Study underway on how to minimize traffic hassles from stadium

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Getting to and from the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium, and minimizing impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods, is the focus of an upcoming gameday transportation management plan.

City officials will sign a contract this month with SRF Consulting for the initial phase of transportation planning. But members of the St. Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee have questions about how everything will function.

Committee members asked for updates as the plan is developed. The group will eventually weigh in on the plan, as will Union Park District Council and Hamline Midway Coalition.

The stadium is under construction in the block bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. It is to open in early 2019. Last month the St. Paul City Council approved more than $4 million to cover projects including extending the street grid into the site and for the transportation plan itself.

“We’ll be looking at game day transportation and seeing how it can work,” said Senior City Planner Josh Williams. While the stadium will have a few hundred on-site parking lot spaces initially, the long-term plan is for those areas to be redeveloped with new buildings. Parking ramps would be built as new redevelopment occurred.

“The challenge we have is not to have a ton of traffic going through Snelling and University,” said Williams. That could be tricky with a many as 20,00 soccer fans arriving on game days.

SRF and city officials will be developing a game day operations manual, said Williams. The upcoming study was called for in a 2016 alternative urban areawide review (AUAR). A stakeholders’ group with representatives from Minnesota United, the city, Ramsey County, Metropolitan Council/Metro Transit, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), area businesses, institutions and community groups will form. The goal is to have the study done by year’s end.

Stakeholders, city staff, and consultants will continue to meet regularly after that to see how the plan is working, and what changes are needed. As the Midway Center block is redeveloped, gameday transportation will continue to change.

City officials contend that there is ample parking in the Midway area to accommodate soccer fans who drive to games, including nearby ramps and lots as well as shuttles from destinations like the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. They also expect many fans to ride the bus or trains.

But in response to the AUAR last year Metropolitan Council, which operates Metro Transit, and MnDOT asked whether city officials and consultants are being realistic about potential transit use and street and highway capacity on game days. Concerns were raised about street and highway capacity, as well as transit system capacity, on game days. Those questions will be explored over the next several months.

Last year city officials responded that they made conservative assumptions, given the lack of off-street parking on and near the site, and indicated they believe traffic, transit use, and parking can be “effectively managed.”

The consultants will weigh in on issues including pedestrian staging areas for transit, park and ride, shuttle users, and off-site parking users. They will gather two days’ worth of pedestrian video data at Snelling and Spruce Tree Drive to quantify the number of users of the A-Line BRT utilize the Snelling and Spruce Tree traffic signal to cross Snelling to access businesses or the Green Line light rail stations. They’ll also look at other factors including accident data, potential traffic pattern changes, and turning movements at intersections., Part of the focus will be on a plan to relocate the Snelling-Spruce Tree signal to a new Snelling-Shields intersection.

Commissioners had many questions that will be addressed in the studies and stadium planning, including how street crossings and drop-off points will function.

Planning Commissioner Taqee Khaled raised concerns about pedestrian safety along University. “From my home three blocks away, I hear crashes on a regular basis,” he said.

Williams said signal times would be considered. One issue being scrutinized is that on game days, people will be crossing University and Snelling in large groups and how that will be handled.

Commissioners also asked who pays for traffic control on game days. Williams said he assumes that is Minnesota FC’s responsibility. But in the Twin Cities there are different models. The City of St. Paul pays for traffic control near CHS Field in Lowertown. The Minnesota Wild hockey team pays on game nights at Xcel Energy Center.

Spillover parking on neighborhood streets was also flagged as a concern. “Parking is a question a lot of people bring up,” said Williams. “Obviously we can’t control what people do, but we’d like to discourage people from parking in the neighborhoods. To the extent it does become a problem we can look at residential permit parking.”

One idea is to have game tickets indicate where parking is available, said Williams. Parking by the stadium is intended to be an interim use. “No one believes that parking is the highest and best use of the property near the stadium,” Williams said.

But while the Snelling/Midway Master Plan calls for a mix of development to fill the Midway Center bloc, Williams also said, “A master plan is a plan. It’s not a guarantee that development will happen.”

But whatever is built will need the street network that is planned.

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AOF KSTP Interview

News from Como Park High School

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Career development, technology apps, celebrations and D.C. fundraising

Compiled by ERIC ERICKSON, Social Studies Teacher
• Academy of Finance (AOF) students at Como welcomed Wells Fargo employees to school last month for an all-day networking event. Leaders from Wells Fargo guided AOF students from each grade level in small group discussions, mock interviews, resume building lessons and soft skills refinement.

