The Andover City Council Aug. 20 unanimously approved a five-year extension for Andover Christian Church to have a classroom structure outside its church.
Mayor Mike Gamache said the city has not heard any complaints from neighbors and there were no speakers at the Aug. 13 public hearing, except for the church’s senior pastor Rev. Jim Conner.
“I think these establishments, whether they be public schools, private schools or a church are doing their due diligence in keeping these in good working order and not letting them fall apart,” Gamache said.
When the siding was starting to deteriorate, the church replaced it. An enclosed walkway has always connected this addition to main part of the church.
The exact age of the building is unknown. Conner has heard it came from the Minneapolis Public School District. After it passed building and fire inspections, the council in 1998 approved the first conditional use permit for Family of Christ Lutheran Church.
The Coon Rapids Christian Church, which later changed its name to Andover Christian Church, purchased the property in 2004 and has used it for a youth center.
Conner said the church would like to build a new permanent addition, but its first goal is to pay off the debt on the main building before focusing on expansion. There is no estimated time when an addition could be built.
Andy White, youth pastor, said there is no other room in the church that could hold the 25 to 30 kids that come for Sunday Bible school, the Wednesday evening youth worship gatherings and multiple other events ranging from lock-ins to 30-hour famine challenges.
The youth center has couches and chairs, a large-screen television, foosball, air hockey, a billiards table, video games and board games so kids can kick back and relax or have a discussion about the Bible in a more relaxed setting. There is even a small stage for a Christian rock band.
“It’s huge,” White said when asked what it means for the church to have this space for the middle school and high school students. “Any place kids can come and hang out with kids their own age is great.”
Within the last year, the church added outdoor basketball and volleyball courts and an enclosed area for a new game called gaga ball that White said is a mix between dodgeball and handball.
Although Councilmember Julie Trude called this structure “one of the nicest” in the community because it blends in well with the church and is screened well, she asked for there to be an inspection made by the building department within the next five years.
Conner said Monday the inspection had taken place and no issues were flagged.
According to Community Development Director David Carlberg, the fire department has always inspected these type of structures, which the city code once referred to as temporary until the council changed the term to subordinate a few years ago to reflect that it is unknown how long these buildings would be around.
Legacy Christian Academy, Grace Lutheran Church and Andover High School are a few others with these type of structures, according to Carlberg.
Carlberg said the building was inspected by the fire marshal in November 2011 and the next visit will be this November to check for working smoke alarms, an adequate number of fire extinguishers and unblocked exits.
The building department has made sure the building is structurally sound and cannot enforce any state building code rules that were not in place in 1998 when the first conditional use permit was granted.
“We just want to make sure the floors are stable, the doors open and close, pretty basic stuff,” Trude said. “Most responsible property owners are taking care of these things. It’s just we have an interest on behalf of the public.”
There was a little debate on whether the city should require public schools to have this additional inspection from the building department as a condition of the council’s approval.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said schools have their own system of accountability.
Trude recalled her children going to a public school that has a subordinate structure that was 35 years old and its flooring was starting to fail.
Councilmember Tony Howard said everyone should be treated the same.
“If you’re going to have an inspection for the church, I think you should go in and check the schools, too,” Howard said. “That’s part of our accountability.”
The council asked that all subordinate structures whether they be public or private schools or churches be inspected by the building department as part of a condition for approval.
“It looks nice from the outside, but I know from experience in other cities that sometimes it’s the things you don’t see that start to fail in a building that wasn’t built to the same standards as permanent (structures),” Trude said.
However, Carlberg said following the meeting that subordinate classrooms at Andover High School were approved as a permitted use in 2004. That means the Anoka-Hennepin School District will not have to come back every few years for a conditional use permit renewal like churches have to and structural inspections are left up to the district.
The fire marshal still inspects these buildings, he said.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever have a situation where we don’t have any,” Gamache said. “It might be when the majority of the population is my age or older, but that’s going to be a while.”
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