Nonprofit’s historic railroad building reopens in St. Paul after near collapse

American Indian Family and Children’s Service is moving back into its historic St. Paul railroad building this week, following emergency repairs when old timber beams nearly collapsed two winters ago.

An open house is scheduled today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Built in 1882, the limestone building was built as a pattern shop in the old railroad complex at 25 Empire Drive. It’s one of only five buildings still intact from the days when railroad buildings dominated that area.

The nonprofit had to move out suddenly in November 2012 when it was discovered the timbers were rotting from water infiltration and the roof threatened to collapse on the limestone walls.

With a large snowstorm looming, cIty officials helped shore up the building. With grants from the Minnesota Historical Society Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants, assistance from the St. Paul Foundation and a new mortgage, the nonprofit came up with the $294,000 needed to repair the building.

A new interior steel frame now takes the weight off the original limestone walls.

The nonprofit, established in 1985, recruits, licenses, trains, supervises and supports American Indian foster homes within the whole state of Minnesota.

Sally Higgins, the group’s executive director, said:

When the roof problem was discovered we had only a few months of mortgage payments left. We did not want to abandon our building and it is lovely now but the interim period, working out of our homes and the months and months that went into the planning, designing, funding and finally the construction, were difficult for our small group. However, we persevered and are ready to celebrate.

The nonprofit says the building, 30 feet wide and 80 feet long, originally was used to build and store patterns for the entire complex; it became too small for that purpose and eventually became a recreation center for the shop employees. The shop’s complex once stretched over 36 acres and included 25 buildings. As part of a major redevelopment effort the buildings became part of the city’s Jackson Shops historic district in 1985 and were listed on the National Register in 1987.

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