MPS new HQ construction begins in December

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The new $27 million Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) headquarters, to be built at 1250 West Broadway on the city’s North Side, is expected to be completed by July 2012. 


It will consist of a four-story building and a five-story building on grounds currently owned by MPS. Currently, the timetable includes vacating and tearing down the current building on West Broadway building in October, and construction is set to begin in December.


Urban Design Perspectives, a local Black architectural firm, is the architect. “It is a one-person firm,” states architect Alicia Belton, who designed the University of Minnesota’s urban research center at the renovated shopping center on Plymouth and Penn. She hopes to design a district headquarters that blends in the current landscape of the community, “a quiet elegance but very humble…something that is warm, engaging and welcoming to the community,” surmises Belton.


A July 15 meeting is scheduled to review design ideas. The MPS board is expected to approve the final design in September. Belton says she encourages community input. “Right now, we are collecting people’s thoughts,” she notes.


West Broadway Coalition President Sarita Turner was among the 30 or so in attendance at a June 24 informational meeting at the Capri Theater. “We want [MPS district staff] to be part of the fabric of this community, not people who just come here to go to work,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for us to work with the local business community and other organizations, churches, mosques, etc. to develop relationships and opportunities.”


“We hope we can be a good neighbor,” MPS Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss told the small gathering, adding that the new headquarters will be “a welcoming hub” for the community. “We are not just another commercial [building],” he stressed.


However, most of the attendees throughout the almost two-hour meeting pressed school officials for a strong commitment that the community will be fully involved in the project from start to finish. Just having the MPS headquarters in the neighborhood is not enough, but what about economic opportunities, workforce diversity and participation of small and women-owned businesses, and businesses owned by Blacks and people of color, some pointed out.


Mortensen is the project’s general contractor. Vice-President and General Manager Tom Lander reaffirmed the goals established for the MPS headquarters project: subcontractors – 15 percent businesses owned by people of color and 10 percent women-owned businesses – and workforce diversity – eight percent skilled and 15 percent unskilled Blacks and people of color, and nearly five percent female.


This is “a real commitment,” believes Lander. Furthermore, Mortensen and Legacy Management, a Black-owned firm, are 60/40 partners on the project, added Liss.


“It is a real partnership, not a joint project,” noted Legacy CEO Archie Givens, Jr., who grew up on the North Side. “We are committed to values as well as goals…not just words.”


Who is going to make sure that Mortensen meets the hiring goals, asked Troy Parker. “The main complaint is [a] contract compliance department, which is absent at the Minneapolis Public Schools,” he explained. “We have to make sure that a [monitoring] program is put in place.”


James Burroughs, MPS Director of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, said that his office will be responsible for monitoring the project. This will include requiring Mortensen to submit regular and quarterly hiring reports. Burroughs and his staff will do scheduled and random site visits, he added.


Since the new MPS building will be in Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels’ ward, “I expect to be very involved, and also expect to have some say in the process in who is going to select the monitoring team,” he promised.


Rev. S.B. Barber of Grace Media Network told officials, “Now, we are not talking about the [Minnesota Twins] stadium, which is on the outskirts of the community. We are talking about right [here] in the community. There’s no excuse at all on this watch.”


“We fully understand that this project is going to be built in the community. We are committed to workforce diversity,” claimed Mortenson Community Affairs Director Lynn Littlejohn.


“We know full well that people in the community need jobs,” said Burroughs. On holding everyone connected with the MPS project accountable, “We want a successful project. I encourage [community residents] to continue to ask these questions,” he pointed out.


Lander said that there will be transparency with the MPS project. “We will have a public answer” to all questions from the community, he promised.


“Transparency is important for us as a school district,” concurred Burroughs, “making sure the public know what we are doing.”


After the meeting, “They [officials] were not really expecting that level of questions to come out tonight,” remarked Barber. “We now have visible individuals that can be held accountable.”


“I don’t think they answered all the questions, but I assume it is a great starting point,” Parker surmised. “I don’t believe they were being evasive, [rather] it was a matter of where we start and how do we move forward from here.”


If nothing else, last week’s meeting served as a notice to Mortensen and others involved in the MPS headquarters project that the community will be watching, said Parker.


“We can have community volunteers monitoring this project, and then we’ll start to see these jobs opening up and see the benefits to the community,” Parker concluded. “[The community must] make sure that we remain engaged and hold them accountable throughout this process.”


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