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Archive | May, 2016

Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Two years after “major renovation” Superintendent Valeria Silva says, “We cannot run small schools anymore”

By JANE MCCLURE

Galtier Elementary School families and supporters are fighting to keep their building open. Children, some dressed as superheroes, and their parents attended the Apr. 26 St. Paul School Board meeting to make their case to save the school at 1317 Charles Ave. They also packed an Apr. 21 community meeting at the school.

Galtier 3275But, barring a change in heart by school district leaders, Galtier likely faces closure after the 2016-2017 academic year. That angers and frustrates parents who have worked tirelessly to bring new students to the school, with fundraising, door-knocking, and other outreach.

Photo right: Andrew Collins, assistant superintendent for elementary schools at St. Paul Public Schools. addresses parents, teachers and community members at an open meeting Apr. 21 on Galtier’s future. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

Galtier was extensively renovated two years ago, but many parents say the district officials aren’t doing enough to promote the school. They also contend that the school district is focused more on wealthy neighborhoods and their needs, and not enough on schools that serve an ethnically and economically diverse population. Galtier’s enrollment is 89 percent children of color, with 88 percent of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Galtier parents asked the School Board to hold off on a plan to expand St. Anthony Park Elementary, which is scheduled for a $14 million expansion. But the expansion was part of the $484 million facilities plan the board approved on a 5-2 vote Apr. 26. The Galtier parents also asked that Hamline Elementary be considered for a magnet and for the early education facilities that some school district officials have suggested could go into Galtier.

One stumbling block for Galtier is busing. Many neighborhood families opt to send children to other schools including St. Anthony Park, which has almost 90 students on a waiting list for fall. Galtier parents worry that the planned expansion will draw away more pupils. District maps show more Hamline-Midway families choosing St. Anthony Park over Galtier.

Superintendent Valeria Silva made references to a possible closure of Galtier. She said that the renovations there two years ago hadn’t attracted enough families. “We cannot run small schools anymore. As much as we would love to, we cannot open the doors. We don’t have enough dollars.”

Galtier _3148Photo left: A packed room at Galtier Elementary Apr. 21, as everyone heard that the school might close after the 2016-17 school year. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

“I think Galtier is a nicer building than the look of St. Anthony Park, but the parents say no,” Silva added.

Families from Galtier and Hamline schools worked with district staff for many months to recruit students for the Hamline Midway neighborhood schools. While Hamline enrollment is on an upswing, Galtier enrollment remains low. The joint recruitment effort is on hold, although school district officials contend they continue to promote both schools.

Galtier parents don’t want to merge with Hamline, which will gain more space in fall 2017 when the building’s Jie Ming Chinese Immersion School moves to the Highland Park neighborhood. Some Galtier parents have said they’ll take their children out of St. Paul Public Schools if Galtier closes.

At the community meeting, Galtier Principal Shawn Stebbins indicated that Galtier would need to attract at least 100 more children to stay open.

Selina Gante has two sons in kindergarten at Galtier. Her family loves the recently renovated building and the school staff, and she is outraged about the prospect of the school closing. “Why would you do this to a group of children who do not have enough stability in their lives?”

“There are so many reasons to tell everybody why this school is a gem and district doesn’t take advantage of it,” she said. “This school is a safe and welcoming place for my kids and many others. What I’d like to say to the school board is why would you give us something so wonderful and then you take it away from us? Why would you pull the rug out from under us?”

“We as people of color have been disenfranchised for so long, in terms of the education system,” Gante said. “It’s just frustrating.”

The Galtier issue has also drawn in the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP, which urged school board members not to close Galtier and give the community more time to attract students.

Clayton and Kirstin Howatt are also Galtier parents. “We’re not going to give up,” Clayton Howatt said. “But keeping the school open will be an uphill battle.” He said that indicating that the school could close isn’t helping recruiting efforts.

Gante noted that some parents, worried about the school’s uncertain future, are already looking at other options. Jackie Turner, who leads community engagement for the school district, said 17 Galtier preschool parents have chosen to send their students elsewhere for kindergarten in the fall.

“This is the first time that I have ever thought of leaving the district,” said Kristin Howatt. She went K-12 through St. Paul Public Schools. “If Galtier closes, my kids won’t be in St. Paul Public Schools any more. I have lost trust that kids matter.”

The school district estimates put 144 students K-5 at Galtier for fall, plus 60 preschoolers. The building can hold 469 pupils.

Galtier was a science, math, and technology magnet before becoming a neighborhood school again. Galtier and other schools were affected five years ago after the school district made sweeping changes to schools and school choice as part of the “Strong Schools, Strong Communities” effort. Some schools have grown while some neighborhood schools have suffered.

Hamline Elementary parents are watching on the sidelines. Hamline Elementary has a capacity of 583 students and a projected enrollment of 269 K-5 and 40 preschoolers for fall. After Jie Ming moves there would be room for Galtier students.

Hamline parent Jessica Kopp said parents there enjoyed working with Galtier parents on promoting neighborhood schools. “We are heartbroken for the Galtier community because we understand what it’s like to wonder and worry about the future of a place you love,” she said. “The Hamline community wondered and worried about their future from early May 2015 until the end of February 2016—that’s a long time to have a worried heart, and it’s a long time to work so hard for something and be unsure of the outcome. The Hamline Midway Community Schools process worked well for Hamline, and if it didn’t work for Galtier, we hope they have more time and the opportunity and support to become a permanent fixture in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

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Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

After a quiet winter of training, Como Zoo’s seventh Sparky the Sea Lion is ready to take to the stage on Memorial Day weekend—kicking off the 2016 season.