Photo right: KSTP-TV reporter Jessica Miles interviewed senior Tu Lor Eh Paw for a news story about the Wells Fargo corporate visit to Como which focused on career development skills. (Photo submitted)

Coordination between Como AOF instructor Kris Somerville, Wells Fargo, and Junior Achievement’s “JA Inspire” outreach program created a large-scale, impactful experience at Como for over 300 students. Reporter Jessica Miles from KSTP-TV was on site interviewing students and Wells Fargo representatives for the station. A feature story was produced for evening and morning news broadcasts.

Photo left: Photo left: Wells Fargo employees conducted mock interviews with Como Park Academy of Finance (AOF) students in the Como cafeteria last month as part of the AOF Career Development Day. (Photo submitted)

Senior Janeijha Jones said developing confidence in professional situations will serve all students well, regardless of what they study in the future. “The communication skills we get are huge because a lot of young people in this era don’t know how to talk to people or approach someone,” Jones said. Senior Robert Adams added that joining AOF was one of the best decisions he has made in high school. The program has given him the confidence to reach his goal of being an entrepreneur.

• The community is welcome to celebrate the new year with the Como Park Asian American Club (CPAAC) on Fri., Dec. 15 beginning at 6pm in the Como Auditorium at school. The members of CPAAC have coordinated an exciting line-up of entertainment. “All are invited to enjoy food, music, and cultural performances including special guests Creature Crew, a local dance group,” said senior Song Lee, who serves as CPAAC President.

• The Como Park Choirs will present the annual Pops Concert on Mon., Dec. 18 in the Como Auditorium from 7-8pm. The show will feature five choirs performing music ranging from current hits to classics and oldies. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for students and senior citizens.

• The annual Close Up trip to Washington D.C. will take place during the first week of March, but fundraising is already in full swing. Students from AP Government classes will be bagging groceries for customers at the Roseville Cub Foods on Larpenteur from 10am–6:00pm on Sat., Dec. 16, and during winter break on Fri., Dec. 22 and Sat., Dec. 23. Cub customers generously support the effort of the students with donations that help defray the expense of the educational adventure.

Additionally, throughout January, sales and proceeds at the Sunrise Bank Park Perks Coffee Bar will support the Como students’ journey to the nation’s capital. Tasty treats and coffee are located inside the bank at 2250 Como Ave.

Twenty-six seniors studying AP Government and Politics will participate in the Close Up program, which promotes education in democracy and uses the capital as a living classroom. Throughout the week Como students will connect their learning through study visits to monuments and memorials, have meetings with elected officials, policy experts, and journalists, while representing Minnesota in their peer groups with other high school students from across the nation.

• Como girls that are interested in technology applications and desire to learn more about writing code will be starting up the Como Technovation Apps Club again this month. The club meets weekly for three months and includes mentorship from a field expert, the use of the App Inventor product, and coordination from club advisor Liz Riggs.

The culminating event is participation in Minnesota’s Technovation Appapalooza, where students showcase their app to local business and industry leaders at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Last year, one of Como’s teams won at the Minnesota event by developing an efficient language translator. They advanced to the national level of competition, which was evaluated virtually by a committee of judges.

This year, the returning girls aspire to develop a new app that serves people in another efficient way. They also hope to have even more girls participating in the fun, instructive and useful club activity.

• The Cougar boys’ basketball team will play a game in the Target Center at 1pm on Sat., Dec. 16 versus a team from Iowa as part of a special high school event. Cougar fans are encouraged to support the team on the big stage and stay to soak in the other games, concluding with the Timberwolves hosting the Phoenix Suns at 7pm. Coach John Robinson anticipates a fun memory and bonding experience for the Como program.

• Prospective students who are interested in experiencing a day of Como Park High School are invited to shadow a current student. Opportunities for shadowing include Dec. 14, Jan. 10, 11, 17 and 18, as well as Feb. 7 and 8. Parents of interested prospective students who would like to shadow may register on the Como Park High School website link, or by contacting Dede at patricia.hammond@spps.org.

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Logan Verdoorn 2

Teenagers dive in to the themes of Shakespearean Theater

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Photo left: Core ensemble and Artistic Director Logan Verdoorn discuss the text and themes of Twelfth Night for their Fall 2017 production.(Photo by Maria Signorelli)

Nearly 14 years ago, a couple of moms were looking for a program in which their teenagers could work on Shakespearean plays. They looked around and could find nothing available. So they started off as an informal group, working out of an attic.

Today the Shakespearean Youth Theater (SYT) has a studio to rehearse in, as well as provide workshops, at 550 Vandalia. These rehearsals lead to one major Shakespearean production each year, presented in theaters around the Twin Cities.

