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Jie Ming
The southwest aerial view of the addition planned for Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion Academy.

The popular Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion Academy, 1845 Sheridan Ave., will be remodeled and expanded beginning this summer and continuing through summer 2023. The Highland District Council (HDC) Community Development Committee reviewed plans for the work on March 15 with Saint Paul Public School project managers Rosemary Dolata and Michael Christen.

On the drawing board are the addition of five new classrooms, a new cafeteria and kitchen, inclusive restrooms, a fire lane and service entrance at the rear of the building, a storm shelter, mechanical updates, new gym floor, and a redesigned student drop-off and pickup area.

The expansion will be to the north on the site of the current school courtyard, and a new courtyard will be created. The old gym will become an oversized science classroom, with access to the outdoors. The school district is working with Cuningham Architects and Knutson Construction on the project. 

HDC committee members praised the plans, with most questions centered on security and vehicular access at the front and rear of the building. Field Avenue, which currently dead-ends at the school’s property line, will be extended into the site to create the service entrance.

One big change involves updating security by requiring visitors to check in at the office before gaining access to the rest of the building. The service entrance area will also have a restricted entry.

The addition of a cafeteria with kitchen will be especially welcomed, Dolata said, as the building does not currently have a fully functioning kitchen. “We bring in hot lunches now,” she said.

The new cafeteria will be accessible for people with disabilities, something that is not the case now. “The cafeteria we’re losing is not a space we’re going to miss,” Dolata said.

 

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On the drawing board are the addition of five new classrooms, a new cafeteria and kitchen, inclusive restrooms, a fire lane and service entrance at the rear of the building, a storm shelter, mechanical updates, new gym floor, and a redesigned student drop-off and pickup area.

Other features are meant to meet changing building codes and personal preferences. One part of the project calls for inclusive restrooms that offer privacy while not being gender-specific. The storm shelter is a requirement to meet code changes.

Design work continues along Sheridan Avenue, where buses and parent vehicles will enter and exit. Committee members urged more communication on vehicular access plans, saying that while safety is needed they do not want to see green space reduced.

The committee also questioned whether supply chain issues could slow the project. School district officials have tried to anticipate that kind of a delay. One move was to change the truss system design. Another was to put out bids early for roof supplies and insulation, as those materials can face delays of several months to a year. 

Jie Ming currently enrolls about 400 students in grades K-5. The expansion will allow enrollment to grow to 500-550.

The project will be the latest change for the old Homecroft School building, which opened in 1921 and was designed by Cap Wigington, the nation’s first Black municipal architect. An addition was built in 1954. The Homecroft Recreation Center opened in 1980, sharing space with the school. The center was closed in 2008.

Homecroft was the school district’s first consolidated bilingual program, starting in 1996. In 2003 it had the district’s first Hmong principal, Choua Lee. However, Homecroft struggled to attract students and reach federal testing levels, and closed at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, after which special education and Early Childhood Family Education programs moved in.

The first phase of building updates to accommodate Jie Ming’s move from Hamline Elementary School to Homecroft was in 2018. Those included the “moon gate” entrance inside the school.

It has been a bit of a wait for the second phase of improvements. In the spring of 2021, the Saint Paul School Board agreed to move ahead with work at Jie Ming and Ramsey Middle School after a review of their facilities. Work was estimated to cost $498 million at Ramsey and $31 million at Jie Ming.

— Jane McClure

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