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Celebrating Central High School’s 150 Years

Posted on 05 June 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Central High School greater community gathered on Thur., May 18 for a special 150th birthday party picnic on their new plaza. The party was hosted by the Transforming Central Committee, a community effort to reshape the urban landscape of Central High School. The committee’s long-term goals have been to improve the students’ daily experience, to address the environmental impact of the campus, and to deepen the connection between the school and its surrounding neighborhood.

The new plaza consists of two rain gardens, two tree trenches, pervious pavers, and a rain collection system embedded in the lawn surface. This project included funding from the Legacy Amendment and was made it possible by combining local dollars with state funding.

Photo left: Photographer Chris Faust (pictured right) explained the Knight Foundation-funded project called Central Then and Now. A former Central parent, Faust worked with the Minnesota Historical Society to locate photos from Central’s past. He then created complementary images from the present, to be paired with those from the past.



Photo right: Two of the many banners from the Central Then and Now Project. At left, an industrial arts class from 1957. At right, an industrial arts class from 2017.






Photo left: The Walker West Jazz Ensemble consists of one Highland and three Central High School students.





Photo right: Parent volunteer Deb Ahlquist said, “The transformation project has been going on for a long time. In Parent Advisory Committee meetings, there was talk years ago about the grounds and the entryway looking increasingly shabby. We also knew we had a bad storm water run-off issue. One of the biggest student concerns was the footpath from the front door that runs north along Lexington Pkwy. It was icy in the winter and muddy in the spring and fall; now it’s paved.

Photo left: Chalk artists Emily Pech (left), and Mayra Moreno (right), CHS sophomores, were two of many students who decorated the plaza.




Photo right: Jessica Bromelkamp, Communications and Outreach Director for the Capitol Region Watershed District, in front of one of the plaza’s two rain gardens. She explained, “The Transform Central Committee wanted to improve their campus, and we wanted to clean up the storm water. They contacted us in 2012; we provided grants for feasibility and design in 2013. The project was completed last fall. All practices on-site have the same goal: to intercept rain water coming off the roof and other hard surfaces before it reaches the storm water system. These improvements will result in capturing and filtering 1.4 million gallons of water each year.”

Photo below: The transformed plaza in front of Central High School with rock benches for seating, better lighting, and vastly improved storm water capture and filtering to benefit water quality. Major plaza funders include the Capitol Region Watershed District, the State of Minnesota, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Mardag, and the St. Paul Foundation.

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‘Real work’ is an integral part of Gordon Park High School’s curriculum and focus on civic engagement

Posted on 05 June 2017 by Calvin

Students work to transform vacant lot into community park

Article and photos by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
For Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) students Jay Alrich and Alyssa Castillo (photo right), advocating for a park next to their school at 421 N. Griggs St. has been part of their coursework. (photo right), advocating for a park next to their school at 421 N. Griggs St. has been part of their coursework.

This sort of ‘real work’ is an integral part of the alternative learning center’s emphasis on civic engagement for historically underserved students, according to GPHS teacher Jamie Tomlin.

Alrich is a park listener. “My job is to ask people what they want here,” he explained. He solicits inputs at events, from teachers and students, and when he’s out in the community.

The entire process has been very community-based, according to Castillo. They’ve worked to involve the predominately Somali residents of Skyline Towers across the street, as well as Hmong neighbors.

“It’s not just a school thing,” said Castillo. They’re also working to pull together community members who didn’t know each other before.

Photo left: Gordon Parks High School English teacher Jamie Tomlin collects ideas for park names during an event on May 25, 2017.

This park will be the nearest park for residents, pointed out Alrich.

“I grew up in the neighborhood here,” said Castillo, who now lives in East St. Paul. “We had to trek to find a park.” She added that the nearest park is about a mile away. This one will be much more convenient.

“We hope it will come out as beautiful as we’ve planned,” said Castillo. “This park is going to be beautiful and amazing and everything the community wants and more.”

Students have referred to the park as Three Ring Gardens, while the city has labeled it Lexington Commons. Suggestions for the final name were collected from the community during a student-organized event on May 25 at the site, which is located between University and St. Anthony avenues. The event also included live entertainment, food, historical information, and projects by students.
Another event organized by the Trust for Public Land, Union Park Neighborhood Group, and Lexington-Hamline Community Council is planned for July 31.

For students, part of the journey has included delving into the history of the parcel. They learned that the space was once known as Circus Hill. Beginning in 1890, the circus returned to Circus Hill every year until 1965. The site’s two parcels were then used primarily for storage of overflow vehicles from both an auto body shop and the former Whitaker dealership. Most recently, the city used the land for snow storage.

As part of the process, students produced a documentary about the history of the land in 2010, and talked to neighborhood resident Nancy Bailey about her memories of the circus.

GPHS students have also worked with University of Minnesota Professor Catherine Squires to collect and digitize stories of local elders.

Photo left: Shelly Fountain mans the front table at a student-organized event May 25 at the future park. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

“How do you keep a sense of community?” asked Tomlin, when you have neighborhoods like Rondo that were destroyed when I-94 ripped through it. Students tried to answer that question in the Legacy Class she co-teaches with Curriculum & Media Arts Coordinator Paul Creager.

“Along with the Trust for Public Land, we are gathering community awareness of the future park,” said Creager. “We think this is a great story of community-led green space development.”

