[SPA HISTORY] For three decades, SPA rental houses felt like home
SPA owned houses hold significance for community members
March 13, 2019
To the left, few houses remain. To the right, tennis courts stand. Students, who walk, bike, drive or ride public transit to arrive at school often turn the corner on Fairview to Juno between the houses and tennis courts towards the Huss parking lot, the Drake lot and into the doors of the school.
The remaining houses to the left, however, have a special connection to St. Paul Academy and Summit School. Since the 1990s, the Board of Trustees at SPA has set aside money for these SPA houses, which the school owns and has rented to tenants throughout the past three decades.
Eric Edhlund, former property manager at SPA, held responsibility starting in 2004 to interact with the different people who lived in the houses. His job, in addition to managing Drake Arena, was to manage contracts and collect rent money. When Edhlund began managing, there were 24 properties, six of which SPA did not own at the time. Today, SPA owns two.
“Between myself and the Director of Operations, we would go around to the [privately owned] houses and let them know that SPA is interested in purchasing it. [After a sale,] I would go in and fix up the houses if they needed it for rental. We would bring in tenants to rent until SPA was ready for expansion projects. At the time they knew they would be building something, so [SPA] rented out until the projects happened,” Edhlund said.
The projects Edhlund refers to are the construction processes that led to the creation of the Huss Center for Performing Arts which expanded into the former parking lot next to Drake Arena and towards the land west of the Randolph Campus, moving the parking lot east, across the street. Before Huss, the people living in the houses understood that they were living in temporary houses. Head of School Bryn Roberts explains that the process was fair and transparent:
“We bought the houses. We did it one by one and negotiated with each person. We had a representative from a local law firm do it and he was an expert in real estate. We did the research that was set by the neighborhood. We weren’t trying to cheat anyone; we actually gave them what they would get on the open market. We pegged them to the values that were given in the open real estate market and [fair] prices. Everybody had the choice of whether they had to sell and they all chose to sell because we treated them fairly in the process,” Roberts said.
One of the families living in a SPA home was alum Lutalo Jones ‘17 and his family. Jones moved in 2014 and stayed at the house for two years, “It was a nice transitional house for my family,” he said.
Jones, who was in 8th grade at the time of the move, remembers taking advantage of the location. When he stayed after school in the after school program in middle school, he would attempt to bring his friends to his house, to the faculty’s chagrin. Come 9th grade, he occasionally told teachers he needed to go to his locker when in reality he would run home to find his missing homework.
“SPA became part of my home. Even after hours, I would still be able to go to the courtyard at night. Or I would go out and sit on the fields and watch the sunset. It made my overall yard much larger and I could go and explore. It helped me go to soccer tryouts. I think the only reason I got on varsity was because I went to every practice since I lived across the street,” Jones said. “I was definitely not good enough to be on varsity.”
Edlund, who worked with the Jones family in addition to the other tenants, fondly recollects the interesting times he had with the SPA houses: “Like most homes, things happen. Door handles come loose, light fixtures stop working, refrigerators stop working… managing those nuances was different each day.”
Jones is not the only SPA community member who lived on SPA property. Director of Publications Kathryn Campbell rented a house in 2007, her first year at SPA. When she was hired, she originally planned to commute to work from Northfield; however Assistant Head of School Cindy Richter, the interim Principal at the time, suggest that Campbell live in an SPA home instead. After that, Campbell moved into 1800 Randolph Ave, which no longer exists today.
Campbell, who remembers watching the SPA Cross Country team run past her front porch, admits there were times when she felt like she had no privacy. However, after living in the rental house for five years, she felt more connected to the school: “I got to know a little bit more about the school where I work and also the community where a lot of our students live.”
Both Jones and Campbell lived in homes that no longer exist due to the construction of the Huss Center. Although strange to have lived in a house that was knocked down, the memories linger:
“I don’t hold too much attachment to that place as much as I hold the feelings that are attached to that place,” Jones said.