Way cleared for Montessori school to take over Roseville armory

Mike Munzenrider A school before it was used by the National Guard, the Roseville armory is on its way back to use as a place of education after the Roseville City Council on Oct. 22 changed the site’s comprehensive land use from low-density residential to institutional. The change helps move along Hand In Hand Christian Montessori’s plan to take over the building.

After more than a generation of use as a National Guard Armory, the building at 211 N. McCarrons Blvd. in Roseville is back on its way to its original use as a school.

The Roseville City Council voted unanimously Oct. 22 to change the comprehensive plan land use for a portion of the 10-acre site from low-density residential to institutional.

Though the Metropolitan Council still needs to approve the change and more city hurdles need to be hopped, the move makes way for Hand In Hand Christian Montessori school to renovate and move into the 55,000-square-foot former armory building, which has been vacant since 2016.

"I think it will be really cool to hear all the fun noises of having kids around again," said Delores Mordorski, who lives near the site and was one of many neighbors to speak in favor of the land use change during the public comment portion of the meeting.

With the majority of its operations currently housed out of Roseville's Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Hand In Hand needs to find a new home by next summer, according Brent Thompson, a member of the Hand In Hand board and a developer who represented the school at the council meeting. The amicable split is predicated by the church needing to tear down the building currently used by Hand In Hand.

With almost 300 students enrolled at its current Roseville location, Thompson said Hand In Hand, assuming it takes over the armory site, has a projected enrollment for two years down the line of 488 kids.

In addition to renovating the former armory building back into a usable school, an area just west of the building, per plans submitted to the city by the school, would be developed into four single-family homes.

"We're looking to basically bring this area back to life ... and complete what we started at Corpus Christi," said Thompson.


What about traffic?

With strong support for the change from the community and neighbors, the main concern raised by council members was about increased traffic in the neighborhood.

Located west of Rice Street in southeast Roseville, the area is made up of tight streets and includes intersections that are blind or at awkward angles.

"It will be a major traffic impact in the area," said council member Jason Etten, who lives in the neighborhood.

Thompson assured Etten and the council that the school has a system in place at Corpus Christi that minimizes drop-off and pick-up traffic from leaking out onto Fairview Avenue and County Road B during mornings and afternoons. He said a similar system is planned if the school relocates to North McCarrons Boulevard.

Thompson pointed out that for the slight majority of the year — 185 days — school's out and there would be no traffic impacts on the neighborhood. 

He added that not all students attend the Montessori five days a week, and that Wednesday is the busiest day at the school. Beyond that, Thompson said the school would advise parents of best practices for busy times in the area, like making a right-hand turn onto Rice Street to leave or using Dale Street as an alternative route.

The only other issue raised by council members was Mayor Dan Roe's concern about a possible post-Hand In Hand time at the site. 

Thompson said the school's plans for renovating the building would leave it with around 20 classrooms, and Roe said that made it possible another school with higher enrollment could take it over down the line, bringing in a greater volume of traffic than the Montessori projects.


Historic preservation

Neighbors, and residents who have children who attend the school at Corpus Christi, provided enthusiastic support for the council approving the land-use change.

Parents of students said they'd chosen to live in Roseville to be closer to the school, and that it was crucial in the development of their children.

The lone concern raised by a resident regarded Christian Montessori schools' regard for LGBTQ people — the resident said she was unable to find Hand In Hand's specific policy regarding LGBTQ people and worried that some families or neighbors might not be welcomed at the school.

Thompson told the council the school's policy was to be welcoming to all.

Other neighbors urged the council to approve the land use change in order to preserve the building itself, which dates to the 1930s.

In explaining how they would vote, council members reiterated their worries about traffic, before stating they were pleased with plans to deal with congestion as laid out by Thompson.

Said Roe, "The historic preservation is a good thing and it helps with the thread of history through the community."


Back to school

The switch back to some institutional use at the armory site continues some 80 years of institutional use there — last year the council designated the whole site as low-density residential in anticipation of a large housing development. 

In 1936, McCarrons School was built at 211 N. McCarrons Blvd., on what was previously a dairy farm.

The National Guard bought the school buildings in 1981. Come Jan. 21, 2016, the city of Roseville was given the first right of refusal to buy the site; it declined to do so, as then did Ramsey County.

The 2016 closure of the armory was a part of the shuttering of 11 other armories across Minnesota. Many were closed because they were in poor condition — others are being upgraded. Before the closures, 64 National Guard armories dotted the state.


–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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