Minneapolis school board weighs options for new headquarters


EDITOR’S NOTE: Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) are exploring plans for a new headquarters. The final decision, scheduled for the April 13 school board meeting, has been postponed to allow time for more interaction with the community.

Currently, MPS operates administrative offices in four locations throughout the city, including 807 NE Broadway (a 100-year-old converted factory), 1250 W. Broadway, Webster and the Lehmann Center. Having one facility will save approximately $10 million over the next 30 years, claims MPS Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss.

“It is vital to our economic health to consolidate,” Liss told community residents during an April 8 informational meeting at St. Maron Catholic Church in Northeast Minneapolis.

WHEN & WHERE:            
April 20, from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Sullivan Community School
3100 E. 28th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406
April 22, from 6:30 -8:00 p.m. (corrected time)
Jefferson Community School
1200 W. 26th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55405


Childcare and Hmong, Spanish and Somali interpretive services will be available at the meetings. To RSVP for childcare, please call (612) 668-0230.

The three proposals being considered by the MPS board are:

• A new $27-$27.5 million build-to-suit structure at 1250 W. Broadway by Mortenson Construction and Archie Givens’ Legacy Company.

• A “top-to-bottom renovation” of the existing administration building at 807 NE Broadway that would cost nearly $25 million dollars. “We believe that our proposal provides the most cost-effective solution primarily because we are using the existing building,” says Rick Collins of Ryan Companies.

• Remodeling the Valspar Building on 11th Avenue and 3rd Street South downtown for $27.5 million, which also includes building an adjacent parking ramp.

Chicago-based Transwestern, a real estate broker firm, is behind this plan.

“We are a developer,” explained Transwestern Managing Director David Downey.

“This is not an easy decision,” MPS Board Member Lydia Lee told the MSR last week.

Some have questioned why a new district headquarters is more important than, say, improving the achievement gap between Black and White students. “My focus is on the best interest of the children,” said Board Member Theartrice (T) Williams. Fellow Board Member Jill Davis added, “How we sell this publicly is troubling for me.”

“We think we can do both – work on the achievement gap and do a [new] headquarters,” claimed Liss, adding that it is now costing the district about $3 million annually to maintain the current four sites, and the 807 Broadway building is badly in need of major repairs. “Even if we don’t do anything, we will be investing $5 million over the next five years patching up [the 807 building],” he noted.

Liss reiterated, “This project won’t subtract from the funds that are available to pay for [other] projects.”

Board Member Pam Costain noted that some think that “there were backroom deals” made in regards to the district headquarters proposals. “I think we’ve had a very public process. I don’t think it is a secret that we are doing this,” Liss responded.

“We hold open meetings, and it is generally known that one can access any of our information that we have,” said Williams of complaints that the proposal process wasn’t transparent enough. “As soon as documents are created, they are posted on the [district] website. Some of the people who raised the question about transparency know how to get access to information.”

Community residents and others testified to board members on the proposals during an April 6 meeting at MPS headquarters. “People want to see new schools, not new digs for the administration,” said Northeast resident Dean DeGroot.

Throughout the almost three-hour session, proponents for both the Northside and Northeast neighborhoods seemed to be in competition with each other, both sides claiming that having MPS in their community would be an economic boon.

“There’s some tension between the two [neighborhoods],” observed Williams.

“I don’t look at this as competition,” says DeGroot.

“It is ping-pong between two good proposals trying to edge each other out on the merits,” added First Ward City Council Member Kevin Reich. The current MPS headquarters is located in Reich’s ward.

“The businesses in North Minneapolis deserve to share the riches” if the district moves to West Broadway, argued Sarita Turner, who heads a West Broadway business development organization and also lives on the North Side.

“[The] Northeast, their businesses and their economy have had this wonderful opportunity for many years to benefit from the district,” she continued.

“I don’t blame them for not wanting to see the district go at all, but it is time for the district to really look at the opportunity to serve other communities.”

Turner objected to a suggestion made during a March public meeting that the Northeast area is safer than the North Side. She referred to “those nuances…that were so offensive to folk who live and work [on the North Side].

…I think it is totally inappropriate to bring that into the conversation.”

But DeGroot argued that the Northeast is safer: “If you look at Minneapolis police statistics, [the Northeast area] last year was rated the safest precinct in the city.” He also testified that the area’s small businesses “would be impacted by the exodus of [MPS] employees” if the district moves from its present 807 NE Broadway site.

State Senator Linda Higgins, State Representative Bobby Champion, and Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels – all of whom live within blocks of the proposed West Broadway site – also testified in support of the Northside proposal.

“I think the new building on West Broadway makes a lot of sense,” said Higgins.
The new headquarters “can be a springboard for higher achievement,” added Champion. Moving the MPS headquarters there would fit the West Broadway’s economic development plans, said Samuels.

Around 30-40 people attended last week’s informational meeting held at St. Maron Church, where each proposal was presented. Workforce diversity was among the submitted questions.

“I feel real comfortable that we will be able to hire folk in the community [and] work with community-based organizations” to ensure that Blacks and people of color are hired, Givens pledged. “[MPS] has made a goal of 25 percent of hiring minorities and women, but we are going to exceed that.”

“It is a true partnership – we know each other,” claimed Mortenson Vice-President and General Manager Tom Lander of his company’s working relationship with Legacy. He added that his firm has “a longstanding track record” in achieving or exceeding diversity hiring goals on other local projects.

Elizabeth Campbell, a Ryan executive, also boasted that 33 percent of the work hours on the Midtown Exchange project were performed by Black males. “We are committed on exceeding [diversity hiring] goals” on the 807 Broadway project if approved, added Collins.

Downey said Transwestern pledged at least 30 percent of its subcontracting work to women- and minority-owned businesses.

Samuels said he believes the MPS board will ultimately approve the West Broadway plan because of strong support from Northside residents. “They were the most passionate and the most engaged,” the council member surmised.

Williams said last week that no matter which plan is chosen, “Somebody is going to be disappointed, and we probably will hear more about that later on.”

The school board decision on its headquarters’ site, originally scheduled for the board’s April 13 meeting, has been rescheduled for April 27. According to Superintendent Bill Green, “Two additional public informational meetings will be scheduled over the next two weeks for members of the public who were unable to attend earlier meetings.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.