The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday voted 5-0 to deny historic designation to the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Como Park.
“While I find the building very handsome” on frequent walks past the school near her home, Council President Amy Brendmoen said, “I remain very uncomfortable over historic designation.”
Especially in cases such as this one, in which the property owner, Twin Cities German Immersion School, opposes such designation, Brendmoen said. She said that would essentially amount to a taking of private property.
The popular public charter school is planning to raze the former church and replace it with a multistory addition.
Tom Goldstein, a spokesman for a group of neighbors and historic preservationists trying to save the building, said the council made an improper decision.
“This isn’t about a taking, but whether the building is historic,” he said.
The council later approved the school’s site plan, including the addition, and zoning variances regarding building height.
The fight is far from over. On Monday, the group Save Historic St. Andrew’s filed a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act to prevent demolition. Goldstein said the suit was in anticipation of the council voting against historic designation.
“In terms of protecting this building, we don’t have any other options,” he said minutes after Wednesday’s vote.
Twin Cities German Immersion School, which bought the decommissioned church near Como Lake in 2013, has used the building as a gymnasium, performance space and cafeteria. School officials say they need to replace it with a modern classroom building to better serve their growing student body.
Kelly Laudon, secretary of the school’s board of directors, said original plans called for beginning work on the project June 13, the day after the last day of classes at the K-8 school. “We have been much delayed in that process,” she said.
She said she hopes the City Council’s research and vote will convince the judge to dismiss the preservationists’ lawsuit.
The 1927 building was designed by Charles Hausler, St. Paul’s first city architect. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis closed St. Andrew’s in 2011. Late last year, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission recommended it be given historic designation, while the city’s Planning Commission voted to allow the school to proceed with demolition.
For months, both sides have sought to sway public opinion and the council. Brendmoen, who recently attempted “a Hail Mary pass” and delayed a vote to give opposing sides a chance to find common ground, lamented that they are so dug in.
Opponents to demolition had hoped the council would be convinced to protect St. Andrew’s because of its history. School officials argued that saving the old church would hamper their ability to adequately serve their students.