Mural plants seed
Students have been talking about transforming the three vacant lots next door into a park for years, but the ball really got rolling when some students started attending community events with a mural they created under the direction of artist Peyton Scott Russell.

Photo right: Artist Peyton Scott Russell, Gordon Parks High School teachers Ted Johnson and Tom Davies, and former student Khalique Rogers talk about how the mural behind them helped students connect with their communities through the arts.

The founder of Juxtaposition Arts and Sprayfinger, as well as a 2012-2014 Bush Leadership Fellow, Russell was the first person to teach graffiti as an art form in the Twin Cities. Through a Forecast Public Art program in 2013-2014, Russell encouraged Gordon Park High School students to focus on a project through which young people could interact and connect with their communities through the arts.

Through the process, Russell asked students to consider how they communicate in different ways. The resulting mural shows eight people looking down at their phones with a text message conversation on one side.

“I love the idea of text speak,” remarked Russell. “It is redefining the written language.”

GPHS students discussed how ideas depicted on the mural evoke concerns that matter to the St. Paul community at large during a Creative Placemaking tour lead by urban planner Gil Penalosa of 8-80 Cities. “At the time, we didn’t really envision what it would bring to the school,” recalled former GPHS student Khalique Rogers. But that exposure prompted a private donor to step forward and pledge to make the new park happen.

“It’s really cool to see the seed planted years ago grown into what it is today with perseverance and hard work,” said Rogers, who resides in the Como neighborhood.

Last year, with $1.5 million from the city’s 8-80 Vitality Fund, The Trust for Public Land put together the purchase of the three parcels that will become a 5-acre park as part of the group’s focus on more green space along the light rail line. The land has since been conveyed to the city.

The city has yet to develop a final design or determine who will serve as stewards of the land, although Tomlin hopes that students will continue to play a role. “Keeping them involved is key,” she stated.

Students and neighbors envision a playground, outdoor classroom/amphitheater, indoor gardening space and a community orchard at this property that sits 17 feet higher than University Ave and offers a unique overlook of nearby tree tops and roof tops.

It will be a park that champions open space, equity and access.

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ResCare gets permit to build residential facility in West Midway

Posted on 05 June 2017 by Calvin

How should St. Paul’s remaining industrially-zoned land be used? The prospect of another social services facility in the West Midway, on an industrially zoned site, has raised questions for members of the St. Paul Planning Commission.

With a vote May 19, the commission approved a conditional use permit for ResCare Minnesota at 700 Transfer Rd. That decision, which was made on a split vote at the commission and at a May 11 Zoning Committee meeting, is final unless there is an appeal to the St. Paul City Council. No appeal had been filed as of Monitor deadline.

While the commission members disagreed on the zoning change, they did agree that they need to have a discussion of industrial land in the city. That likely will include the St. Paul Port Authority, which has a long history of redeveloping the city’s old industrial sites. Several years ago the port and the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development led a comprehensive study of the West Midway and its industrial uses. One focus was the need to preserve industrial land, to create jobs and build the city’s property tax base.

700 Transfer Rd. is a two-story brick building near the former depot used for many years by buses such as Jefferson and Greyhound Lines and Amtrak. It’s near other commercial and industrial uses and the recently relocated Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum.

The property is zoned for I-2 industrial use and has been available for sale for about four years. It has had different office and light industrial uses in the past and was built in 1981. It has housed some different offices in recent years.

Some neighboring property owners have raised concerns about another social services agency with housing in the West Midway. The Transfer Rd. facility is not far from a so-called “wet housing” building built in South St. Anthony several years ago. That housing, for chronic inebriates, has helped get many previously homeless people off of the streets. But the facility is sometimes pointed to when there are break-ins and panhandling problems in the area.

ResCare, Inc., has its headquarters in Kentucky and operates in several states including Minnesota. It is a large diversified health and human services provider, with services including residential treatment, services to people with disability and home health care services.

ResCare Minnesota Executive Director Thomas Alf told the Planning Commission Zoning Committee that the building would become a congregate living residence for people in recovery from addiction. It will have 16 beds and around-the-clock staffing, with a total of 20 staff members. It would be licensed and overseen by Ramsey County and the state.

The facility is intended to help people transition from large residential treatment centers into the greater community. Residents will be closely supervised as part of the intensive residential treatment program and will learn skills to help them move on with their lives. No one who is a Level Three sex offender will be allowed in the program, and anyone who violates rules will be asked to leave.

Hamline Midway Coalition took no position on the request. One neighboring property owner-manager, Mark Rancone of Roseville Properties, said that while he doesn’t oppose the mission of ResCare Minnesota, he has other objections to the conditional use permit. Rancone said the conditional use permit goes against a citywide comprehensive plan recommendation to preserve industrial property in the area.

Planning Commission Zoning Committee members were split on the idea of a conditional use permit. Some agreed with Rancone and said the proposal is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. “This is a vibrant area with a mix of uses and few vacancies,” said Commissioner Daniel Edgerton. He questioned whether it was suitable for a residential facility.

If the former Amtrak facility is ever put on the market, that site and 700 Transfer Rd. could be combined into a larger development parcel, Edgerton said. But his motion to deny the conditional use permit fell short.

