The Minneapolis Board of Education will vote at its April 27 meeting on whether to go ahead with a district proposal to relocate or renovate the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) headquarters, currently located at 807 Broadway and three satellite locations.
After seven public presentations, three study sessions with the Board of Education, and a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, the district narrowed down proposals to three top choices. Steve Liss, Chief of Policy and Operations at MPS, pointed out that the four administrative buildings cover an area of 633,000 square feet and less than half of that is needed. “This is about pulling all of our administrative resources together in a single building,” he said.
On April 20 and 22, the public heard presentations on MPS headquarters locations from representatives of multiple joint business partnerships of development, construction and finance companies.
The district has made it clear that its first choice is to build a new headquarters from scratch at 1250 W. Broadway in North Minneapolis through a contract with Mortenson/Legacy, two development corporations who have been involved with projects ranging from the Minneapolis Central Library to the Minneapolis Convention Center. At a cost of just over $74 million over the next 30 years, this proposal is the most expensive, although Liss points out that a new building would be structured to fit the district’s exact needs. The Mortenson/Legacy proposal would provide the district with the option of “rent to own.” In this scenario, the developer would own the building, with the district buying it over a 20-year period with an interest rate of 4.75%, according to David Mullen, a financing/leasing coordinator for Piper Jaffray, who would handle the finances of the project.
The other two proposals include renovating existing buildings. Rick Collins of Ryan Companies has proposed renovating the existing 807 Broadway building from “top to bottom. We did an analysis of all the available alternatives. Our conclusion was that this is the most cost effective when the district is facing declining enrollment,” says Collins. 807 presently lacks enough space to accommodate the district’s 300 administrative employees. Collins says that by renovating warehouse space and only retaining the outer walls of 807, the building could accommodate the entire administrative staff. The district currently owns this building, so costs would be related directly to renovation.
Dave Downey, managing director of TransWestern argues that renovating the currently vacant Valspar building would be the most “neutral” location. He points out its central location and proximity to light rail, bus and bike routes. Like Mortenson/Legacy, TransWestern could offer a “rent to own” option, in which the building would be leased out to the district. Both Downey and Collins suggest that their proposals at Valspar and 807 Broadway could qualify for historic tax credits due to the age of both buildings.
The cost of these proposals has some parents of students up in arms at a time when the district is facing budget cuts, state debt and uncertain tax revenue in the future. Linda Lincoln has two children attending MPS and questions the district’s priority of a new administrative building when the schools themselves are in rough shape.
“South (High School) where my daughter attends, may be the ugliest, most unpleasant high school building in the state,” Lincoln said, “and at Marcy, where my son attends, the kids run around on a concrete gym floor covered with mold infested carpet. They’re both great schools, but like most others in the district, they’re crumbling both literally and figuratively. [It] makes it extremely hard to get excited about spending money on a new administration building.”
At both public meetings last week, the poor condition of 807 Broadway was emphasized as a reason to redevelop. Parent Jean Rokke doesn’t dispute this, but sees a double standard with how the district treats its administrative branch vs. the allocation divvied up to the schools themselves.
“As parents, we see that 807 is a horrible building to work in,” Rokke said. “The financial rationale of building a new building is solid. But I am not sold. Between Southwest High School and Field (the schools my boys currently attend-both schools fully enrolled) over $1.2 million dollars will be cut from their budgets. Obviously, these cuts will affect the education of the students in these respective schools be it reduced educational opportunities or even larger class sizes. I am guessing my kids’ schools are not the only ones with severe budget cuts. So for the district to ask parents to endure these cuts and continue supporting our schools while discussing the possibility of building a new building for the administration is frustrating.”
Steve Liss acknowledged this skepticism and says that a new headquarters will save the district money in the long run by more efficient use of space and reduced energy and maintenance costs.
“The unused space costs us an extra $1 million dollars a year,” Liss said, “not to mention how inefficient the space that we actually have is. The important thing to remember is that we are not looking at the costs of new or renovated facilities as compared to spending no money. We will be spending a lot of money on our headquarters if we ‘do nothing.'”
Liss says that even if the district continues on the same path, the repairs and maintenance needed at 807 Broadway alone will cost $20 million in the next five years, whereas in 30 years that cost will reach $85-$90 million. He says that any one of the three proposals being considered would save the district $15 million over a 30 year period.
School Board Member Pam Costain says that all three proposals have their pros and cons, but maintaining the status quo will be costly. “The building 807 is frankly a disaster,” said Costain. “I’ve been told its one of the most energy inefficient buildings in the state. The status quo is very expensive.” As for the proposals, she says “the biggest criteria was that it had to be cost neutral and hopefully it would save money.”
Additional details and information can be found at www.mpls.k12.mn.us and click under “Right-sizing MPS Offices” under “About Us.” The Board meeting where the final vote will take place at 6 p.m. on April 27 is open to the public. It will be held in the assembly room at 807 NE Broadway, Minneapolis, MN 55413.