Citing the “growing needs of students in Minneapolis School District in the area of mental health,” Harrison High School is looking to expand into the Harrison Community Center and take over the Harrison Neighborhood Association and Lao Assistance Center’s long-time office space.   

The construction of the facility that houses Harrison High School, the Harrison Recreation Center, Lao Assistance Center and Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA) was the result of a collaborative initiative of the Harrison Neighborhood Association, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.  In 1993, the school board decided to demolish the old Harrison school and locate the Level 4 program on an alternative site. When an alternative site could not be found in a different neighborhood, the board proposed to construct a new building for the Level 4 program on the same site in Harrison.  Harrison residents initially pushed back against the idea because of safety concerns, but after a year-long negotiation process, they began to see an opportunity in the proposal.  

Their vision was to partner with the school district and park board to build a community center in a building shared by all stakeholders. HNA contributed $300,000 of its Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds toward the cost of construction and raised an additional $683,000 through a capital fundraising campaign. HNA entered into a 20-year lease for the space and a shared use agreement between the school district and the park board for use of different parts of the building.  

According to Nichole Buehler, executive director of the Harrison Neighborhood Association, instead of working with the Harrison community to maintain space in the building, the school district is seizing this as an opportunity to expand Harrison High School.  After the 20-year lease and shared use agreements expired last year, the agreements continued through an auto-renewal clause; however, in September MPS notified HNA of their intent to terminate the agreements and take over the space. Presently, Harrison High School occupies 50,000 square feet with a current enrollment of 18 students. The space they are looking to acquire is less than 5,000 square feet.  

Buehler said thus far, MPS has refused to recognize the Harrison community’s nearly $1 million investment as being in exchange for anything more than a 20-year lease. She said to construe HNA’s investment in such a manner would mean that HNA has been paying $4,100 per month for the space – an outrageous amount given that HNA was paying just $600 a month for its lease when the agreement was first entered into, and has sublet half of the space to the Lao Assistance Center for the past 17 years for $800 a month.  

“By forcing HNA to vacate the community center, MPS is single-handedly putting back into place a key barrier to equity that the community’s investment was designed to address – lack of community space,” said Buehler. “Maintaining community space in Harrison and HNA’s physical presence in the neighborhood is more important than ever.  After decades of intentional economic disinvestment, Harrison is now being inundated with new development plans that threaten to displace current residents and businesses.” 

Currently, HNA is assisting Harrison residents at three different proposed development sites to stay in their homes and Buehler says HNA’s own potential displacement and the elimination of Harrison’s community space not only exemplifies the current struggle happening across Harrison, but represents a threat to the future of the Harrison community as a whole.   

“HNA’s ability to secure comparable, affordable space in the neighborhood is simply not realistic given the current market in Harrison, and without a designated space for community to gather and organize, the neighborhood’s ability to fight displacement will be significantly compromised,” said Buehler. 

She said MPS has excluded Harrison residents from a decision-making process that will dramatically impact their community. A few years ago, however, she said MPS’s treatment of another neighborhood association looking to maintain its space in a district-owned building was much different. 

In that instance, the Windom Community Council, an organization located in Southwest Minneapolis that represents a community that is majority white and affluent was afforded the opportunity to enter into negotiations with the district and ultimately allowed to stay in their space. 

 “Thus far, HNA, an organization located in North Minneapolis that represents a community that is majority people of color and low-income has largely been ignored,” said Buehler. 

School Board Director Kerry Jo Felder will be bringing forward a resolution at Tuesday’s (Dec. 10) school board meeting that will propose to extend HNA’s lease and shared use agreement. 

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