This year’s offering will be the comedic tale “Twelfth Night,” and it will take place in March at the TEK BOX Theater in the Cowles Center in Minneapolis.

“This program started as a very low-budget small idea, and it has developed year after year,” said Logan Verdoorn (photo right by Jan Willms), who joined SYT as its artistic director a couple of years ago. The organization moved into its present quarters this past summer.

“We’re getting phenomenal artists from Twin Cities theater involved and interested in the group,” Verdoorn said. “We have stuck to the basic principle of doing full-scale productions of high-quality Shakespeare shows and workshops with professional artists; that’s where we still stand today.”

SYT, which has formalized as a nonprofit, has performed at a variety of theaters. “One of our directors, Craig Johnson, had a connection with the James J. Hill House, and we performed “King Lear” there. It was a historic place and a brilliant environment,” Verdoorn said. “We have also performed at Stepping Stone, and we did ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Phoenix Theater in Uptown.”

Verdoorn said SYT generally works with alternative high schools and has quite a large homeschool base as well. “The theatre began in the homeschool community and expanded from there.”

Photo right: The prince interrupts a street fight between the Montagues and Capulets in the 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet. (Photo by Logan Verdoorn)

He said the primary age group served ranges from 12 to 20, although the organization is exploring working with younger children 9 to 12. SYT has rotating professionals who direct and give workshops, with a year-round program. “We basically have two areas to our program,” he noted. “We have the Core Ensemble, a group of 15-18 youths who are in the year-round program. And we have different workshops offered during the year.”

The program starts in the fall with participants studying the play they will later perform, looking at the themes of the play and how it affects them, according to Verdoorn. Then there are six to seven weeks of intense rehearsal before the production, which is usually presented in February or March.

Photo left: Ellie Haugen (left) and Elisabette Hinze-Francis from the March 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet. (Photo by Logan Verdoorn)

As part of the group’s development, this year marked its first foray into summer camps. These are intensive day camps offered at the studio space. “In the future, we might look at outdoor camps,” Verdoorn said. “That would really be fun.” He said that since people have more time and availability in the summer, there might also be a possibility of adding smaller productions in a park setting.

“To me, Shakespeare is really interesting,” he continued, “but people are sort of scared of him. They don’t know what he is talking about and think of it as something like a foreign language. What I find is true of professional actors and very true of teenagers is that when they dive in, they understand. I have heard from audience members that they have never really understood Shakespeare until they saw this version.”

Photo left: Amalia Hertel and Anthony Cadiz perform in the 2012 Production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Photo by Robyn Lingen)

“I’m blown away at the teenagers’ willingness to just dive in. I think teens are brilliant at Shakespeare. They just accept the given circumstances and common themes he is dealing with that reflect today’s society and reflect what they are experiencing in their lives. That’s what motivates me and makes me love this work, because of how I think teenagers respond.”

Verdoorn said that Shakespeare is considered a classic because each generation who works on his plays find that he reflects what is going on in their current culture, and how that informs the way that they are experiencing growing up. He said Shakespeare passed on stories of what was happening in his time, very basic human experiences that are also important today.

“My favorite thing to do is work with young people,” Verdoorn said. “We have conversations in this room (the studio at Vandalia) where they are delving into certain characters and talking about the theme of the play. They see things that I don’t see. Their perspective growing up as teenagers at this time gives them an exciting view of the classics.”

SYT this past year started a workshop series about some of the technical aspects of theater, working with what it is to design a sound system and build a stage. “They’re learning hands-on skills that are good to have for a young person going out into the world,” Verdoorn said.

Verdoorn said some of the program’s interns often return and help assist with directing a production. “Our community is tight-knit but very dedicated,” he commented. Verdoorn himself is an alumnus of the early years of SYT. He was born in Germany, moved around for a while and ended up spending his teenage years in the Twin Cities. He studied acting at the Tish School of the Arts in New York, then lived in Berlin for a number of years.

Photo right: Isaac Jaro and Vee Signorelli in the 2016 production of The Tragedy of Macbeth. (Photo by Logan Verdoorn)

“I worked for the NYC campus in Berlin,” he said. “When I moved back here, I threw myself into this program. What makes this program stand out and why I came back is how exciting and important it is for us as a culture to believe in the validity of the artistic perspective of these young people. We take seriously their artistic output and what is important to them in these classic stories.”

SYT recently received two grants from the Arts board and Metro Regional Arts Council. “One is for ‘Twelfth Night,’ and the other is for bringing in local high schools to see a show, with a workshop beforehand and a talk-back after the performance,” Verdoorn said. “The best way to teach Shakespeare is to get young people engaged, see how his words are brought to life and see their peers up there performing.”

