Lutherans in the Twin Cities

LSS breaks ground for new multiuse center

Existing Park Avenue facility in Minneapolis will be demolished

A wrecking crew was ready to swing into action at the Luther-an Social Service site at 2414 Park Avenue in Minneapolis in August. Its presence signalled the start of construction on a $25 million project including a new service center for Lutheran Social Service, 48 units of affordable housing and a new worship center for the nearly century-old Messiah Lutheran congregation of south Minneapolis.

Messiah, currently located about a block away on Columbus Avenue, lays claim to being the first English-speaking congregation of the former Augustana Synod in Minneapolis. The expected move across Park Avenue in 2008 is to be part of the congregation’s 100th anniversary celebration — and a new beginning.

The new complex, called the Center for Changing Lives, could become a national prototype for bringing together affordable housing and social services at one site, according to Mark Peterson, president/CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS). He said, “When people of good will come together from the faith, business, public and private sectors, we can dream big and combine our individual strengths in new ways that will make a lifelong impact on people’s lives and the well-being of our community.”
Peterson observed that the $25 million price tag is the largest project — by five times — in the history of LSS, the largest social service organization in the state of Minnesota.

The new center will be home to the Minneapolis office of LSS, the Phillips West Neighborhood Organ-ization and Kaleidoscope center for children, in addition to Messiah Lutheran Church. The Rev. Lee Cunningham, Senior Pas-tor/Mission Developer at Messiah, said he expects the Minneapolis Heritage Pres-ervation Commission will be interested in keeping intact the congregation’s 90-year-old sanctuary. The adjacent education building is to undergo some modification and will house the Augsburg Fairview Academy for Health Careers, a public charter high school. The academy is sponsored by Augsburg College and Fairview Health Services.

Messiah congregation would retain ownership of both the sanctuary and education buildings but move its worship and education programs to the Center for Changing Lives. Messiah congregation will pay some shared-usage fees for facilities it uses at the new collaborative center.

That includes a chapel seating about 60 persons and a public gathering space with a capacity of about 300 for Word and Sacrament services. Various rooms throughout the 108,000 square-foot structure will be available for Sunday school and adult education classes.

Betty Settergren, a 70-year member of Messiah congregation, was enthusiastic about moving worship and education to the new center. “I’m pretty excited. Messiah has always been forward-looking throughout its entire existence. At one time Messiah was the center of a larger Swedish neighborhood but we were the first English-speaking Augustana Synod congregation. Two of our members started the Kaleidoscope program for children. Pastor Cun-ningham is very outreach-oriented, and we now have a traditional worship service as well as a jazz-gospel service that is attracting new people to Messiah.”

In addition to LSS and Messiah, major partners in the new complex include Hennepin County and Faith in the City, a consortium of seven Lutheran institutions including Thriv-ent Financial for Lutherans and Fairview.

A wide range of social services will be available in the new center, serving the neighborhood, Minneapolis and beyond. Those services include financial counseling, wellness services, a clothes closet and food pantry, housing and support services, adoption, pregnancy counseling and other mental health services, employment and refugee services, youth services and a personal finance center.

As part of the collaborative effort, LSS is working with Hennepin County to build the 48 apartments as part of an effort to end homelessness. Mark Peter-son of LSS says that fund-raising for the complex is at the 75% level; it is expected that the facility will be debt-free when completed. Carrying no mortgage as part of the overhead should assure that the 48 apartments continue to offer permanent, affordable housing.

Peterson said the 50-year-old LSS Park Avenue building being demolished was designed with many small offices for counseling, and that the mechanical systems were obsolete. Many of the current programs at LSS need more adaptable and larger spaces not possible with the concrete block walls used for soundproofing the older building.

The new facility will also include underground parking for 135 vehicles, freeing up surface parking lots for further housing development.

Several green building techniques and products are to be used in the project, according to John Sponsel of the BKV architectural firm. The overall pro-ject has been registered with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council and the intent is to seek certification as a LEED project.

Building on the current LSS property means re-use of an inner-city site with excellent transit, bicycle and pedestrian connections. Plans are for on-site management of storm water, reducing storm water fees to the city and low-impact, irrigation-efficient landscaping and rain gardens.

Efficient heating and cooling coupled with a reflective roof system that reduces heat gain are part of the energy-conserving plan. The general contractor is Weis Builders Inc.

Peterson relates that the concept for the new facility had its origins in a conversation five years ago that started when the Rev. Keith Magnuson, former pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Bloomington (a daughter congregation of Messiah) brought Pastor Cunningham from Messiah to visit with him. That conversation centered on Messiah’s multi-cultural outreach to the community as well as LSS facility needs. From that conversation the seed for this concept was planted. Pastor Cunningham is serving Messiah as his first call as an ELCA pastor, having had a first career as a lawyer.

LSS already had a 10-year history of housing development around its Park Avenue location. The agency had paired with neighboring Phillips Eye Institute in recognizing the need for the stability that home ownership would bring to the area. Together the two organizations control four square blocks and have developed 29 units of housing in renovated mansions and new construction.

Some 100 LSS employees are housed temporarily at the Phillips campus during the construction of the Center for Changing Lives.

For additional information on the Center for Changing Lives, visit the Web site center forchanginglives.org or call Blaine Thrasher at 651/969-2339.