Others said the permit and use are appropriate. Commissioner Anne deJoy said the building hadn’t housed an industrial use for many years. She would feel differently if there had been other buyers and other proposed uses for the property. Other commissioners said the permit doesn’t change the underlying zoning and that an industrial use could return to the property, on its own or as part of a larger site, in the future.

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Como Community Seed Library hosts their spring event

Posted on 05 June 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Dawn Lamm and Bill Nieber (photo right) are dedicated to empowering local people to grow their own food. They are avid seed savers, part of a growing movement of gardeners who contribute to diversifying the worldwide food system. Residents of the Como neighborhood, the couple created the Como Community Seed Library four years ago and hosted their second large-scale community event on Sat., May 21 at the Orchard Rec Center.

Nearly 100 gardeners attended the event, which opened with an educational presentation on lawn care practices. Lamm and Nieber envision each of their community events as having an educational component followed by an informal time for swapping plants, exchanging seeds, and telling stories.

Seed saving is the practice of saving seeds or other reproductive material from vegetables, grains, herbs, and flowers. This is the traditional way that farms and gardens have been maintained through the ages. In the last 50 years, there has been a significant shift toward buying seed from commercial seed suppliers. Much of the seed-saving activity today is done on a small scale by home gardeners.

There are some seed libraries that have opened up across Minnesota in recent years. The Como Community Seed Library is unique among those in that it is mobile.

“We wanted to be able to bring our library out into the community,” Lamm said, “rather than being attached to a physical site. A gardener can see what kind of vegetable and flower seeds we have, take a few packets with them, leave their contact information and, if they like, bring seeds back to us in the next growing season. Not everyone ‘shares back,’ but many people do. We’re still building the seed community in this area through sowing, growing, and sharing seeds.”

Lamm, a historian by training, is as interested in the stories of the plants as she is in the seeds themselves. She said, “There was a woman who spoke at our presentation today, and she told a story of heirloom butternut squash seeds that have been passed down through her family for four generations.”

Photo left: A portion of the mobile Como Community Seed Library, where gardeners can check out seeds to sow, grow, and share.

What is an heirloom variety? According to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, “’Heirloom’ describes a seed’s heritage, specifically a documented heritage of being passed down within a family or community. An heirloom variety of fruit, vegetable, or flower must be pollinated by natural means, and retain its original traits from one generation to the next.”

What is an heirloom variety? According to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, “’Heirloom’ describes a seed’s heritage, specifically a documented heritage of being passed down within a family or community. An heirloom variety of fruit, vegetable, or flower must be pollinated by natural means, and retain its original traits from one generation to the next.”

Every seed holds a connection to the future and the past. The stories of seeds connect us to our history, our culture, our family, and our sense of who we are.

Lamb explained, “These seed-saving traditions are so important because 75% of our food crop diversity has disappeared in the last 100 years. The trend in agribusiness is toward planting mono-cultures, but why should we have the same tomatoes and potatoes all across the different regions of our country?”

The Como Community Seed Library is available for appearances at block clubs, faith-based organizations, community gardens or any other plant-related events. Lamm and Nieber can be reached by email at comoseedsavers@gmail.com, or through Facebook at www.facebook.com/comocommunityseedlibrary. There is no cost to join the seed library or to have them participate in a community event.

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Is German Immersion School affecting neighborhood positively or negatively? Depends on who you ask…

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

Some residents who are living east and north of the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) at 1031 Como Ave. say the noise and traffic generated by the school are negatively affecting their quality of life.

School representatives counter that they have given a new vitality to a vacant property, and increased the livability of the neighborhood.

“We think we bring a positive energy to the neighborhood,” said volunteer school board president Kelly Laudon, who has two children at the school.

Neighbors don’t feel involved in TCGIS decisions
Several neighbors attended the TCGIS board meetings in March and April 2017 to voice concerns about how the school “monopolizes” the available street parking and doesn’t have a large enough parking lot for its needs. They feel that the school doesn’t involve the neighborhood in its planning processes, creates traffic problems, is allowing rubber mulch from the playground to build up on neighboring properties and the street, and is contributing to noise pollution in the neighborhood.

Kris Anderson has lived in her home along Van Slyke Ave. across from the school for 28 years. Her biggest concern is whether or not it is appropriate to have such a densely populated organization operating in a residential neighborhood.

“The impact of so many people in such a small space has completely changed the character of the neighborhood when school and after school programs are in session,” said K. Anderson. “I am deeply concerned by the fact that the community feels excluded from school planning, and that no consideration seems to be given to the impact of the school on their neighbors.”

“We want TCGIS to be a responsible neighbor,” said Josh Dworak, who has lived on the school’s east side along Argyle for seven years. “We would like a way to have effective communication with the school to resolve issues that affect our daily lives. We want the school and everyone associated with the school to respond in a way where they take responsibility for their impact on the neighborhood seriously and treat their neighbors as they would like to be treated in their own neighborhood.”

School officials counter that they have been responding to concerns since they were brought up by neighbors at the March school board meeting.

Laudon pointed out that this was the first time that neighbors had been to a school board meeting to complain since she joined the board in Feb. 2014.

St. Paul resident Ted Anderson was hired as the school’s superintendent in July 2016 after previously working at a school in Berlin for four years, and recalls speaking with two neighbors earlier this school year regarding the noise level at the playgrounds. “The other issues brought to the board were new,” he stated.