Sparky the Sea Lion 016The new Sparky has big flippers to fill. Her predecessor, a female named CC, retired last summer at the age of 25. Known for her elegance, CC was regarded as something of a sea lion diva.

Photo left: Subee’s eyes are checked during a training session with zookeeper Becky Seivert. The zookeepers use training as a communication tool because, as they like to say, “we don’t speak sea lion, and they they don’t speak English.”

Sparky VII has a very different personality, characterized by an exuberant style of swimming and diving. Her name is Subee, and she came to Como several years ago from a rescue center in California. One of her rear flippers had been severely damaged, almost certainly the result of a shark bite. The rescue center considered her unlikely to survive release, which made her an excellent candidate for zoo life.

Sparky the Sea Lion 101Photo right: Zookeeper Kelly Dinsmore in front of the old large cat exhibit at Como Zoo, which was built in 1931 as a WPA Project. The concrete pens and iron bars are a reminder of how far zoos have come in education, conservation and species preservation.

Kelly Dinsmore is a zookeeper for Como’s marine animal collection, which includes sea lions, harbor seals, polar bears, puffins, and penguins. “It’s important to understand that our animals aren’t taken from the wild,” she said. “They’re acquired either from other zoos or rescue centers.“

“Our training methods are very humane,” Dinsmore continued. “We don’t ask the sea lions to do anything they wouldn’t do on their own. Essentially, the ‘tricks’ Sparky performs in a show just build off of existing behaviors.“

All of the training exercises are geared toward animal husbandry, and the sessions are short: only four to five minutes, three times each day. “Essentially,” Dinsmore explained, “Sparky gets a full physical every time she trains. The trainer has a chance to check her eyes, test her joints for mobility, perform an ultra sound, or even take a voluntary blood draw if needed. In captivity, a sea lion can live to be more than 30 years old (twice the average length of a life spent in the wild). By developing trust through training, we’re able to manage the health care of our marine animals in a positive way.”

Sparky the Sea Lion 003Photo right: Zookeeper Laura Engfer worked with operant conditioning on CC, using the “sleep” command. This gave her a chance to examine the surface of CC’s skin and continue building trust with a gentle touch.

The training sessions are optional for Sparky and CC, but because they also serve as meal time, it’s rare that a session is passed up.

CC’s predecessor, Sparky V, was the first to receive a new kind of animal training at Como Zoo, called operant conditioning. This progressive approach to working with animals relies on positive reinforcement to stimulate the animal’s natural behaviors and encourages them to participate in their own healthcare. Over time, the operant conditioning program at Como was so successful that it expanded to include mammals, birds, amphibians and even reptiles.

Operant conditioning involves three steps. First, a behavior is named such as “sleep,” in which the sea lion lies down as if going to sleep. Then the trainer clicks a clicker, which serves as a bridge between the behavior and the reward. Next, the trainer gives a reward: in the case of the sea lions, either a herring or a capelin fish treat.

The trainers have been practicing since early spring on the empty stage before the zoo opens, getting Subee ready for her debut. Shows will start Memorial Day weekend and continue throughout the summer. There will be one show daily Mon.-Fri. at 11:30am; Sat.-Sun. there will be two shows daily at 11:30am and 3pm.

 

SIDEBAR

MN Legislative request
Como Zoo has requested $14.5 million from the Minnesota legislature, as part of the current bonding bill. According to Como Friends, the zoo’s nonprofit fundraising organization, the plan calls for several major upgrades including a salt-water filtration system, a shaded amphitheater, and underwater viewing areas. The multilayered habitat would give visitors more insights into the natural behaviors of marine animals, and would contribute in a positive way to zoo revenue and the local economy. It’s not too late to write or call your representative to express your opinion about the bonding bill. Como Zoo applied in 2014 (the bonding bill process takes place every other year) and was denied funds.

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Midway Presentation overview nite slider

Neighbors discuss concerns over stadium project

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

By JANE MCCLURE

As Minnesota United FC stadium plans and a master plan for Midway Center redevelopment move ahead, project neighbors continue to weigh in with concerns and support. More than 100 people filled a MidPointe Event Center room Apr. 19 for a meeting sponsored by Neighbors Against Corporate Subsidies and Neighborhoods First!

The meeting was organized so that advocacy groups and neighbors could raise questions including the use of tax increment financing, infrastructure, tax-base impacts, noise, traffic, parking, and other issues. Organizer Tom Goldstein said the forum should have been held months ago, before a March City Council vote on stadium infrastructure and pollution cleanup financing and property lease agreements.

Superblock site planBut the greatest concern may be parking. When asked for a show of hands, more than half of those present indicated they are worried about spillover parking in the adjacent neighborhoods. When one speaker asked, “Where is parking going to be?” Someone else in the audience replied, “In front of your house.”

St. Paul Director of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson repeatedly said that the stadium project isn’t a done deal. Key steps must be taken before the two projects can move ahead. Master plans for the $150 million stadium and the shopping center must be reviewed and approved by the St. Paul Planning Commission and City Council.

“Nothing can be built before the master planning process is completed,” Sage-Martinson said. That is expected to conclude in August.

In the meantime city officials are studying potential traffic and environmental impacts, including the use of an Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR) to identify potential redevelopment impacts and how those can be mitigated. That also has to be completed before the project moves ahead.