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City Council votes another $4 million for Stadium infrastructure

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Transformation of part of Midway Center into Major League Soccer’s new Allianz Field continues, with $4.057 million in infrastructure improvements approved Nov. 15 by the St. Paul City Council. The council also adopted a final plat for the stadium property. That in turn allowed for the start of structural steelwork and for everyone to see above-ground stadium work.

The council took a series of actions to create a .63-acre “great lawn” park, street, and pedestrian walkway system north of the stadium, and make future changes to

Snelling Ave. west of Midway Center. Those plans include a cutting-edge underground stormwater drainage/storage system below the planned park, which will ultimately handle runoff from the entire 34.5-acre superblock bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues.

But getting the project moving along show that deep divisions remain among City Council members. Council debate went on for about two hours, with Dan Bostrom, Rebecca Noecker, and Jane Prince casting dissenting votes on the financing and park proposals. Amy Brendmoen, Russ Stark, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert voted in support. Noecker, Prince, and Bostrom also tried unsuccessfully to block a $250,000 city contribution toward green space public improvements. The park will be operated by Minnesota United. The team will put more than $140,000 into the park.

Votes were unanimous to set lot lines in the property’s final plat. The plat changes were needed before Minnesota United can get a building permit to start construction of the stadium above-ground.

The votes follow Nov. 13 recommendation of approval by the city’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee. The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission approved the parkland dedication agreement in September.

Thao, whose First Ward includes the property, said he appreciates the concerns raised. “This is a short-term investment for a much bigger long-term gain,” he said.
The mix of funding approved Nov. 15 will be added to $18.4 million in infrastructure improvements the City Council approved in 2017. That covered infrastructure needs in the south part of the site, below an extension of Shields Ave. between Snelling and Pascal.

The new funding includes $2 million in Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) tax increment financing (TIF) dollars, a $416,000 grant from the Capital Region Watershed District, $500,000 from the HRA loan enterprise fund, and $1.141 million in city financing for the stormwater management system.

The largest chunk of the $4.057 million is a $2.3 million for stormwater management. That system will draw on part of the past infrastructure allocation for a total of $5.375 million in funding. The water system will be the first of its kind in the state, and could be a model for other projects, including the Ford site development, said Jonathan Sage-Martinson, Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director. Much of the funding is expected to be paid back to the city over time as new development ties into the system, which will have a stacked set of tanks and a tank to catch rainwater and reuse it for site irrigation.

Other funds are earmarked for projects including Snelling improvements ($750,000), so-called soft cost including a transportation management plan ($400,000) and work on streets and pedestrian improvements ($250,000). Plans call for Asbury and Simpson streets to extend north from Shields and flank the green space, and for Spruce Tree Drive to extend into the site. Also planned is a 35-foot pedestrian walkway/plaza near the green space between Shields and Spruce Tree.

Much work will be done in conjunction with the stadium as Mortenson Construction is already working on-site.

Most concerns raised Nov. 15 center on the green space, which will be on what has been part of the shopping center parking lot. It is currently owned by longtime shopping center owner RD Management and leased by Minnesota United. It will meet a city requirement for park land dedication, under a system known as privately owned public space or POPS.

Noecker, Prince, and Friend of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County Executive Director Shirley Erstad objected to city financial contributions to a park it doesn’t have control over. Noecker said the city will only be allowed to program two events at the park each year. “I’d like to see us get the best deal possible,” she said, adding that the team will benefit financially from park naming rights as well as space use.

Other council members said the shared agreement is a win-win as Minnesota United will cover about $25,000 in annual park maintenance. Council President Russ Stark said the plan is consistent with ideas discussed when the Green Line light rail was being developed, creating park and open space along University.

Erstad expressed skepticism about the arrangement, especially the fact that Minnesota United will lease and not own the park property. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “We’re entering into a contract with an entity that doesn’t own the property.”

Concerns were also raised about a planned change on Snelling, which would relocate the current Spruce Tree Drive traffic signal to Shields. Mike Koch, owner’s’ representative for the Spruce Tree building at Snelling and University, said that relocating the light would make it difficult for his building tenants to get to the 354-space parking ramp. He said sending motorists through part of the neighborhood to get to the ramp isn’t a desirable outcome.

“Losing access to (the ramp) seems ill-advised,” he said. City officials have agreed to meet with him and discuss his concerns, although Stark said the signal move has already been agreed to.