No parking for residents
“School staff and visitors monopolize neighborhood street parking near the school to the point where residents cannot access to their homes from the street when school is in session,” said neighbor K. Anderson. “This affects our ability to have our own visitors. It affects our ability to access our homes from a level surface—there is a hill behind the houses on the alley side, which makes it difficult to unload groceries, landscaping materials, building materials, sports equipment, and what have you. It affects access to our homes by handicapped individuals, again related to the hill on the alley side and also the availability of parking. Day after day, every street parking spot on Van Slyke Ave. is occupied by school staff and visitors.”

Since hearing about the parking problem in March, the school responded by asking parents and staff to make sure that one parking spot per home was left open.

“I feel that we are making headway,” said the school’s executive director in late April.
While K. Anderson and her husband Kevin agree that things are getting better, they’re still frustrated.

“As you can imagine it is discouraging to have a ‘neighbor’ who is so completely unaware of their impact on the surrounding residents,” said K. Anderson.

She is also frustrated that every discussion with the school seems to start from scratch as there have been three different administrators in the past four years, and a lack of continuity in which staff member is designated to handle community relations.

In the past, an assistant director held TCGIS/Como Community Partnership meetings every other month, which she appreciated.

Recognizing this as a need, TCGIS is planning to establish a community liaison, according to school representatives.

Laudon also pointed out that since moving into the neighborhood, two to three board members have been neighborhood residents, which has been done to remain connected with the neighborhood. Specifically, Jenneke Oosterhoff who lives along Como Ave. is appointed as a community-at-large board member and doesn’t have any children attending the school.

When the school learned from a community member that the District 10 Community Council planned to talk about the school at its April Land Use Meeting, the school’s director wrote up a letter that day outlining the steps they were taking following the March complaints, and school board member Natalie Yaeger, who lives in the neighborhood, read it at the meeting.

“We hope that these steps are contributing to improved conditions in the neighborhood and we are committed to collaborating with neighbors on practical, practicable solutions to these issues,” wrote TCGIS’s executive director in the letter.

Resident K. Anderson remains frustrated that the school has “no parking” signs up on its side of the street on both Como and Van Slyke.

Laudon explained that this is done for the safety of students, and to ensure that pick-up and drop-off run smoothly and quickly. Parents are not allowed to linger on the street, but instead pull up, drop their children off and leave. And, each drop-off and pick-up is spaced out over 20 minutes to help space out the number of people arriving and departing, according to Laudon.

To improve things for parents and ease traffic in the neighborhood, TCGIS partnered with Great River School two years ago and began running three buses to transport students.

Playground materials toxic?
In March, Dworak helped neighbor Arturo Sanchez shovel a 5-foot by 5-foot by 4-inch-deep pile of rubber mulch material from his alleyway that had drifted over from the TCGIS playground.

Dworak is concerned about the “chunks of tire and deteriorating rubber” found in the school’s environmental rain drains, streets and neighboring properties. “Basically, TCGIS has installed a rubber tire dump on the playground that is polluting Lake Como and the Mississippi Watershed,” stated Dworak. “The neighbors smell deteriorating rubber on days where the temperature gets above 50 degrees.”

Executive Director T. Anderson said they “really regret the extent to which the rubber playground material has been transported off our property, and we have stepped up our efforts to mitigate the problem with the installer and manufacturer. The crumbling is excessive and has resulted in significant amounts being transported onto Mr. Sanchez’s property and into the alley during routine snow removal.” They have cleaned up the alley and plan to work with Sanchez to clean up the area around his bushes.

T. Anderson countered that the rubber mulch is not toxic, and is included on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s list of acceptable landscaping products. “We have been assured by the installer that the material is safe,” he said.

He added the playground was designed in cooperation with the Capitol Region Watershed District to keep rainfall on the property and flowing into the ground to reduce run-off into Lake Como. The rubber mulch is supposed to help with that. However, the school is concerned about how fast it is deteriorating and is discussing that with the manufacturer, pointed out T. Anderson. Once it warms up, the installer will take measures to strengthen the surface.

Environmental issues have always been a priority at TCGIS, say school representatives. There is a recycling program and students separate their trash into a compost bin at lunch.

Excessive noise levels
Some neighbors near the school think that the noise it generates is excessive, reaching levels that may damage hearing.

“I have frequently heard that I moved in next to a school, what did I expect?” pointed out K. Anderson. “It is extremely disappointing that I have never heard any school official recognize that this institution moved into a residential neighborhood and that they have any responsibility to preserve the character of that neighborhood.”

Dworak works nights, and the noise from the school playground prevents him from being able to sleep during the day. Anderson says that the noise is far too persistent and unpleasant to open windows, and prevents free use of neighboring porches and yards.

School representatives pointed out that they continue to remind kids to refrain from excessive yelling and screaming, but their program also recognizes that children need not just mental stimulation but physical activity to thrive.

Among the various options the school is considering is erecting a sound barrier, but they also recognize that a wall could have unintended consequences and create more barriers, said Laudon.

“The values we hold as a school community drive how we want to respond to the neighborhood,” observed Laudon. They teach students to gather information, interpret it, and then come up with solutions. “You don’t rush to solutions, you think about all the options,” Laudon stated.