He said city officials were very much aware of the spillover parking concerns. “We’ve heard that throughout the process, and it’s very much on our radar,” he said. City officials hope an ongoing transportation study provides answers.

The property will have about 4,500 parking spaces, most in ramps built into the proposed retail and office structures. There’s also a plan for a lot near Pascal and St. Anthony, which would have about 300 spots. That is for stadium personnel and what have been described as “select” guests. City officials are pushing transit options and remote parking.

Another key step is getting property tax relief and a liquor license passed for Minnesota United. Those issues have gotten through the 2016 Minnesota Legislature House and Senate committee process but haven’t been approved yet.

Several people said they appreciated the chance to ask questions and meet with city officials. Other than a 15- minute period at a community open house earlier this spring, the meeting was the first chance for discussion between city leaders and neighbors. Minnesota United FC and Midway Center owner RK Midway didn’t send representatives.

But there was frustration that not all of the development-related questions could be answered, given the fast pace of the ongoing planning process. “The city does not have it figured out,” said Goldstein. “The city does not have the answers tonight.” Sage-Martinson and Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said they would take the groups’ questions and provide answers. Answers were recently posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince and Rep. Dave Pinto joined Sage-Martinson and Beckmann on a panel that fielded questions. Prince was one of two council members voting against the stadium agreements. She objected to a lack of time given to review the documents before approval and the project coming forward before community review was complete. “I think this is a project that deserves much more public process,” she said. She criticized the notion of a stadium as a catalyst for economic development, calling it “magical thinking.”

Sage-Martinson said the success of CHS Field in Lowertown was proof that a stadium can spark development in a surrounding neighborhood. But several audience members objected, saying much of that redevelopment was happening well before the ball field opened.

Several people asked about shopping center redevelopment and the potential displacement of tenants. The plans call for replacing about 330,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space with two million feet of office and retail space, as well as housing and hotels. One man questioned whether development would happen at all, given the number of plans developed and then shelved. But because the stadium development would require the removal of Rainbow Foods and businesses to the east, there is an incentive for RK Midway to relocate tenants and start the redevelopment process.

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Transit – Photo by Metro Transit slider

Transit for Livable Communities working to better Midway Como

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

For Executive Director Jessica Treat, definition of ‘transit’ is about movement

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

A trip to Europe planted a seed that grew into a planning career for Midway resident Jessica Treat.

Treat grew up in suburban Bloomington, MN and then attended college in Tempe, AZ, a place of massive urban sprawl. When she had the chance to travel to Europe, she saw how things could be different.

JessicaTreat_daughterPhoto left: When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling. (Photo submitted)

Back home, she enrolled in a planning class. “I learned that the environment we have around us is of our choosing,” Treat observed. “If you want to have a place that’s oriented towards cars that’s what you’ll get, but you don’t have to.”

She also learned it takes a community to agitate for change.

Treat brings those lessons to her position as the executive director of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), 2356 University Ave. W. She was named to the position this past January.

“Transit for Livable Communities is very enthusiastic about this next chapter for our organization,” said board chair Adam Welle. “Jessica Treat is a smart, strategic leader and a passionate advocate for transit, bicycling, and walking in the region. Under her direction, Transit for Livable Communities will be well-positioned to advance our mission, grow our impact, and create positive change in Minnesota.”

Different level of vitality in the streets
Treat comes to Transit for Livable Communities from St. Paul Smart Trips where she had served as executive director since 2007. In addition to her eight-year tenure at St. Paul Smart Trips, she previously worked at the Midway Transportation Management Organization and served as the executive director of the Lexington-Hamline Community Council.

It was during her stint with the community council that she was propelled into the discussion about Twin Cities transit. Residents were debating what should be built at the southwest corner of Lexington and University. They wanted something that would work well with future transit. In the end, the Wilder Foundation building was constructed.

For Treat, the definition of “transit” is a broad one. While some think of transit as being about trains and buses, Treat defines it as “movement.”

She pointed out that big box stores are spread out and by their nature don’t lend themselves to tight-knit communities. But when you have bus stops and train stops that people are walking or biking to, they rub shoulders with strangers with whom they might not otherwise interact.
“There’s a difference,” Treat insisted. “There’s a different level of vitality in the street.”

Health and equity benefits
Treat is also passionate about transit because it offers her the ability to impact climate change directly. When she bikes, when she walks, when she rides the bus or the train, she’s able to limit her footprint and be kinder to the environment.

“The impact of personal transportation on the environment is important,” Treat stated.

Then there are the health benefits of transit that are important to her. “We live very sedentary lives in the United States and have significant problems with obesity and diabetes,” she pointed out. Transit offers a way for people to build physical activity into their day. “If you take the bus, you have to walk or bike a bit,” she said.

There’s also the equity side to transit. Owning and operating a car costs about $8,000 a year, which isn’t affordable for many, she observed. Transit gives people options to get to jobs and school.

Gaps in the Midway Como transit system
As a 12-year Midway homeowner, Treat has seen the big transit changes that came with the Green Line. She is looking forward to the start of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A Line down Snelling in June. (Watch for article in next Monitor on the A Line.)

“It’s a significant change and the first in the region,” pointed out Treat.

But there are still some gaps in the system where things need to be buffed up. In particular, there are some bus lines that would benefit from greater frequency, especially at night and on the weekends.

Treat is paying attention to changes that will come with the proposed soccer stadium and hopes that it will include bicycling improvements.

There are also places where there are no sidewalks, such as in the industrial areas.