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Books for Africa logo

Local group instrumental in gift to great Alexandria Egypt library

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

A piece of Midwestern literary culture now resides in one of the world’s oldest libraries in Alexandria, Egypt, thanks to a joint effort by nonprofits Books For Africa (635 Prior Ave. N.), Little Free Library, Minnesota Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Minnesota Book Awards program.

Patrick Plonski, Executive Director of Books For Africa, presented Bibliotheca Alexandrina officials with a Little Free Library filled with award-winning books by Minnesota authors who had been recognized in the 2017 Minnesota Book Awards ceremony.

The presentation was made in recognition of the 20th Annual Meeting of International Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The Library originally opened in the 3rd Century and became the world’s foremost center for scholarship. It has been recreated in recent years to honor that tradition of learning and scholarship.

Photo left: The Little Free Library that was presented to the Alexandria library in Egypt was handcrafted in the U.S. and painted with a birch tree motif that evokes the region’s woodlands. (Photo provided)

“We are honored to bring a bit of Minnesota to this great and historic library and to demonstrate that books and learning know no geographic boundaries,” said Plonski. “This is a coming together of three great Minnesota/Wisconsin organizations and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.”

The inscription on the Little Free Library reads in part: “This donation is made in recognition of international friendship, fellowship, peace, and education.”

A number of mobile Little Free Libraries, used to transport books to schools and libraries, were also presented.

“We are humbled to have a Little Free Library book exchange in the world’s most famous library,” said Todd H. Bol, co-founder and Executive Director of Little Free Library. “The library in Alexandria is a testament to the power of books throughout generations. We’re grateful to our friends at Books For Africa for helping bring our Little Library to this truly significant space.”

The Little Free Library that was presented to the Alexandria library was handcrafted in the U.S. and painted with a birch tree motif that evokes the region’s woodlands.

Books For Africa, based in St. Paul, is a key partner of Little Free Library and a proud member of the Minnesota Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent. Books For Africa has distributed over 40 million books and large numbers of computers and e-readers to almost every African country over the past 30 years. It seeks to end the book famine in Africa by providing large quantities of books in English and local languages to schools and libraries.

Little Free Library® is based in Hudson, Wisconsin, and Minnesota Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina has a Minneapolis address.

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Businesses close, buildings demolished; stadium project moves into next stage

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Part of Midway Center is gone to make way for the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium. Demolition of storefronts west of Family Dollar began in late November. By month’s end, the wrecking crew had reached the old Rainbow grocery store, which was built in the 1950s as Murphy’s Department Store.

In the meantime, the remaining stores are letting customers know that they are open. An announcement in November by RD Management LLC indicates that while shopping center redevelopment is part of the plan for the property, it won’t happen until the stadium is completed in 2019. The announcement also lets prospective tenants know that space is available for pre-leasing in 2019.

RD Management owns Midway Center, which is on the block bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. The company owns all but the former Metro Transit bus garage site in the southwest corner of the property.

In a mid-November announcement, RD Management stated, “With 20 acres zoned for multi-use, the company intends to add additional retail, office, residential, entertainment and hospitality options to its property following the completion of the adjacent Allianz Field. Construction of the $200 million soccer stadium will be completed in spring 2019 and will draw thousands of new visitors to the area.”

The development is being tracked closely by a Union Park District Council (UPDC)-Hamline Midway Coalition task force. UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter said it’s encouraging to hear that redevelopment will move ahead. She noted there was a lot of community involvement in a master plan process that led up to City Council adoption of that plan in 2016. The plan initially showed high-rise office buildings along Snelling, as well as hotel space and retail/residential mixed-use development on much of the rest of the site. Other iterations have shown smaller-scale buildings.

“People are eager for redevelopment,” Reiter said.

“Our plan to expand the Midway/Allianz Field project and turn it into a mixed-use experience is an early-stage development that presents tremendous opportunity,” said Richard Birdoff, principal and president of RD Management. “Centrally located between two major cities with access to great public transportation, Midway will one day provide a modern live-work-play destination for locals and visitors to the beautiful new stadium next door. We look forward to growing our tenant-base to include sectors beyond retail while enhancing our current retail offerings.”

“This is a truly transit-oriented development that will be highlighted by the most attractive, newest soccer stadium in the U.S.,” said Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire. “The stadium will increase business for existing tenants, and once expanded, Midway and the stadium together will reinvigorate the neighborhood and advance the community.”

McGuire signed a master lease agreement with RD Management just days before an Aug. 20 project deadline. That allows for the demolition of Rainbow Foods and other businesses to the east. That in turn allowed stadium construction to move ahead. The master lease affects 15.6 acres of the shopping center property.

