The closing of the Lehmann Center in 2010 will mark the end of a historic landmark for adult basic education in Minneapolis. For more than 30 years, the Florence M. Lehmann Multi-Educational Center, located on Lake Street in Minneapolis, has been a central location for adult basic education, citizenship classes, English Language learning, community education, and alternative education.
The Center is set to close by next fall as part of Minneapolis Public Schools’ (MPS) plan to consolidate resources. Current MPS programs housed there, such as community education, adult basic education, Success Academy, the Minneapolis Kids program, and Family Learning Day care, as well as administrative offices, will be relocated to other buildings. MPS Director of Community Education Jack Tamble said that MPS doesn’t plan on cutting any of the programs, just moving them, but plans are still up in the air about where the programs will go. Phoenix High School, an alternative high school run by Volunteers of America, which leases space from MPS, will have to find a new location.
Serving the needs of a community
The main activity in Lehmann Center is MPS’s adult literacy and adult basic education programs. The school holds morning, afternoon and evening classes in literacy, English Language Learner (ELL) and GED prep courses. Tamble said these community education classes serve about 800 people daily, 300 of whom attend classes in the evening. Two-thirds of the community education students are learning English while the other one-third are focusing on getting their GED.
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My first visit to Lehmann was before I was born. My mom taught there while she was pregnant with me in 1978. She said at the time, there wasn’t an ELL program, only Adult Basic Education classes for students working to get their GED. She said often there would only be four or five students in a classroom, which she didn’t complain about, since she taught right through her whole pregnancy.
Joy Chavarria, a Minneapolis resident, said her step-son attended ELL classes at the Lehmann Center for nearly two years after moving here from Nicaragua. “It’s a really good program,” she said. “They don’t just teach the language, but how to assimilate.” Her step-son brought home a booklet with information about how to ride a bus, how to ask for assistance, and how to talk to people politely. She said she hopes that they continue the program somewhere else, but that the location on Lake Street was very convenient.
For parents who take classes, MPS offers a child care service. The Family Learning Child Care program oversees between 40 and 60 kids a day, Tamble said.
Throughout the years, the Lehmann Center has been home to numerous alternative high schools. In the 1980s, high school students who weren’t successful in regular high school programs could take occupational courses such as nursing, printing, welding, auto mechanics, or dry cleaning at the school. Then there was a state shake-up of vocation-based high school programs. State Senator Roger Moe led an effort to cut down on administrative costs throughout the state, and the vocational programs offered at the Lehmann Center got moved to the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC).
More recently, alternative high schools at the Lehmann Center included Wellstone International High School which served ELL high school students and is now located at Roosevelt High School, and Katahdin, a contract alternative high school that served juvenile offenders and chronic truants that closed when evaluations of the program found that graduation rates were stuck at 20 percent. MPS’s current alternative high school located at Lehmann, Success Academy, is in its second year, and will be moved to a new location next year.
Phoenix High School, a state-approved alternative program run by Volunteers of America, serves ELL students as well as English speakers who weren’t succeeding in traditional schools. It allows flexible scheduling and small classroom sizes, according to the school’s web site. Tamble said he believed that Phoenix would not close down, but would likely find a new location to continue its programming. Sonal Redd, principal at Phoenix High School, said the school will continue, but now decisions have been made about a new location.
Sarah Grant, a teacher at the Phoenix school, said that the Lehmann Center building is “far superior” to other facilities in which she’s taught, but it has disadvantages too. “It wasn’t designed as a school,” she said, “so some of the classrooms aren’t ideal,” because originally the building was meant for manufacturing. Also, the school doesn’t have a gym, so she hopes that wherever Phoenix moves next, it will have one.
A building with history
The Lehmann Center building goes back to early 1920s, Tamble said. It began as a sewing needle manufacturing plant, and then was owned by a man who had a successful greeting card business until he lost the business in the stock market crash of 1929. It had several other owners before it became an army recruitment facility.
About 35 years ago, the federal government gave the army recruitment center at 1006 Lake St. to MPS, with the agreement that MPS would pay them a dollar per year for thirty years, according to Jack Tamble. “About five years ago, they sent us the deed,” he said “but I’m not sure if we actually ever paid them a dollar per year.”
In the 80s and 90s, Tamble said, “the building was bleeding through concrete.” It had rust everywhere and the windows were all in poor condition. “We had a lot of high school students that would deface the building,” he said. Graffiti was a daily problem. Tamble said that once the city fixed it up, there was a lot less vandalism. “If you make it nice for people they’ll respect it,” he said.
MPS is currently reviewing eight different proposals for consolidation. Currently there are four facilities for MPS administrative offices, at 807 Broadway, 1250 W. Broadway, the Lehmann Center, and at Webster Communications.
According to a power point presentation used at the school board meeting last week, criteria used to evaluate the proposals include cost, parking and transportation issues, crime statistics, LEED requirements, and the ability of each new location to serve the administrative needs as well as space for programming. Possible new locations include 1001 Glenwood Ave N, 111 Washington Ave S, 1250 Broadway and 2225 E. Lake St (two locations), 807 NE Broadway, 1010 Metrodome Square, 11th Ave and 3rd St. S (Valspar), 412 N 5th St. (Ford Center), and Penn and Plymouth Ave.
The 807 N Broadway and Valspar proposals wouldn’t carry space for Adult Basic Education (ABE) programming, and the 111 Washington Ave S. proposal included ABE only as an option.
Director Stan Alleyne said that in all of the proposals, the Lehmann Center will close. By February the board will decide on a plan, and can begin moving programs, offices and if, necessary, renovating facilities.
One possible plan for the building would be to sell it. It’s in good condition, as it was renovated about ten years ago, and is currently valued at $12,312,000, according to the Minneapolis City Property website. That’s down from last year, due to falling property values.