There’s a significant gap in one’s ability to get from the Midway to downtown Minneapolis via bicycle. The industrial areas and rail lines create real challenges there, according to Treat.

Snelling presents a barrier for those trying to cross it, despite the recent improvements of curb cuts and a wider median. The biggest problem is simply that vehicles don’t stop at crosswalks, she pointed out. That’s a city-wide issue.

When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights, she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling.

And she gets nervous when she bikes along Pierce Butler or Energy Park Dr. because there aren’t designated bike lanes, and she can hear the cars close by.

Charles Ave., however, is a great roadway to bike on, and Treat would like to see more bicycle boulevards like it in the city. The roundabouts at intersections help slow cars down and allow bicyclists to avoid stopping.

“As a woman and a mom who rides, I’d like to see protected bike lanes,” Treat remarked, such as those in Minneapolis with some kind of barrier between cars and bikes. She’s not alone. TLC has heard from other women who feel the same way.

Lobbying efforts
Founded in 1996, Transit for Livable Communities is dedicated to transforming Minnesota’s transportation system to strengthen the community, improve health and opportunity for all people, foster a sound economy, and protect natural resources. TLC is the largest transportation advocacy organization in the state, with nearly 10,000 advocates and members, and a staff of 8 employees. TLC promotes a balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, bicycling, and thoughtful development.

TLC has been active this spring lobbying at the 2016 legislative session, pushing lawmakers for new investments in all modes of transportation in the Twin Cities, suburbs, and Greater Minnesota.

They’ve partnered with groups pushing for better streets and bridges. “I don’t like potholes anymore than a driver does,” Treat stated.

She added, “It’s an exciting time for the work we’re doing.”

Lutheran Social Services honored as transport leaders
Earlier this year, TLC recognized a number of organizations, including Lutheran Social Services (2485 Como Ave.), for their work as Transportation Leaders. Through a variety of ways, Lutheran Social Services is supporting transit, biking, and walking.

The benefits for companies are many, according to Treat. When employees are physically activity, they are healthier and more productive. Transit, biking and walking help people save money, as well.

Some companies certified as transportation leaders offer transit passes at discounted rates. Others make sure they have a place to store biking gear and have a shower available. Others make a point of stating on their websites how to get there via car, bike and transit.

Treat pointed out that millennials want to live in a place where they don’t necessarily have to own a car. “How you get around is part of the benefits package,” said Treat.

Learn more at www.tlcminnesota.org.

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landscape revival slider

Native Plant and Expo Market planned June 4 at Cub Pavilion

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

The annual metro-wide go-to event for native plants and educational exhibits is right on Larpenteur Ave.

By MARIA HERD

Looking to add flowers and greenery to your property? Hoping to attract butterflies and birds to your garden, or make a difference in helping Minnesota wildlife? Do you want to learn more about plants that are native to the state? If you answer yes to any of the questions, look no further than the Native Plant and Expo Market on Sat., June 4 at the Cub Foods Community Pavilion, 1201 Larpenteur Ave W., Roseville.

“This is the go-to event in the Twin Cities if you’re interested in native plants,” said Nancy Schumacher, who owns The Vagary, a native plant growing business. Schumacher has been growing native plants with her husband for over 30 years and has participated in the annual Native Plant and Expo Market many times.

landscape revivalAttendance has increased over the years. In 2011, there were 400 attendees. Last year 1,800 people purchased plants at the market.

Photo right: The 2015 Native Plant and Expo Market saw great crowds. Last year 1800 people purchased plants at the market. Get there early to get the very best selection of plants for your yard! (Photo by Karen Eckman)

“This is a robust event because it’s hard to find native plants in the metro area,” said Leslie Pilgrim, event organizer and a volunteer at the non-profit Wild Ones that promotes Native Plant education in the Twin Cities.

According to Schumacher, Twin Cities residents have to drive about 30-40 miles out of town to purchase native plants. Her business is located 30 miles south in Randolph. Many growers like Schumacher do not have a retail store and instead come to into the Cities for farmers markets and events like the Expo Market.

“The idea is: let’s bring all these growers together in the cities for a one-day event,” she said.
A total of 12 growers are participating this year, and will be selling everything from potted flowers to shrubs and trees.

Why native plants?
“Native plants are multifunctional,” explained Pilgrim. “They have deep roots, conserve soil, filtrate water, provide pollen and nectar, and serve as a resource for birds.”

Many factors nowadays threaten pollinators’ habitats like climate change, land development, pesticides and non-native plants.

Choosing plants that are native to Minnesota and pesticide-free provides “clean food” for wildlife, said Pilgrim.

In addition, non-native plants “are not going to supply the same quality and quantity of nectar [as natives],” said Schumacher.

Many pollinators–like bees, butterflies, and birds–are dependent on specific plants for their survival.

“Insects are picky eaters,” Pilgrim explained. “Sometimes they don’t recognize these other plants [non-natives] as a food source or even a plant,” she said. This is because native plants have co-evolved with native insects and birds for thousands of years.

monarch on rose milkweedFor example, monarch butterflies are dependent on milkweed for food and to lay eggs; they cannot survive on other plants.

Photo left: A monarch butterfly on a rose milkweed. There are any number of milkweed varieties that can be grown in Minnesota. (Photo by Karen Eckman)

Their populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years, says the National Wildlife Federation, which has prompted many communities to take action.

In March, Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge to restore habitats in the community and encourage citizens to join the cause. The Twin Cities are the 100th locale nationwide to take the pledge.