The lease doesn’t include land in the northeast corner of the site and along Snelling that was split off a few years ago. Those properties include the Big Top Liquor building and the former American Bank. Nor does it include the easternmost part of Midway Center, where businesses continue to operate.

During master lease discussions earlier this year, when the St. Paul Port Authority was involved, Port and Minnesota United officials discussed the complicated process. Midway Center is split into different parcels with different ownership structures and different mortgage issues.

The announcement states that new buildings will be built along Snelling Ave. “The current L-shaped space on the eastern side of the property with 20 active businesses will remain intact following the demolition of Rainbow, Walgreens, Home Choice and Big Top Liquor to make way for the new stadium.”

Home Choice, Rainbow Foods, Midway Pro Bowl and Walgreens moved out starting in late summer and fall. Pearle Vision, which is east of the former grocery store, is to move in the future. Big Top is not slated to move until next year. Most of the businesses that have moved have closed. Home Choice relocated to Roseville.

A Perkins restaurant along University Ave. closed this fall.

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Hamline Elem book box

Getting books into the hands of students and their families

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

After months of conversations and planning, Hamline Elementary is excited to announce its partnership with a growing local organization—Children’s Book Express. Founded by Phil Martin, a retired Minneapolis Community and Technical College English instructor, its mission is to help families build their home libraries through community book donations.

According to Martin, there was both personal and professional inspiration for this program, “My son’s early love for books was the most important motivator. He loved the books we read and loved going to the library. As a college English teacher, I saw how few of my students, who had children, had books in their homes. We agreed to take action.”

To get the program started at Hamline Elementary, the school needed a book collection box for community donations. It had to be large enough to hold several books at once and sturdy enough to endure repeated use. It only took a short conversation with Hamline Midway neighbor Peter Hoh at the St. Paul Tool Library to get the ball rolling. After a few more conversations and a little time in the shop,

Peter designed and built a box well-suited to its purpose—and even delivered it to the Hamline Elementary Fall Festival where community members painted it (photo left provided), giving it a beautiful, vibrant exterior—perfect for an elementary school.

Once in place, the collection box will be the first stop for book donations. Then, members of Hamline’s Student Leadership Team will sort, organize, and display the books; creating a small, lovely book nook from which families can choose books to make their own.

Building home libraries does two very important things: it creates additional opportunities for family engagement and improves reading outcomes for students.
Children’s Book Express makes these things possible while also encouraging students to take responsibility for running the program in their community.

Photo left: In the hallway, there is a donation box on the left and the “take home” shelves on the right. A large sign designates the area the “Children’s Book Express.” (Photo provided)

And what happens next is all about community—inviting school staff, families, neighbors, local businesses and organizations to donate new or gently used books for kids of all ages. Those books can range from picture books to chapter books, fiction and non-fiction, any book to help families bring the joy of reading home.

For people with books ready to share, we’re happy to make them available to Hamline families; unread books on your shelf come to life in the hands of children and their families. And for those who want to buy new books to donate, that’s cool too. Folks looking for book suggestions for our diverse community of learners can find them at the Discover Hamline Elementary Facebook page or by e-mailing the Hamline PTA at hamlineelementarypta@gmail.com.

Phil Martin is optimistic about the future of Children’s Book Express, “Next year I hope we have grown to many more sites in St. Paul, and with a track record of growth, I hope we can grow to other cities.” Hamline Elementary is pleased to be part of the expansion of this literacy-boosting, book-loving, family-supporting program.

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St. Paul City Council approves organized trash collection

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

After 40+ years of homeowner’s choice, city will now decide who picks up your garbage and how much you pay

A five-year contract for residential garbage collection in St. Paul means a new system could be in place as soon as October 2018. In some neighborhoods, it’s hoped that the change puts a lid on problems of trash illegally dumped in alleys and on private property.

But for other residents, organized collection means the end of sharing a trash can with neighbors. Some residents who generate little waste will see significant price increases. So will those who have lower collection contracts negotiated or who haul their own garbage away for disposal. Some residents’ costs will double and in some cases triple.

On a 5-2 vote on Nov. 8, the St. Paul City Council approved the contract with the city’ 15 residential trash haulers. That vote was delayed for a few weeks to allow for negotiations to wrap up. Had the haulers and city not reached an agreement, the city was prepared to issue a request for proposals. That could have meant only one or a few haulers serving the city.

“It’s taken a lot of work to get to today,” said St. Paul Director of Public Works Kathy Lantry. The contract took 14 months to hammer out, going through 10 drafts.

