Anoka reviews ramp options near Sandburg

For more than a year, stakeholders have been meeting to talk about the future of one of Anoka’s oldest neighborhoods.

The South Central Business District Committee is a study group looking closely at the redevelopment and subsequent needs of the area along Monroe Street and some adjacent blocks, specifically around the Sandburg Education Center.

The study group includes representatives from city staff and commissions, as well as the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the business community and the adjacent residential neighborhood.

While the point is to review a number of issues, much of the discussion has come down to the possible addition of a parking ramp across the street from the Sandburg building.

“The group didn’t just have the ramp as a primary focus, even though it is the critical piece,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

Braun said the city strongly encouraged the school district to reuse the old Sandburg school, and now it’s time to figure out how to solve some of the parking challenges so the district can make better use of the building.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District invested $5 million to upgrade the historic building, built in 1904 as the district’s first high school. It closed as a middle school in 2009.

“We know there is probably going to be a ramp someday,” Braun said. “We’ve been looking at how that site works within the neighborhood.”

Next steps will likely include land use planning as well as possible zoning changes and amendments to the city’s comprehensive  plan.

The Planning Commission will take this on after it finishes studying Anoka’s B1 highway business district and proposed changes to the city council.

Last month Harold Skjelbostad of Biko Associates Inc. presented five different ramp options of varying shapes and elevations during a city council work session. The firm specializes in land use planning and was hired by the city to assist in the process.

The ramp proposals also included options for a mix of new residential and commercial or retail properties nearby.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority has acquired property for redevelopment of this area, including the former RiverWay Clinic site, Goodrich Pharmacy and 210 Monroe St.

“From the HRA’s perspective, we paid a lot of money for a lot of property,” said Chairman Carl Youngquist. “We want to make the best of it for the community.”

The HRA is looking at ways to get taxable redevelopment on the corner of Monroe Street and Second Avenue.

Right now most of the ramp designs would accommodate 350 vehicles and would be used by both employees of the school district working at the Sandburg building as well as the general public.

The use of Sandburg is somewhat determined by available parking, said Chuck Holden, chief operations officer for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Currently 110 staff people work at the building on a daily basis, and many are teachers who travel to other schools throughout the day.

According to a survey done last year by the committee, none of the people who work at Sandburg carpool.

In addition, school board meetings are held at the building, and the three gyms are open to the public.

But the district would like to hold more programming and training at the site on the third floor, which is not being used to its potential.

“Our estimate is we could potentially add 150 visitors or more per day, making the total approximately 250,” Holden said, although even this would not fill the building to capacity.

Not all of the old classrooms have been remodeled and there are no plans to do so right now, he said.

The school district would like parking nearby that would be easy for visitors to find.

During last month’s work session, area resident Barb Thurston shared some of her concerns about the addition of a parking ramp in this historic neighborhood. Thurston, also a member of Anoka’s Heritage Preservation Commission, represented the neighbors on the committee.

“In the neighborhood survey, needless to say, no one in the neighborhood wanted a ramp,” Thurston told the council at the work session.

She asked the council to consider keeping the ramp as far away from the historic homes in the area as possible, as it would affect property values.

But if a ramp is a necessity, Thurston encouraged exterior upgrades.

“Make it look like the school so it’s not just a big brick thing staring us in the face,” she said.

During the meeting, the council did not choose a preferred ramp design.

Members of the committee largely preferred the fourth ramp alternative – a long rectangular ramp that would stretch the span of the property between Monroe and Madison streets. Designs show it mid block, with potential row housing lining Second Avenue.

This proposed design has three levels and 350 parking spaces.

Construction timelines, costs and funding sources have not been determined.

While the city anticipates the cost of building a ramp would be shared with the school district, those particular discussions have not yet taken place, Braun said.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]