Monarchs will migrate from Mexico to the upper Midwest this summer, just in time for the Native Plant and Expo Market. Four types of Milkweed, which Monarchs naturally thrive on, will be available to purchase at the event.

Furthermore, native plants are more sustainable and ready to deal with Minnesota’s harsh winters.

“They are the toughest plants you can get it because they’re from here, so they have evolved to deal with our winters, climate factors, and soil conditions,” said Schumacher.

These plants are like an investment, said Pilgrim, because you know that they will come back next year.

When enough people invest in native plants in a neighborhood, these small patches connect and are called habitat corridors, according to an event press release. These corridors allow animals to move across the landscape and offset wildlife losses due to land development.

“If you don’t have host plants, you don’t have insects, and you don’t have wildlife,” said Pilgrim.

Educating the community
The Native Plant and Expo Market is more than just a sale; it’s an educational event for the community.

There will be a total of 12 exhibition educational participants at this year’s market to educate the public on environmental issues and assist customers in choosing plants that would be right for their property and Minnesota wildlife.

“They are all there strictly as volunteers wanting to get the word out about native plants and pollinators,” said Schumacher.

This year’s participants include Restoring the Landscape, Sue Prints Plants, St. Paul Audubon Society, University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Bee Squad, Monarch Joint Venture, Wild Ones, Blue Thumb, Capital Region Watershed, Ramsey Conversation District, Minnesota Wildflowers Information, Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Area and the Minnesota Native Plant Society.

These volunteers have a wide variety of expertise and are willing to share their advice for free, said Pilgrim.

According to Schumacher, this is a fairly competitive industry so plant prices at the market are about the same as they would be at a garden center.

She sells her smallest plants for a $1 a pop in a six pack, $3 for plants that are a little larger around 3.5 inches, and $8-10 for gallon potted plants. Outback nursery shrubs and trees sold by other growers are naturally more expensive. According to one of the grower participant’s online catalog, smaller trees cost as low as $21.45, and big trees can cost up to $160.

While some large-scale environmental issues make people feel powerless as individuals, investing in native plants to restore wildlife is a “practical solution” according to Pilgrim.

“Even if you have a small space, a pot on the back patio or an apartment balcony, you can still make a difference. What you plant matters,” she said.

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CVT 05

The Center for Victims of Torture: “One of Minnesota’s best-kept secrets”

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Story and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

According to executive director Curt Goering, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) is one of Minnesota’s best-kept secrets—and he and his staff are working hard to change that. With their international headquarters at 2356 University Ave. W. and offices in Atlanta, GA, Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, CVT staff are helping restore dignity to those who have suffered torture around the world.

Photo left: Curt Goering (left), executive director, and Beth Wickum (right), volunteer coordinator. Wickum said, “The staff and volunteers here at CVT make me believe every day that positive change is possible.”

CVT was founded 31 years ago by former Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich. Perpich’s son was a law student at the time, and came home one day to ask his father, ”What are you doing in your role as governor to support the work of human rights?” Out of that conversation between father and son, CVT had its beginnings.

The human rights movement was coming into its own in the mid-1980’s. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were becoming well established. As human rights advocacy continued to gain momentum, the need for rehabilitation of torture victims in all corners of the world was becoming clear.

CVT was the first, and is still is the largest, organization in the US dealing with the rehabilitation of torture victims. From the beginning, CVT established itself as a place where clients could receive the very best quality of care. Goering said, “Between them, our staff has hundreds of years of experience collectively.”

Separate from their administrative offices, CVT has a healing center in the nearby Summit-University neighborhood. The building was specially designed with its clientele in mind. The therapy and meeting rooms aren’t square like interrogation rooms might be, and there are no bright lights overhead. The spaces feel warm and inviting, more like a home than an office.
“At any given time,” Goering explained, “we serve about 250 clients who may be suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, major depression, and anxiety disorders. We estimate that there are between 30,000-40,000 torture survivors living in Minnesota. Not all of them require our therapeutic services but for those who do, we’re here to help.”

Volunteer coordinator Beth Wickum added, “Since the beginning, we’ve had a steady of stream of volunteers eager to support human rights immigrants in any way they could. Most of our clients are backlogged in the process of applying for political asylum. While that can be very overwhelming, we’ve learned that the small details of life can also be surprisingly hard.”

“I had a client call me from a grocery store not long ago,” Wickum said. ”She had gone on a simple errand to buy a bottle of stain remover. There were 16 different kinds on the shelf, and she couldn’t figure out which one to buy. We have a dizzying array of choices to sift through in this country, so even a small decision can sometimes seem big. Every volunteer role with CVT is about building empowerment; we try to help our clients access their own resiliency.”

“Toward that end,” Wickum continued, “we may pair a volunteer with a client to help them learn to navigate public transportation. They’ll go out and practice riding the bus or train together, so the client understands what change to bring and how to use schedules and transfers. Our volunteers work on cultivating trusting relationships. The time spent with clients is a way to practice English conversation, to learn about amenities in the Twin Cities like the Como Conservatory, the library system, the parks and trails, the art museums.”

“Some of our volunteer roles include direct client contact and some, like working in the office or helping to organize a special event, do not. If you want to have a volunteer role that involves direct contact, be aware that the person you’re working with may or may not choose to share details about their past. So much depends on culture and individual personality. You don’t have to worry about acting as their therapist—we already have plenty of those.”

Information about volunteering with CVT can be found online at http://www.cvt.org/what-you-can-do/volunteer.