The contract will allow the city to be divided into areas, with haulers serving assigned areas based on their current market share. Areas haven’t been announced yet.

The city’s involvement in residential trash collection ended more than four decades ago. The push to look at organized collection came in part from Macalester-Groveland Community Council (MGCC). The district council obtained funding to conduct a study of the pros and cons of organized collection, starting in 2012-2013.

Sheila Sweeney was MGCC president during much of the study. She is among those who have raised concern that the newly adopted system needs to provide more incentive for people who have shared garbage cans with neighbors, and who generate little waste. Some City Council members said they’ll continue to push for ways to make sharing an option in the future.

The discrepancies in costs drove council members Dan Bostrom and Jane Prince to vote against the contract. Bostrom cited the significant cost impacts some residents will face and wondered if the city wouldn’t have been better off putting trash collection out for bid. He noted St. Paul residents will pay much more than neighboring suburbs with organized collection. “I can’t get my arms around that much of a discrepancy.”

Prince said she’d do all she can to support organized collection, but that she disagrees with aspects of the contract. She too is worried about the hike in rates for people who share a garbage can and generate little waste. Sharing isn’t an option under the current contract.

“For most people, the costs will go down,” said Ward Three Council Member Chris Tolbert. He said the wide discrepancies “weren’t right” and that there need to be fair prices across the city for trash collection. People have long been able to negotiate their rates, which means there isn’t consistency in what is paid.

“I know it’s been quite a process, and we appreciate you sticking with it,” Council President Russ Stark said before the vote. “It hasn’t been easy. No new system is going to be perfect.” But he said the negotiations provided the best deal possible for the city and will help address the quality of life issues around illegal dumping of trash.

Public Works staff said if organized collection cannot be implemented before winter weather strikes, it will be postponed to April 2019.

The 52-page contract outlines details of what residents can expect. It covers single-family homes and multi-family dwellings of up to four units. With county and state taxes added in the costs are $19.79 for every-other-week pickup of a 35-gallon cart, $22.85 for weekly 35-gallon cart collection, $32.03 for a 65-gallon cart and $34.15 for a large 95-gallon cart. There will be added charges ranging from $25 to $50 for walk-up service, with no charge for people with disabilities.

Overflow cost, for an extra bag by a cart, is $3 per pickup. Holiday/Christmas trees will be disposed of for free. Residents can also have three large or bulky items, such as furniture, picked up during the year.

Haulers will do the billing uniformly. The city and haulers will work together on public education and customer service. The city will own the carts, and the haulers will manage and repair them.

The intent is to have a neighborhood have its recycling and trash picked up on the same day. That addresses a longstanding concern about multiple large trucks traveling streets and alleys several days of the week.

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Monitor In A Minute

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin


Historic properties survey moves ahead
Work continues to survey and preserve historic properties in the neighborhood around Hamline University. The St. Paul City Council Nov. 1 accepted a $25,000 grant for historic survey work. The grant, from the United States Department of the Interior Certified Local Government Grant Program, is overseen by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The funds will cover what is called a Cultural Resources Reconnaissance Survey of the Hamline-Midway Neighborhood. A resolution for the grant stated that it is city policy “that the preservation, protection, perpetuation, and use of areas, places, buildings, structures, and other objects having a special historical, community, or aesthetic interest or value, is a public necessity and in the interest of the health, prosperity, safety and welfare of the people, including safeguarding the heritage of the city by preserving sites and structures which reflect elements of the city’s cultural, social, economic, political, or architectural history.”

The resolution also authorizes the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) to “conduct a continuing survey of all areas, places, buildings, structures, or similar objects in the city which the HPC, on the basis of information available or presented to it has reason to believe are, or will be, eligible for designation as heritage preservation sites.”

The last neighborhood survey was done in 1983, as part of a larger Ramsey County survey. The need for a historic survey was raised a few years ago in the wake of Hamline University demolishing buildings without having a solid, comprehensive plan in place.

The grant is good news for the Historic Hamline Village (HHV) group, which has been working with city officials and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota to save 1549 Minnehaha Ave W. as a Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) rehab lab workshop space. Meetings have been held with HHV, the Hamline University Neighborhood Advisory Committee, the statewide preservation group and city officials to discuss ways to reuse the house as an education center for housing maintenance and old house restoration. The group has been reviewing issues including the need to get the house back up to code and how it could be used as an education space.

New regulations for backyard chickens
By year’s end St. Paul will have new regulations for backyard chickens, with caps on flock size, fewer neighbor notification requirements and changes to chicken droppings disposal.