‘We hear you. We see you.’
The tuition-free German Immersion School opened its doors in the fall of 2005 with kindergarten and first grade at the old Union Hall along Eustace Ave. As it grew by adding a new kindergarten class each year, it moved to a larger but 90-year-old office building at 1745 University Ave. In the 2012-2013 school year, TCGIS reached its full configuration as a K-8 school.

The next year, it moved its 370 students to the recently renovated former home of St. Andrews Catholic Church and parochial school in the Warrendale neighborhood along Como Ave.

The charter school’s small class sizes help ensure individualized attention for up to 24 students per class. The school offers full-day immersion kindergarten, English instruction beginning in third grade, and Spanish language in the seventh grade.

Each year, 87% of parents volunteer in some capacity at the school.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Education recognized the school as one of its 2016-2017 Reward Schools.

The K-8 charter school currently serves 524 students. The largest classes are the youngest, which have three sections. As they rise through the school, TCGIS will need more space. The board has just begun its five-year strategic planning process to identify solutions to space needs.

While they expected attrition as students got older and moved away, all available spots are filled as soon as they open, even in the higher grades, pointed out Laudon. “It’s been some unexpected success,” she said. They have found that some families are actually choosing to move to the Twin Cities because they want their children to attend this school. Those same people often opt to move into the neighborhood when homes open up, in part because of the European mentality of having homes near their work and school to cut down on driving, she explained.

The school’s mission is “innovative education of the whole child through German immersion,” remarked Laudon. Its vision: Andere hören, andere sehen, weltoffen denken und handeln. Roughly translated, they work to hear others, see others and think broadly from a global perspective, she explained.

To the neighbors, Laudon said: “We are hearing you. We are seeing you. We want to think globally and broadly as we respond.”

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Como Elem-Picture.pdf

Como Elementary has similar mission to its first mission 100 years ago

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

It has been 100 years since Como Park Elementary, 780 W. Wheelock Pkwy., first opened its doors to students. The current school population of 600 students in grades pre-K through 5, is getting ready to celebrate.

Photo right: A recent Como Elementary school picture. (Photo provided)

“We have a big celebration planned for June 2,” said Christine Vang, the school principal. “That is when we also host our annual Como Park Elementary carnival, and we plan to incorporate the 100th anniversary with that event. We have been writing to a lot of constituents in our community and dignitaries from the state, and we hope to have them come and help us celebrate.”

The school is unique in its design and was the first building ascribed to architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington. He was the first African-American municipal architect in the nation. He would go on to design several buildings in St. Paul, including Harriet Island Pavilion (since renamed the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion), and the Highland Park Water Tower. He also created several of the St. Paul Winter Carnival ice palaces in the late 1930s and 1940s, which showed his more imaginative side.

The original Como Park Elementary had eight classrooms and a kindergarten classroom, according to Vang. “Today we have four sections of all-day kindergarten, and three sections of pre-K,” she said.

Photo left: A Como Elementary classroom, circa 1951. (Photo provided)

Vang said the original building was expanded in the 1970s, and the newer part housed special education programs. There was Como Elementary Education and Como Elementary Special Education, with services available for children with special needs, autism, or with learning disabilities. Vang said the school has now integrated these programs and is now one Como Park Elementary program. At about the same time as the school had a new addition, a planetarium was built. Como Park Elementary is the only school in the district with a planetarium on site.

Vang said she has done some research on the early days of the school, gathering information from the Minnesota Historical Society and also talking to alumni.

“The initial population of the school was neighborhood children,” Vang said. “Earlier on, many of the students said they would go to school in the morning, then walk home at noon for lunch and return to school for the afternoon. Now, many of the kids come from other neighborhoods and are bused in. We serve breakfast to all the kids, who eat breakfast in their classrooms, as well as the noon lunches.”

Vang said Como Park Elementary is moving into the technology era of teaching and learning. Teachers use a Promethean board to interact with their students, and all students have iPads. There are two computer labs for student use.

“We connect with Como Zoo, and our upper grades are also connected with Big River Journey, which gives them the opportunity to go on trips and learn about the river,” she explained.

Vang said that in preparing for the 100-year celebration, she has found from her research that the concept of Como Park Elementary has not changed that much from its beginning.

“I found pictures of students receiving dental services back in the day,” she noted. “We have a program today that provides dental services, and we also have vision screening for the kids. We offer weekend meals for 45 of our students, and we have a big collection of clothing for families to draw from. That was provided in the early days too. It has been a very community-oriented school from the beginning.”

Vang is also celebrating her 10th anniversary as principal at Como Park. “I am an alumna of St. Paul Public Schools,” she said. “I grew up in St. Paul, starting school here when I was in the third grade. I graduated from Como Senior High, then went to college and got my teaching license. I taught elementary school for seven years in St. Paul and then went to work for the district. I got my administration license, then came back.” Vang said the school is a great building and that the school enjoys a wonderful relationship with the community.

The June 2 celebration (5-7:30pm) will feature many activities, games, and food. Alumni are expected to return, and special hats have been ordered for them to wear.

Wigington, who died in 1967 after a long and successful career in architecture, would be proud of the school he designed that continues to flourish today.

