The Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee voted 14-5-3 on October 28 to support the University of Saint Thomas’ plan to demolish Loras Hall to make way for a new science and engineering building.

That recommendation will go before the full district council on November 12 and then to the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission on November 30. HPC action is required because the building is in the Summit Avenue West Historic District.

Loras, which was built in 1894 as a residence for Saint Paul Seminary students, is located on Summit Avenue just west of the Frey Science and Engineering Center. The university wants to tear it down and construct an approximately 120,000-square-foot building with a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) in its place.

Mark Vangsgard, the university’s vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer, outlined the need for the new building, saying it would be an asset to the university and to the surrounding neighborhood. 

   

While saying he is fully in favor of the new building, Housing and Land Use Committee member Marc Manderscheid urged the university to preserve Loras. He recounted the history of Archbishop John Ireland’s founding of what is now UST in 1885.

“There are only four structures in the district that are older than Loras and they’re all single-family homes,” Manderscheid said.

Loras is one of six original seminary buildings. Only three remain. It is the oldest nonresidential building in the Summit Avenue West Historic District, followed by Macalester College’s Wallace Hall in 1907 and Aquinas Hall on UST’S main campus in 1931.

 

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“There are only four structures in the district that are older than Loras and they’re all single-family homes,” Manderscheid said.

According to Manderscheid, the HPC has never approved the demolition of a building that was considered structurally sound and contributing to a historic district.

Housing and Land Use Committee members had mixed reactions to the request. Some said Loras is a dated, inefficient building and should come down. Others cited the educational benefits of a new structure.

“I think of the benefit of more science, technology and math space,” said committee member Art Punyko. “I think this will be a positive change for Saint Thomas.”

Some committee members asked if the building could be saved. “I’ve seen amazing examples of historic buildings incorporated into new structures,” said Meg Arnosti. “Once you lose a building, it’s gone forever.”

— Jane McClure

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