Schools notebook

District negotiating sale of Lake Street landmark 

THE WEDGE — An Uptown landmark owned by Minneapolis Public Schools would be sold and converted into affordable housing under a plan approved Dec. 14 by the School Board.

The board voted unanimously to negotiate the sale of the Lehmann Center, 1006 W. Lake St., to Dominium Development, a Minneapolis-based developer and manager of multi-family housing properties. Dominium’s plan to redevelop the building into affordable housing was the best of 10 proposals reviewed by the district, said district Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss.

Liss told the board the deal was “not without risk,” in part because the project’s financing relies heavily on a federal historic rehabilitation tax credit. Qualifying for the tax credit and completing the sale would take “at least one year,” he predicted.

Constructed in 1916, the Lehmann Center is also known as the Buzza Building for a prior occupant that left its name on one of the building’s towers. The Lehmann Center is not on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office recently indicated the building has historic significance in support of Dominium’s application for historic status, said Dominium Managing Partner Armand Brachman.

Brachman pegged total development costs at about $30 million. Dominium plans 120 “workforce housing” apartment units, he said.

“We think that this building really lends itself quite well to loft-style housing,” he said, adding: “The location is excellent.”

Minneapolis Public Schools vacated the Lehmann Center in May, moving administrative offices to another building on East Lake Street. The district plans to consolidate its administrative office space in a new district headquarters building.

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Letter on contract negotiations sparks controversy

The decision by four of five incoming School Board members to issue a written statement on ongoing teacher contract talks on Minneapolis Federation of Teachers letterhead drew sharp criticism from two outgoing board members.

School Board Chair Tom Madden and Board Member Chris Stewart issued sharp rebukes to Richard Mammen, Rebecca Gagnon, Alberto Monserrate and Jenny Arneson. All signed copies of the letter sent to most members of the current School Board.

Madden read a portion of the letter at the Dec. 14 meeting, and copy of it was later posted on an online forum for Minneapolis Public Schools parents. The letter stated the current board “created ill will by refusing to stand by the provisions of its agreements with teachers and other school employees” and that incoming board members intended “to start the new year with a fresh slate.”

State arbitrators recently ruled the district unfairly froze teacher and staff salaries in 2009–2010. The district agreed to pay about $17 million in back-pay to teachers and staff beginning in December.

Negotiations on an overall contract are ongoing.

Stewart said the incoming School Board members’ signatures on teachers’ union letterhead showed “the next board has been completely co-opted by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.”

Madden described “real disappointment in at least one or two of the newly elected board members,” who, he added, were not privy to all the details of ongoing negotiations with teachers.

“I encourage you to think about your role as you step in on Jan. 11, because you don’t even have 20 percent of the picture, yet,” he said.

Hussein Samatar was the only incoming board member who did not sign the letter.

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School Information Fair is Jan. 8

Minneapolis Public Schools holds its annual pre-K–8 School Information Fair 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Jan. 8 at Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1300 Nicollet Mall.

The district particularly encourages all parents with children entering pre-kindergarten, elementary or middle school in the fall of 2011 to attend to learn more about their school choices for next school year. School staff and teachers from all of the district’s pre-kindergarten to eighth grade programs will be at the fair to answer parent questions.

The district will provide childcare at the event through its Minneapolis Kids program.

Parking in the Loring Ramp, 1330 Nicollet Mall, will be validated up to two hours for school information fair attendees.