Cynthia McArthur has been a volunteer with CVT for 19 years. “Our volunteers are a vital part of the rehabilitation process,” she said. “It’s one of the ways we welcome people not just into services, but into the life of the community here.”

McArthur heads up CVT’s bike program. Formerly a trained car mechanic, she brings a wealth of knowledge to the scores of used bikes CVT receives each year. Got a used bike, helmet, pump or light to donate? Contact Sarah Henely, CVT’s direct response officer, at shenely@cvt.org.
Instead of buying new bikes or equipment, please consider a cash or credit card donation to CVT. Local bike shops, Grand Performance and Boehm’s Cycle, have generously agreed to sell these items to CVT at cost.

Goering concluded, “The largest national populations we’re serving right now are Karen (a minority group from Burma), Bhutanese, Ethiopian, and Somali. They’re people who’ve already settled in this area, and some have brought with them the agony of having experienced torture. Their need is very real. CVT is working toward a future where torture no longer exists, and where victims have hope for a new life.“

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Public comment meetings planned on stadium and superblock

Public comment meetings planned on stadium and superblock

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Community advisory committee rushed, and unhappy, to give input on plans that are wholly fluid and hypothetical

By JANE MCCLURE

Plans for a Major League Soccer stadium and redeveloped Midway Center are poised for public comment after release Apr. 29 by the St. Paul Planning Commission. A community meeting is set for 7-8:30pm, Tue., June 7 at Buenger Library (275 Syndicate St. N.), Concordia University. The Planning Commission hosts a public hearing on the plans and a related zoning code amendment at 8:30am, Fri., June 10 at City Hall.

160225_Midway Presentation overview niteThe 180-page stadium site plan and master plan for the block bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling, and University avenues are on a fast track for late summer City Council approval. The commission and council approvals will include an amendment to the city’s traditional neighborhoods zoning to allow the stadium to be built on the proposed site.
One big unknown that could halt the plans is what the 2016 Minnesota Legislature will do. Stadium site property tax exemptions and a liquor license request have been heard this spring by House and Senate committees. But as of Monitor deadline, none of the measures had passed. That has to happen before state lawmakers adjourn May 23.

Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire has made it clear that the stadium project cannot proceed without the tax breaks. Because the stadium is considered to be the long-awaited catalyst for Midway Center redevelopment, one project hinges upon the other.

Some members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee, who are to make a recommendation on the stadium site plan and superblock master plan May 26, are frustrated about other uncertainties. At its Apr. 28 meeting, committee members expressed unhappiness that plans continue to be fluid, not just for the shopping center but for parts of the stadium-related infrastructure.

Some committee members balked at a city Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) report they were given as a draft Planning Commission recommendation. The report will be rewritten before the committee votes May 26.

An ambitious master plan unveiled earlier this year shows high-rise office buildings along Snelling Ave., with housing at University and Pascal. It also includes green spaces between University and the planned stadium, hotels and mixed-use buildings. Parking ramps would be built into the buildings. But drawings McGuire showed Apr. 28 looked less dense, with smaller buildings closer to the stadium. McGuire said the plans were concepts to show different design scenarios. He and city staff said that while the stadium needs to be built by 2018, shopping center redevelopment is on a longer and more uncertain timeline governed by everything from existing center leases to the economic climate for redevelopment.

“We’ve repeatedly said these are concepts,” McGuire said. He said the center is set for redevelopment, “but it cannot all happen in two years.”

While the soccer stadium, its infrastructure and a 300-space parking lot for team staff and select fans would be built in time for the start of the 2018 season, shopping center redevelopment has no set timeline. Existing leases and the need to relocate center tenants who wish to stay could mean gradual redevelopment, including the development of two green open spaces between the stadium and University Ave. “We’re not going to tell anyone to kick out a tenant if they’re not ready to go,” McGuire said.

“We’ve always assumed the development would be phased,” said Donna Drummond, planning director for PED. “We can’t make somebody build something. We don’t know how quickly redevelopment will happen here.”

If what is built differs greatly from the master plan, “this to me feels like a disappointing outcome,” said advisory committee co-chairman Eric Mohlo. He said community members have been asked to buy into a plan that may or may not happen.

“What happens if all we get is a stadium?’ said committee member and Hamline-Midway resident Jonathon Oppenheimer.

Others spoke of lost opportunities for jobs creation and tax base improvements if center development doesn’t happen as envisioned—or at all. Committee members said this was a chance to get longstanding neighborhood concerns about the shopping center, ranging from its appearance to the longstanding complaints about abandoned shopping carts in neighborhoods, addressed.

Several advisory committee members said that they want to hear more from New York-based center owner RK Midway. The center owner and representatives have only been at a few meetings, and McGuire has done most of the master plan presentations.

Another concern committee members raised is that past shopping center redevelopment plans haven’t materialized, and that generates questions about what will happen this time around. Committee member Becky Landon recalled lengthy debates several years ago over a later-shelved plan to replace the current Big Top Liquors building with a new liquor store and Walgreens. Neighbors wanted a more transit-friendly structure than what was proposed. She said the attitude seemed to be, “Well, you’re a developer, and you must know what you’re doing.”

Others said redevelopment is more likely than in the past. “For me, this feels more real than any other plan we’ve seen,” said advisory committee co-chairperson Julie Padilla. She said the stadium is a driver for redevelopment and an opportunity for change.