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Mosaic on a Stick tessellates a good story

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

Story and Photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Lori Greene describes herself as a community-based mosaic artist. She owns and operates a mosaic arts business called Mosaic on a Stick, located for the past four years at 1564 Lafond Ave., in the historic Hamline Park Playground Shelter. It’s a place where both art and community flourish.

Photo right: Artist Lori Greene in front of her business on the SE corner of Lafond and Snelling avenues. Their close proximity to the Fairgrounds inspired the name that first came up jokingly, but stuck: Mosaic on a Stick.

Photo left: The art supply and gift side of Mosaic on a Stick.

To hear Greene describe the arc of her own career, one of the constants has been her willingness to follow her intuition. She had been close to signing a lease on another property in 2013, when the City of St. Paul called and asked if she would be interested in renting the playground shelter at Hamline Park. A long-time admirer of its architect, the city’s first African American municipal architect Clarence Wigington, she jumped at the chance. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

“This rental situation has worked out well for us,” Greene said. “We’re able to be in a beautiful, historic building with plenty of room for working with glass, teaching classes, and selling glass-related materials and artwork. We’re able to function as what we are, which is a community art space.”

Photo right: “Everything that I am,” Greene said, “I am because of my parents, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The way I grew up, everybody was working for the benefit of the community; everybody was working for peace.”

To her joy, people still come in to use the public restrooms and drinking fountains in the old park building. Some of them might even make a small mosaic while they’re there. Greene said, “I’ve had more than two dozen conversations with people in their 70”s and 80’s who remember having gone to park dances here in their teens. They just want to look around, reminisce, and tell their stories.”

Mosaic on a Stick frequently offers community art events in which people of all skill levels can participate. There’s an art show coming up this month called, “Mother is a Verb,” with pieces for sale by community artists across all media. The opening celebration is Thur., May 11 from 6:30-9:30pm, and the show will run through Fri., June 30.

The title of the show seems fitting, as Greene had three small children herself when she launched Mosaic on a Stick in 2004.

Photo left: Greene said, “One of our most popular classes is where students learn to make a mandala, which is a circle of glass cut from repeating patterns. Making a mandala is a peaceful act. I feel happy when I’m making one, and I think other people do too – whether or not they know why.”

Greene’s early art training was in textiles, a medium about as different from glass as it could be. She graduated with a BFA from the California College of Arts in weaving, having been drawn to that craft because of her ancestral Choctaw Indian roots. She eventually found her way to glass in grad school at the Maryland Institute College of Arts. “I started making mosaic there before I even knew what it was called,” Greene said.

As a community-based mosaic artist, Greene noted that, “I make art for, and with, other people. Sometimes I design a project, and community members help me to create it. Sometimes I work with people on a project design, and then I make it. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both.”

Greene plans to make a four-sided sculpture of a woman for the outside of her building, and have it installed by this fall. The sculpture will stand about 10’ tall. Her goal is to work with women of color in the neighborhood to develop the idea and to do the mosaic tiling. She said, “I want it to be their story—our story.”

Photo right: Greene plans to make a four-sided sculpture of a woman for the outside of her building, and have it installed by this fall. The sculpture will stand about 10’ tall. Her goal is to work with women of color in the neighborhood to develop the idea and to do the mosaic tiling. She said, “I want it to be their story—our story.”

Greene’s work can be seen all around the Twin Cities at North High, Minnehaha Academy, HCMC, the Seward Co-op, the Global Market, and the Ronald McDonald House, to name just a few. Her work is unmistakably colorful, pattern-based, and often tells a story. In other words, it’s hard to miss.

Thirteen years ago, Greene was selected to participate in a program at Intermedia Arts in South Minneapolis that paired artists with community activists. During her initial interview, she was asked what her reason was for applying. Again, following her intuition, Greene said, “I know that people need art to heal, and spaces in which to make their healing art. I wanted to make a safe space one day for women, especially, to come and do their creative work.”

It seems that is just what Greene has done. Mosaic on a Stick is a place where life meets art, and where neighbors meet each other.

In keeping with the community-mindedness that drives her work, Greene is now also hosting a “huddle” that came out of the Women’s March last January. “We meet on the third Thursday of every month at 6pm,” she said, “and anyone is welcome—it’s an open group.”

For more information about Mosaic on a Stick and its many offerings, contact Lori at 651-645-6600 or lori@greenemosaic.com.

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Party for the Planet 02 slider

Party for the Planet at Como Zoo draws learners of all ages

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

In partnership with Excel Energy, Como Zoo and Conservatory threw a Party for the Planet on Apr. 22-23. On Earth Day weekend, children and their families learned about the “super hero” powers that animals have—like tarantula spiders that can re-grow legs and snakes that are masters of disguise, changing their colors to elude predators.

Visitors to the free, public event also learned how they could become conservation superheroes themselves. This year marked the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, a global celebration that reminds us of what we can do to protect our planet’s resources.

Photo right: Alexander Yang (pictured left), a high school senior participating in the Youth Education Program at Como Zoo and Conservatory , explained the importance of planting seeds to a young visitor. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Event Coordinator Lindsay Sypnieski said, “Our Party for the Planet was part of a national initiative through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, to which we belong. All across the country in the month of April, zoos and aquariums have been offering educational events with conservation themes. The Party for the Planet was a fun way to get people thinking about their role as stewards of the earth. Even if our actions are small, they have an impact that’s either positive or negative.”

