A work of student pride and neighborhood funding, the Lynnhurst landmark to face the same wrecking ball as the dilapidated school building
A giant mural of south Minneapolis, constructed largely by students who contributed more than a thousand handmade tiles, will be destroyed when the Burroughs Community School building is torn down in July.
Initially, architects and school officials said that the mural — built in part with $10,000 from Lynnhurst’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds — could be moved. However, the mural is glued to the thick steel-and-cement walls of the 1926 building; chipping off the tiles could destroy the work, and cutting massive wall sections is too expensive, school officials say.
Burroughs’ current facility, at 1501 W. 50th St., has structural problems because it was built over an underground stream that drains Lake Harriet into Minnehaha Creek. The building will be torn down to make way for a new school building that will open nearby in 2003.
Yet even as prospective kindergarten parents toured the old facility this winter, school officials proudly showed off the two-section mural as a vivid symbol of the school’s commitment to working with community artists that would survive.
"The initial idea was to save it in one piece," said architect Ed Kodet, who is designing the new school buiding. "The thinking now is that people can chip off pieces and save them as mementos."
That’s exactly what will happen, said Burroughs principal Tim Cadotte. "We’ll try to save pieces of the mural, such as the parts where the lakes are."
Aldo Moroni is the Minneapolis artist who coordinated the wall’s production in 2000.
"The communities have gained ownership to it, so that the mural became very valuable. Not only were the kids involved, but we had folks who’ve gone to school there [contribute tiles], so it becomes a very emotional part of the history of the school. The loss they feel for it is personal."
Andrea Rose, a Burroughs art teacher, is passionate about rescuing the mural. "It’s not right to tear this down. The people of Minneapolis have got to find a way to save this. Tons of kids and adults and parents and alumni did it. It’s beautiful."
Cadotte acknowledges the emotional ties. "There was a tremendous spirit of community when we built the mural. It was a very long wonderful period here." he said. "Everyone came in to make a tile."
His compromise: make a new mural in the new building. The principal has approached Moroni about being involved.
"We think re-creating [the mural] is ok," Cadotte said. "We can go through another period where students make tiles and the community comes in."
Glued, not hung
Moroni acknowledges that the mural’s birth may be the biggest reason for its death.
When the piece was first made, Moroni and school officials decided they couldn’t build it on a plywood back because it would be too heavy to stay on the wall — a safety hazard for kids if it fell off. That’s why it wasn’t built to travel.
"We actually roughed the wall out, and adhered tiles to the concrete," explained Moroni. "To be able to take the tiles off, we’d have to use a chisel on them one at a time. Now, these were made by kids, so there are no regular tiles – they’re all warped and super-funky. The odds of getting them off in one piece are very slim."
Kodet agrees. "It’s like taking a tile off of the bathroom floor. There’s a 99 percent chance the tile will break. It was never designed to move."
Others suggest that the tiles can remain adhered and wall sections cut out and moved. "It can be saved, the technology exists," Rose said. "You could cut it along the edges, and even cut through the grout lines."
Moroni has a similar idea. "The right way to do it is to score the wall on the outside of the tile, then brace it, put a pad on the front of it, and build this big structure in front of it to secure the whole thing. Then put irons into it, chain the whole thing up through the roof – take the roof off the building, then loosen the whole thing and crane the entire section of the wall out!"
What’s the asking price on that? Moroni shrugs. "More than the building costs," he said with a sigh.
James Reid, a sculptor whose granddaughter attends Burroughs, has done a lot of hanging and handling. He isn’t giving up.
"They would need access to the other side of the wall, put plywood down and then cut it into manageable pieces that could be stored. Price? It depends on who did it. It would take a crew a couple of days."
However, the school district’s assistant director of facilities, Clyde Kane, said the thick steel and plaster precludes that sort of excavation. "There’s no way to get into the back of the tiles to remove them," he said.
Time is as big a threat as materials. Kane noted that demolition is a month away and the workers hired for that "are not the type of workmen who are capable to do the work that intricate."
Kane said the district "could support re-creating the same mural in the new building. … Maybe the solution is not going to be satisfactory to everyone, but whatever happens, the problems will from the existing conditions, not an unwillingness to do anything about it."
Architect Kodet noted that much of Burroughs’ past will move into the new building. "It seems to be more appropriate to create a new [mural] for the school. We’re saving many items: the old limestone with the name of the school, the portico that is part of the courtyard, some interior specialty millwork, plaques that were part of the original school."
The school district, Kodet added "is very sensitive about maintaining a link from the old school to the new. It’s always been our intention to save as much as we can. It adds a lot of character."
Reid and others have not given up. "We went to the community to get the wall put up with NRP money from the Lynnhurst neighborhood. And to go back to save it…. No one has gotten the ball rolling."
Moroni hopes someone will.
"It’s a very strong community, and by talking to some engineers, maybe someone may have a trick on how to do this," he said. "I’m not sure what the final outcome will be. Sometimes these things fall down, progress pulls it over, and that’s the way it is."