The fight to save the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church — an anchor in the Como Park neighborhood for nearly a century — is over, and plans to demolish it can begin.
Neighbors and preservationists fighting to save the brick church admitted defeat Tuesday after losing an appeal that required them to provide a $1.9 million bond to the Twin Cities German Immersion School. The bond was part of a temporary restraining order that the group won to stop the school from demolishing the building while a lawsuit over its demise continued.
The school, which has owned the building since 2013, wants to raze it to make way for a $5.1 million addition that officials say will better meet the needs of their 580 students.
Those fighting the demolition knew they wouldn’t be able to raise the $1.9 million bond and asked that it be substantially reduced or waived. By Tuesday, the group had raised about $10,000, said Tom Goldstein, a spokesman for the group of neighbors and preservationists who banded together to save the church.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals decision on Tuesday left many of them distraught about losing a neighborhood mainstay — its architecture as well its history rooted in the immigrants who passed through its doors.
“I’m devastated and shocked,” said Bonnie Youngquist, who has lived across the alley from the church for more than 25 years and has helped lead the charge to save it. “It changes the character of our neighborhood.”
School officials, however, welcomed the decision, which will allow them to move ahead with a three-story addition, to include six classrooms, smaller meeting spaces for individualized learning, a gym and a cafeteria, said Julie Alkatout, who chairs the school’s board of directors.
School officials are waiting to receive a demolition permit from the city and hope to begin razing the 92-year-old former church next week, Alkatout said. The addition is expected to be completed by the 2020-2021 school year.
“We are happy this long financially and emotionally draining process has come to an end,” she said. “We can now begin the healing process with all community members in the Warrendale neighborhood.”
The fight over the former church with its narrow steeple has divided the neighborhood, said City Council President Amy Brendmoen, who also lives nearby. “There’s no one who wants the building torn down. Reuse is the best — that’s everyone’s ideal.”
But it wasn’t practical for the school, she explained.
For several years, the charter school repurposed the church building as a gymnasium, cafeteria and performance space. But looking to the future, school officials concluded it was better to replace it and eventually be able to accommodate about 620 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Last month, the City Council denied a historic designation for the church building, siding with school officials who opposed it.
“It felt like a taking to designate it as historic and tell them … you can’t tear it down but we also don’t have any resources to help you keep it up,” Brendmoen said, explaining her vote to deny the designation.
With the legal challenge over, she hopes the community can move forward. “l think it’s important as a community that we engage and be open to what’s possible as they move forward with this project.”
But that may be difficult for those who can’t imagine the church gone, with its intricate stone carvings above the arches. “There’s nothing structurally wrong with it,” said Youngquist. “We’re losing a historic resource so needlessly. It’s incomprehensible.”
She believes a compromise to reuse the building could have been reached.
“The bitter pill is that it was a divisive plan and there was no room for compromise — only demolition,” Youngquist said. “It was winner take all.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788