Como Zoo and Conservatory offers many opportunities to engage youth with the natural world, conservation issues, and leadership development.

Photo left: Visitors enjoyed crafts and learned about habitat pressure facing panda bears in China. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

One example, their Youth Engagement Program (YEP), is designed for 9th-12th graders who want to grow as leaders in their communities, and to make the world a better place by implementing meaningful conservation projects.

YEP member Alexander Yang was on hand at the Party for the Planet, engaging young people in the value of planting seeds. A senior at Roseville Area High School and a devoted gardener, Yang said that YEP taught him a lot. His year-long YEP project has been about making seeds accessible and available to everyone.

YEP Coordinator Steph Kappel explained, “Our project is just completing its first year. We had ten students participate from across the metro area. We’re currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 school year. Funding comes from the state Legacy Amendment, and there is no cost for students to participate. More information can be found under the education tab at www.comozooconservatory.org.

Photo left: In an activity called “The Power of Flight”, children learned how monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles each year to their over-wintering grounds in Mexico. The University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab had a table where children could mix soil and milkweed seeds to make a seed ball to take home. Milkweed is an essential source of food and shelter for monarchs. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“This year’s YEP projects included a wide range of issues,” Kappel said, “like storm water run-off, engaging more youth of color to use city parks, reducing waste, and improving recycling. All of the projects were selected by students themselves, and they learned valuable skills along the way including project management, the ability to assess community assets, and grant writing. YEP is about making connections with other youth who share a passion for positive change.”

Through education programs like YEP, Nature Walkers (for 13-17-year-olds), Lil’ Explorer Thursdays (for preschoolers), and many others, Como Zoo and Conservatory is helping develop the next generation of conservation superheroes.

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GIA Kitchens 06 slider

GIA Kitchen incubates new businesses in South Como

Posted on 08 May 2017 by Calvin

GIA Kitchen is the brain-child of Sarah and David Couenhoven, who bought an office building at 955 Mackubin St. in 2011. David had just retired from his life-long work as a contractor, which came in handy as the two overhauled the building into a commercial kitchen for 30 tenants.

Their tenants rent space with access to four extra-large stock-pot stoves for salsas, sauces, and ghees; 20, 40 and 60 quart industrial mixers; two double-rack convection ovens that can bake up to 30 sheet pans at a time; a walk-in refrigerator and freezer; 3,200 square feet of commercial cooking and baking space; and 1,600 square feet of warehouse space for storage and transfer of product.

What the Couenhovens have created is called an incubator kitchen, where entrepreneurs can launch a food line without the worry of high overhead and equipment costs.

“All of this started because of our own health issues,” Sarah said. “About ten years ago, David and I needed to shift to a gluten-free diet avoiding refined flour and sugar. We created a sourdough bread recipe that uses gluten free, whole grains that are highly digestible—and we liked it so much that we started selling it. We come into GIA every Tuesday morning to bake our one pound “Thuro-Bread” loaves: to fill our kitchen at home and our commercial orders.”

Photo right: Midway resident Jennifer Helm makes 528 popsicles in a typical production day. The flavor pictured here is hibiscus, which Helm makes by brewing hibiscus leaves into tea. The end-result is gluten free, sugar-free and delicious. Helm calls this pop her favorite guilt-free, go-to choice. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

One small kitchen space at GIA allows gluten, but the majority of the square footage is gluten and peanut free.

Jennifer Helm is an entrepreneur who launched St. Pops, a healthy popsicle business, out of GIA Kitchen four years ago. ”I had a life change in 2013,” Helm said, “when I was laid off after 20 years in a successful advertising career. I’d always wanted to run my own business, so I took the summer to develop recipes, research different incubator kitchen spaces, and create my business plan with the help of a class at Women Venture. One of the smartest things I did was to take my time, and to really think it all through.”

Helm continued, “One of the best things about being in an incubator kitchen is that we were able to launch a viable business with a very small investment. We put about $7,000 into St. Pops that first year, and we easily made it back.”

Photo left: St. Pops uses only biodegradable packaging, like these glassine paper bags. Helm is proud to run a zero waste business. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Helm has scaled back her flavor selection this year in an attempt to maximize efficiency. The flavors that will be available include chocolate, coffee, strawberry, lemonade, hibiscus, pear, elderberry, and rhubarb. She said quietly, “I swear that my rhubarb pops have a cult following.”

St. Pops are available at Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun, the City of St. Paul pools at Highland and Como Parks, the Thomas More Church Farmer’s Market (Summit and Lexington avenues), the Fulton Farmer’s Market (50th St. and France Ave.), and on the TUK TUK and 9 Yum Yum food trucks.

The cost for a St. Pops is $3, or $20 for a box of eight. Helm is available for catering weddings, grad parties, and corporate events. She has traveling coolers and a cart from which to sell her vegan confections on location.

Often asked why she doesn’t make tropical flavors like pineapple and mango, Helm explained, “We use local products whenever possible: fresh, seasonal fruit from the farmer’s markets, and coffee from the Dunn Brothers on Grand Ave.”

“Another benefit to being at GIA,” Helm said, “is the amount of contact I have with other cooks and makers.” There are many different foods being made there including gluten free pizza crusts, injera, raw coconut macaroons, specialty chocolates, and fresh pasta.

