The invitation came before the demolition.
Dear Neighbors, Twin Cities German Immersion School officials greeted the people they’ve been battling in court, in print, at public meetings and on social media.
We deeply regret the rift our project has caused in the neighborhood and apologize for the missteps on our part that contributed to it.
We truly didn’t anticipate the turmoil of the past year.
Please know that we wish the best for our shared community and hope for a brighter future as neighbors. We are committed to the Como neighborhood and want to mend relationships.
As a first step on the road to reconciliation, the school is hosting a neighborhood open house in the afternoon for one last look inside lovely old St. Andrew’s Church, before they knock it down.
For almost a century, St. Andrew’s was the core of this corner of Como Park, where its bell tower soars above rooftops and the streets bend toward its doors.
Shuttered, desanctified and sold to a charter school, it’s no longer holy ground. But to many, it still feels like the neighborhood’s heart and soul.
“One of the most damaging phrases I heard coming from the German School was ‘It’s only a building,’ ” said the Rev. John Forliti, a retired Catholic priest who lives in his childhood home across the street from the church.
“It’s not just a building.”
Forliti’s immigrant father watched St. Andrew’s rise, brick by brick, in 1927. Generations of his family and friends prayed, wed, baptized their babies and mourned their dead under that roof. When Forliti became a priest, his first mass was at St. Andrew’s, his spiritual home.
Forliti said a mass of farewell for St. Andrew’s, “the shoulders upon which we stand,” after the archdiocese merged the parish with the Maternity of Mary congregation in 2011. When they deconsecrated the church, the workers who removed the cross from its roof moved it to Forliti’s front yard.
Last week, he saw a pre-demolition work crew dismantling lamp posts in front of the church. His family had placed the lamps there in memory of his late mother. The workers moved the lamps into his yard.
Forliti won’t be going to the open house.
Reconciliation can’t be rushed, he said. Both sides have to be ready.
Some in this neighborhood may never be ready.
“The contents of this building, you can’t buy with money. It has too much soul in it,” Forliti said. “The meaning that it has for people, you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Six years ago, the old church found a buyer — one the neighborhood thought would breathe new life into their landmark.
A public charter school, the Twin Cities German Immersion School, moved into the old Catholic school next door. They gave the church a new name: the Aula — the auditorium — and spent time and money to repurpose it into a bright, airy gymnasium and performance space. St. Andrew’s rang with the sound of children’s laughter.
But the school grew and grew and last year, its leadership announced that the old church had to go.
They would raze the Aula and build something more suited to their needs — much-needed classrooms, conference rooms, a real gymnasium.
Gallons of ink have been spilled over the battle to save or destroy the old church. Petitions, public meetings, court battles, City Council fights. In the end, the verdict came: The school bought it. The school can break it.
But first, the school is offering its fuming neighbors an olive branch.
“We are definitely hoping this could be a way to get some closure,” school board chair Julie Alkatout said of the open house. “We’d just like to provide a chance for the school community and neighbors to come together, face to face, and reconnect.”
The school is debating how much it can salvage before demolition. A parent with stoneworking experience offered to chisel the busts of the saints off the facade. There’s talk of taking detailed computer renderings of the interior and exteriors for digital preservation.
“It’s a bittersweet thing,” Alkatout said. “Neighbors are in one of the multiple stages of grief. At some point, it’s healthy to be able to move on.”
Some neighbors, former parishioners and students may appreciate the farewell. Some look forward to the change. Others reacted the way you might if someone grabbed something old and irreplaceable that you really liked — then asked if you wanted to say goodbye before they smashed it on the ground.
“If you ‘wish the best for our shared community,’ then stay the execution, stop the demolition, and take advantage of the offer by top-notch architects to craft a solution with you to repurpose the church for use by the school,” read a post on the Save Historic St. Andrew’s Facebook page. “Otherwise, your ‘sincere condolences’ are completely disingenuous, like everything else the school has done jamming this project down the throats of the neighborhood with no say-so in the outcome.”
St. Andrew’s is set for demolition the week of Aug. 5.
The open house is planned from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
As of Saturday, some neighbors were making plans to protest outside.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks