A group of neighbors and historic preservationists on Monday filed a lawsuit against Twin Cities German Immersion School to prevent school officials from tearing down the former St. Andrew's Catholic Church.
Save Historic St. Andrew's filed the lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) seeking to prevent the demolition of the Como Park church, which was decommissioned in 2011 and sold to the school in 2013.
School officials say they need to raze the 92-year-old former church, which has been repurposed as a gymnasium, cafeteria and performance space, and replace it with a $5.1 million addition they say will better meet the needs of their 580 students. Those fighting demolition say the church is one of the city's best Period Revival structures and is a critical part of neighborhood history. It was designed by Charles Hausler, St. Paul's first municipal architect.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction to save the building. MERA seeks to protect cultural and historic resources from destruction and requires owners and developers to demonstrate there are no feasible alternatives to demolition.
The preservationist group filed its lawsuit less than two days before the St. Paul City Council is scheduled to determine whether St. Andrew's is deserving of historic preservation. The council had earlier laid over action on the church designation to give the school and the neighbors another chance to find common ground in what has become a divisive issue in the neighborhood.
"We absolutely believe there are alternatives other than demolition here, and we need more time to explore them," said Teri Alberico, president of the group and next-door neighbor to the school.
Tom Goldstein, a spokesman for Save Historic St. Andrew's, said Monday that the group is not confident the City Council is going to agree with the city's Heritage Preservation Commission and preserve the former church.
"Our options have been exhausted with the city and it doesn't appear they are likely to grant historic preservation," Goldstein said.
In a statement Monday, Sam Walling, chairman of the public charter school's board, said the school "should be free to make the decisions that best fulfill its mission and maximize the educational outcomes of its students."