Preserve Shingle Creek Elementary, or tear it down?by Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — A proposal to demolish an unused school building in north Minneapolis is pitting the city's Heritage Preservation Commission against its public school district.
The comission voted Tuesday evening to block the demolition of Shingle Creek Elementary and order a year-long study of its historical significance. But officials at Minneapolis Public Schools plan to appeal the ruling.
The dispute will likely be settled by the Minneapolis City Council.
When filmmakers and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen went looking for a 1960s-era classroom to shoot the Hebrew school scene for their 2009 movie "A Serious Man," they chose Shingle Creek Elementary.
Built in 1958, the school is immediately recognizable as mid-century American architecture. One story, low ceilings — viewed from above it resembles a cluster of plus signs connected by slender corridors.
Today those hallways are littered with debris, pieces of sheet metal, plumbing fixtures, broken glass. Part of the mess was made when workers tore out all the asbestos as the district readied the building for demolition.
But since 2007, when the district closed Shingle Creek Elementary, the building has also had many unwanted visitors, said Facilities Director Clyde Kane.
"Matter of fact, this past weekend we had vandals in here," Kane said.
Break-ins and trespassers are a regular occurrence, he said.
"It varies but I would say over the course of time we average once every ten days," Kane said.
He estimates the district spends between $35,000 and $50,000 annually to clean up after vandals at the site. At this point, he said it will be easier to sell the property without the building there.
"We did not anticipate that there would be a process as long as has been with the city," Kane said.
A permit is necessary to demolish a building in Minneapolis, and part of the permitting process involves ensuring the city's historic architecture is protected. It's quite rare for the Heritage Preservation Commission to intervene in a demolition, but it did in this case Tuesday night.
Commissioner Robert Mack says Shingle Creek Elementary might be worth saving.
"I think that this building represents a relatively brief period in educational philosophy, and it's the only one I know of in the entire region that maintains this kind of a design," Mack said.
The commission wants a study to determine whether the school's architecture and history qualify it as an official city landmark. That could delay demolition by up to a year-and-a-half. The district plans to file an appeal with the city council.
Neighborhood residents appear divided over the issue. Carol McCrillis lives right across the street from the school and she's sick of staring at the building, which has stood vacant for the last six years. She said it's time to tear it down.
"How much tax money is going into this white elephant," McCrillis asked.
Jeff Johnson testified on behalf of saving the building. He attended kindergarten at Shingle Creek Elementary in the 1960s. He'd like to see it turned into space for artists, a community center or ideally, another school.
"If they tear down this school, it will never be re-built again. There will never be another school in the Shingle Creek neighborhood." Johnson said. "I am confident of that."
Johnson is unsure about the building's architectural merit, but he says the discussion shouldn't be just about history, but also about the future.
- Morning Edition, 07/25/2012, 7:25 a.m.