But final changes adopted Nov. 8 laid an egg with council members Chris Tolbert, Jane Prince, and Dan Bostrom. The three unsuccessfully tried to retain more stringent neighbor notification requirements in the ordinance. But their move to require written consent for all sizes of flocks fell short on a 3-4 vote.

The changes have the support of many chicken owners, Egg Plant store owners and Hamline-Midway residents Audrey Matson and Robert Lies, as well as the St. Paul-Ramsey County Food and Nutrition Commission. One opponent raised concerns about the potential health risks of chickens and the potential for them to carry disease.

The current regulation requires prospective chicken owners to get a consent petition signed by 75 percent of neighbors within 150 feet. That requirement would be eliminated for people who want to keep fewer than six chickens.

Bostrom said getting neighborhood consent to keep any number of chickens “is the responsible thing to do.”

Other council members said changes to the consent petition requirements undermine what they are trying to do by amending the chicken keeping regulations. “It does create the potential to make it harder and not easier to keep chickens,” said Council President Russ Stark.

What will go into place is a cap on chicken ownership. No caps are in place right now. The number of chickens will still be determined after a site visit and a look at the size of the yard. The maximum allowed will now be 15.

There will be a Tier 1 permit for owners of one to six female chickens at an initial cost of $26, and a renewal fee of $15. A Tier 2 permit is needed for seven to 15 chickens, at an initial cost of $74 and a renewal fee of $15. Tier 2 chicken owners will still need consent petitions from “owners or occupants of privately or publicly owned real estate within 150 feet of the outer boundaries of the premises.”

A third change allows chicken litter or waste to be composted in the chicken owners’ backyard compost bin. The waste still isn’t allowed at a community or public drop-off site.

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No lack of excitement at the library!

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

The Hamline Midway Library, 1558 West Minnehaha Ave., is offering a wide array of programs this December and January, from learning about owls to trying your hand at Chinese calligraphy. Come to the library to check out books, magazines, CDs, and movies, enjoy free Internet access and find a cozy, peaceful respite from the holiday whirl.

The library offers Chair Yoga with Nancy Giguere on Thursdays, Dec. 14 and Jan. 11, 18, and 25 from 10:30-11:30am. All movement is done while seated or using the chair for balance. This program co-presented by the library and the Hamline Midway Elders Association.

Preschool Storytimes in English happen Fridays, 10:30-11am, with upcoming events on Dec. 15 and Jan. 5, 12, and 19. Storytimes feature stories, songs, puppets, and more. They’re a great way for caregivers to bond with children and build social skills, listening comprehension, and letter and number recognition while creating a solid foundation for lifelong learning. Children of all activity levels are welcome!

The library will also start offering Evening Storytimes on Tuesdays from 6-6:30pm starting Jan. 23.

The science fun continues on Sat., Dec. 16, 1:30-2:30pm with the Nature Smart Fun: Owls! presentation. School-aged kids and their families can learn about these amazing nocturnal creatures and even get to dissect some owl pellets.

The Start a Series Book Club will meet on Sat., Dec. 23, 3-4pm to discuss “The Eighth Day,” the first book in Dianne K. Slarni’s The Eighth Day series. This book club is recommended for grades 6-8, and each month will focus on a discussion of the first book in a series.

All St. Paul Libraries will be closed for Christmas on Dec. 24, 25, and 26.

On Wed., Dec. 27, 1-3pm, Jody’s Documentary Film Series will feature director Anne Makepeace’s film “Tribal Justice.” This PBS POV documentary focuses on two strong women who serve as tribal court judges and how they practice restorative justice to turn around the lives of troubled youth. Enjoy the free film and snacks and stay for the post-film discussion facilitated by Jody. This program is a collaboration of the award-winning POV documentary series and the Hamline Midway Elders Association.

The Novels at Night Book Club meets on Thur., Dec. 28, 6:30-7:30pm to discuss “In the Lake of the Woods” by Minnesota native Tim O’Brien. The novel tells the story of John and Kathy Wade, whose marriage is built on mutual deception. The couple visits a Minnesota lake to try to sort things out. Things get even more complicated when Kathy suddenly disappears.

On Sat., Dec. 30, drop into the library from 3-4:30pm for a Maker Break to explore Chinese culture and language through calligraphy. This event is geared to school-aged children and their families.

All St. Paul Libraries will be closed on Monday, Jan. 1 for New Year’s Day.

On Sat., Jan. 6, 1-2pm, the Saints and Sinners Book Club meets to discuss good mysteries. Contact volunteer G. Balter for book lists and more information at gerribalter@gmail.com or 651-224-5570.

All St. Paul Libraries will be closed on Jan. 15 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

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