Transportation studies for the site were wrapping up as of Monitor deadline. A separate study group on jobs creation completed its work in late April and planned to release a report soon.
City Planner Josh Williams said that the potential environmental impacts of redevelopment, such as traffic, parking demand, noise and other issues, are under study in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review or AUAR. This study will give city officials and developers direction as to how to mitigate impacts of redevelopment. “The document binds the city and its project partners to make sure mitigation measures will get done,” Williams said. The draft AUAR is to be published in late May and released for a 30-day comment period.

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Cruisin through Time on Univesity Ave – Giesla Hoelscher

Collage honoring Porky’s and automotive influence unveiled

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Porkys Art by MSP Home Tour

The Terrace at Iris Park, 502 E. Lynnhurst Ave., hosted a public unveiling Apr. 30 of a photographic collage commissioned to honor the legacy of Porky’s Drive-In Restaurant. Porky’s stood at the corner of University and Lynnhurst avenues. The project was supported by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM).The public art concept involves a 45-foot-long photographic mural with historical images of automotive history and related businesses on University Ave. Sidewalk paving, in Porky’s signature checkerboard pattern of maroon and peach, compliment the original Porky’s Drive-In menu box re-installed on site. Dedication remarks were made by Episcopal Homes President/CEO Marvin Plakut and collage artist Giesla Hoelscher. For decades, Porky’s was a landmark in the Midway area of St. Paul. The legendary neon pig sign beckoned people of all ages to this popular hang-out that was a cruising destination for street rod lovers near and far. In 2011, Porky’s was moved to the Little Log House Pioneer Village, and the Porky’s site has been developed into a new senior housing complex for Episcopal Homes. Porky’s may be gone, but it is definitely not forgotten. The Preservation Alliance and Episcopal Homes worked together to design the photographic mural that pays tribute to the drive-in and the car culture that shaped the look and feel of University Ave. for most of the twentieth century. (Photo submitted)

Below, two of the collage panels by artist Giesla Hoelscher that are part of the project. (Photos by Giesla Hoelscher)

Cruisin through Time on Univesity Ave - Giesla Hoelscher Porkys Mural Panel - Giesla Hoelscher

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Hamline Ave. 2

Open House for proposed Hamline Ave. improvements slated May 26

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

News from District 11 Hamline Midway Community Council

By KYLE MIANULLI, HMC Communications Coordinator (Photos submitted)

Hamline Ave. 1The Hamline Midway community has an opportunity to help shape the future and safety of Hamline Ave. The City of St. Paul Department of Public Works will hold a public open house on Thur., May 26 from 6-7:30pm at Sejong Academy, 1330 Blair Ave., around proposed improvements to Hamline Ave.

The City plans to conduct a mill and overlay project in late 2016 on Hamline Ave. The work being proposed will involve removing and replacing the top layer of pavement and updating all non-ADA compliant pedestrian ramps. As this route is identified in the Citywide Bike Plan, the City is also proposing to install on-street bicycle lanes, which would require removal of on-street parking from one side of the street. A parking study recently completed by Public Works determined the remaining parking would be sufficient for demand, even at peak times.

Additionally, despite not being included in the original project, Public Works has presented the community with the opportunity to inform the decision of whether to install some form of bike infrastructure on Hamline Ave. from Minnehaha to Pierce Butler Rte.—another important bike route that serves the neighborhood. Some forms of bicycle infrastructure on this section of the route would also require removal of some or all on-street parking. This section of Hamline also serves the pedestrian bridge that crosses the train tracks North of Pierce Butler—the only dedicated railway crossing between Lexington Ave. and Snelling Ave.

Hamline Ave. 2This vital neighborhood route services four schools, public housing, and a vibrant business community. As the neighborhood continues to grow, many neighbors have raised concerns about safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike, on Hamline Ave. This project offers the community an opportunity to create a safer, more vibrant route that serves all road users.

We recognize that Hamline Ave. as currently configured poses significant safety risks to many in our community, but are also sensitive to the fact that the loss of some on-street parking can be troubling to others. We hope that this open house will continue a productive community conversation about neighbors’ priorities for this important route and how best to balance the needs and safety of all road users.

In addition to attending the meeting, you can also share your priorities for the project by taking a community survey available at www.hamlinemidway.org/hamlineave. The results of this survey will be used to inform the recommendation made by the Hamline Midway Transportation Committee to the City of St. Paul regarding the proposed project on Hamline Ave.

The Transportation Committee of the Hamline Midway Coalition is doing direct outreach to businesses along Hamline Ave. and plans to also engage residents of Hamline Hi-Rise directly..

In addition to the mailing that will be sent by Public Works to all addresses along the project area, the transportation committee will also be flyering the area to advertise the upcoming meeting. If you know someone you think should be involved in this discussion, please, don’t hesitate to reach out to them directly and invite them to participate. You can find downloadable information to share with friends and neighbors at www.hamlinemidway.org/hamlin­eave. Feel free to contact Kyle Mianulli at kyle@hamlinemidway.org or 651-494-7683 with any questions or to learn more.

Spring Festival postponed; A-Line Launch June 11
After initial plans were announced last month to combine the annual Spring Festival with the launch of the A-Line Bus Rapid Transit route, it has become clear that there is simply too much to celebrate in the Hamline Midway area to fit on the limited site at the southeast corner of University and Snelling. Rather than have to tell many of our terrific community groups, businesses, and valued partners that there would not be room to include them in the annual festival this year, we have decided to postpone the festival until this fall.

