy of designation as historic either using local or national criteria.

The case for doing so is based largely on the building's design, which features clusters of classrooms connected by enclosed walkways. It's the city's sole example of this design concept from the 1950s, an era that some architectural historians consider under-appreciated. It's also the first example of a school whose location was chosen in collaboration with city and park officials to benefit from the nearby park, according to the report by planner Aaron Hanauer to the commission.

"We've always advocated that we felt the building was a community asset in a neighborhood that has very few," said Brock Hanson, board chair of the neighborhood association. Earlier area studies identified the school as potentially eligible for historic designation.

But the district said that after closing the building in 2007, it marketed it but found no buyer. "We've had it slated for demolition for years," said Mark Bollinger, the district's chief administrative officer. The district removed asbestos and ductwork in 2010, and the building hasn't been heated. There are large holes in walls and ceilings from that work, Bollinger said. The district estimates that it would cost $2.8 million to make the building usable.

School and park official have had past discussions of a land swap under which the demolished school property would be added to the park, and the district would get additional green space for Olson Middle School, elsewhere in the neighborhood. But nothing has materialized, and the park board doesn't want the property if the building remains, Bollinger said.

City Council President Barb Johnson, whose ward includes the old school, said people have an emotional attachment to schools they attended, but she thinks the Creekview Park building and a gym it shares with Olson Middle School provide sufficient space for youth activities.

One historical footnote that could also influence whether the building is designated for preservation has to do with its role in the city's school desegregation controversy. According to Hanauer's report, quoting the old Minneapolis Tribune, Shingle Creek in the late 1960s was on the receiving end of the largest transfer of students bused from a segregated school. The city shifted 27 black and Indian students from Willard Elementary.

According to district records, the most recent school building to be razed was the old Burroughs school, which was demolished about 10 years ago to make way for the current building. The most recent wave of demolitions without a replacement school came in 1982, when Lake Harriet, Standish, Motley, Page and Agassiz schools were razed.

The Heritage Preservation Commission meets at 4:30 p.m. in room 317. Its decisions may be appealed to the City Council.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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