GIA Kitchen has an online space reservation system that saves small start-ups money and time. With no up-front capital investments, entrepreneurs can launch their product without the financial risk of renting a storefront and buying their own equipment.

Sarah concluded,”We’re always looking for new entrepreneurs to lease to at GIA: food start-ups or established business owners who would like to work in an environment that’s very clean, and where people are supportive of each other.

For more information, contact Sarah at giakitchen@gmail.com.

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Can Can Wonderland 2

Can Can Wonderland filled with art, ideas, and innovation

Posted on 10 April 2017 by Calvin

Can Can Wonderland at 755 Prior Ave. is a connector between the past and the future. That is how Jennifer Pennington, co-founder and CEO of the arts-based entertainment center that features mini golf and so much more, describes it. “A lot of mini golf courses use technology and are motion activated, and we have that, but we also have the old-time pinball machines,” she noted. “It’s nostalgia, but innovation. It’s cool.”

Photo left: Mini golf players enjoy a whimsical course created by local artists at the new Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave. (Photo by Jan Willms)

The center’s other founders are Chris Pennington, Christi Atkinson and Rob Clapp. They first started toying with the idea of the unique amusement center in 2008 but did not start pursuing it until 2010. Can Can Wonderland has been open about three months.

“The concept started in a few different ways,” Pennington explained. “One was just wanting to get more people involved with arts and making arts more fun and accessible. We had been involved in some other projects that had raised funds for the arts and private art galleries. Then the recession hit. Galleries were able to stay open because of those programs.”

She said that realization challenged them to want to create art that was self-funded. “Now there’s talk about maybe the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) closing, so we wanted to try and figure something out. Arts funding has always been difficult and hard to come by.”

Photo right: A balloon creature points the way to Wonderland. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Pennington said one of the greatest challenges in getting Can Can Wonderland off the ground was securing all the funding that was needed. “A place like this has never been done before, and it’s a new concept. We had to get people confident in what we are doing and take a risk on us,” she explained.

It took about seven to eight months from the beginning of construction on Can Can Wonderland until the operation opened. It occupies 20,000 square feet of the 450,000 square foot building that was American Can factory in St. Paul. “The building had been vacant for five years,” Pennington said.

She said that for the mini golf course, they asked artists for submissions of ideas to design a course they had always wanted to play on. “We had proposals from as far away as Australia,” she said, “but we ended up selecting local artists.” She said a prospective artist was given two options. “You could submit a design idea, and we would hire fabricators to construct it, or you could submit a design that you could build yourself. But you had to tell us you had the skills to do that,” Pennington stated. She said the resulting course is a mix of both types of proposals.

As far as other forms of entertainment, the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band performs every Friday night. The group has been together for over 40 years and served as the house band for Nye’s Polonaise Room before it closed.

“We also have a 15-year-old DJ who is playing,” she said. “We have senior performers, too, and on Thursday nights a variety show with a house band and MC and different acts.”

Photo left: A bank of old-fashioned pinball machines provide entertainment for all ages. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Those acts have included circus performers, artists, jugglers, ballet dancers, tap dancers and tuba players. “We have also had cloggers perform,” Pennington said. “And every Friday we have Tappy Hour, with free tap dance lessons with shoes provided.”

“We try to have something for everyone, no matter what your age or background,” she noted.
Can Can Wonderland offers concession foods at this time, with plans for getting a grill, fryer and hood, and expanding to a bigger restaurant.

Craft cocktails are also offered. “We want to be creative on our drinks,” Pennington explained. “So we contracted with an organization called Bittercube, out of Milwaukee. They offer these creative, delicious cocktails, making their own bitters. They’ve worked in a lot of local restaurants in the Twin Cities and some new hotels in the warehouse district. You can get an Old Fashioned with an ice cube that is like a colored golf ball. It is really pretty and tastes great.”

There is a space called the Boardwalk within the Can Can Wonderland’s premises, with different activities. There may be musicians who play for tips, face painting henna painting, or caricaturists. “Some artists want to do installations,” Pennington said. “We have a small wall for fine arts that will rotate every four months. We are getting some submissions for that now. So we are pretty open to whatever people want to do. We want to be here for emerging artists and established artists.”

Photo left: All kinds of creations, including this cyclone, provide challenges at the mini golf course at Can Can Wonderland. (Photo by Jan Willms)

The organization’s website reads: “We are proud to be the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota. Our social purpose is to be an economic engine for the arts.”

Pennington said the most challenging part once the doors opened is that crowds have been bigger than expected. “We have to scramble a lot to get enough employees and get staffing levels where they need to be,” she commented.

She said she has been most pleased with the diversity of the people who come. Some have told her they drove a thousand miles to see the place. “I don’t know how they heard about us, but that’s very nice,” she said. She also noted that some of the former workers from the can factory have visited, people who worked in the location 40 years ago.

“We want to be a great community gathering place, where people do have a good time,” Pennington said. “I think that’s important. We have a lot of serious issues we have to come together to solve, and if we’re not having fun together, I don’t know how we can come together to make serious decisions. We just want Can Can Wonderland to be a fun place where people can come and have fun and feel safe and be delighted and discover new things.”

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