There will still be all manners of festivities at the A-Line Launch on June 11, from 10am to 2pm, including music, food trucks, vendors and exhibitors, kids activities and more. If you’re interested in being an exhibitor, performer, or otherwise participating in the launch event, please contact Kyle Mianulli at kyle@hamlinemidway.org or 651-494-7683.

The celebration at Snelling and University will be one of four throughout the route running from 46th St. in Minneapolis to Rosedale. Come out and join the fun and ride the line to explore all the great communities, businesses, and destinations it will connect.

The A-Line is a new kind of bus service for the Twin Cities’ busiest urban streets. This rapid bus line has a package of transit enhancements that adds up to a faster trip and improved experience. Visit www.metrotransit.org/a-line-project to learn more.

Neighborhood Garage Sale
Registration is now open for the annual Hamline Midway Neighborhood Garage Sale on Sat., June 4, from 8am to 3pm. Visit www.hamlinemidway.org/garagesale to register your sale now. Garage sales are a great way to meet new neighbors, reduce waste, and support the community economy. With more than 50 participating sales across the neighborhood in 2015, we’re looking to have an even bigger impact this year.

There will be a $10 fee for participating sales to help with the expense of printing flyers, sale maps, and signs, as well as advertising in local newspapers and Craigslist. If you live within the Hamline Midway boundaries, start clearing out your closets and collecting your items for this year’s sale! Want an even better turnout for your sale? Invite your neighbors to organize sales alongside yours to make an attractive cluster on the sale map. Visit our website for helpful tricks and tips for organizing a successful sale. You can also register your sale and pay online while you’re there. Feel free to contact us with any questions or for more information at garagesale@hamlinemidway.org

Hamline-Thomas Community Garden efforts
Now in its 10th year, the little and beloved Hamline-Thomas Community Garden at the northeast corner of Hamline and Thomas avenues continues to grow and flourish. Many neighbors have contributed time and care, and organizers are looking for a few extra hands to help continue to cultivate community and beauty at this well-used corner of the neighborhood.
Volunteer responsibilities might include coordinating a planting date and mulching; making sure there is regular watering; help with maintenance and weeding every few weeks; end of year cleanup; and informing neighbors of volunteer needs and opportunities. If you would like to help out, please contact Hannah Texler at ekvadnais@hotmail.com.

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Rain garden

Ready and Resilient

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Patterns tend toward extreme rain events as the norm by 2025

By TRUDY DUNHAM

Extreme rainfall. Kenny Blumenfield, a Senior Climatologist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told the recent Gov­ernor’s Water Summit that our MN rainfall pattern is beyond the range of historical probability. Annual precipitation increased 10-15 percent from 1985 to 2007. Heavy downpours are twice as frequent as they were 100 years ago.

“Unprecedented” rainfall events are possible in the coming years, and will become the norm by 2025.

Warmer temperatures increase the evaporation of water into vapor. Warmer air can hold more water vapor than cooler air. When the vapor condenses into rain, there’s more of it to fall. Blumenfield called the increasing intensity and frequency of rainfall the “smoking gun” of climate change.

What is extreme rainfall? A lot of rain falling in a very short time. It can be several inches within a few hours, or rain falling for days at a time. The July 1987 “Superstorm” dropped 9 inches of rain at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport in 6 hours.

While heavy rain can make travel dangerous and result in power outages, the real problem is stormwater runoff: when the rain cannot soak into the ground. Water runs off our yards, driveways, parking lots and streets. Sometimes it flows into our rain gardens and stormwater ponds, but too often it runs directly into our storm sewers.

Stormwater runoff threatens our water quality. Sediment, litter, leaves, pesticides, fertilizers and oil waste flow through our storm sewers into our waterways. Lakes and rivers are polluted, aquatic ecosystems impaired, and recreational use spoiled.

The runoff contributes to flooding. Infrastructure built for 20th-century precipitation patterns cannot handle the rapid influx of rainwater. Drainage systems, roads, and stormwater holding ponds are overwhelmed. Since 2000, federal, state and local government agencies have spent $350 million in Minnesota to repair flood damage.

Finally, we need the rainwater to recharge our groundwater supply. Minnesota’s groundwater use has increased 35% in the last 25 years. Rain held in the soil has time to filter contaminants and seep down to replenish aquifers. We need this water to prevent future water shortages.
What can we do to adapt to the extreme rainfall and stormwater runoff?

Let’s start with our yards:
Aerate your lawn. Residential lawns tend to be highly compacted and absorb little water. Removing small plugs of soil or punching holes in the ground with an aerator helps the lawn to soak up more water.
Let your grass grow taller. Grass roots are about as long as grass blades. Longer roots mean better water absorption, so consider letting your grass grow to a height of 2.5–3.5 inches.
Replace some grass with native plants. Even if taller, grass is inferior to native shrubs and wildflowers at absorbing and retaining water. The extensive root systems of native plants keep soil from washing away and increase the amount of water the soil can absorb. Plants are especially important in areas where stormwater runoff collects. Consider installing a rain garden.
Add mulch and compost. Cover any bare soil with mulch or wood chips to reduce runoff and prevent soil from washing away. Compost can improve the soil structure and nutrient content, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. It also retains a lot of water, reduces runoff and filters pollutants. Consider adding 2-4” of organic material each year.
Protect urban trees. The root system of a single large tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water in a day. Tree canopies also slow the rainfall and spread it over a larger area.

Some maintenance issues to consider:
Keep your trees trimmed. Branches are more likely to break off in severe storms, falling on roofs, cars and power lines where they can inflict more damage.
Pick up pet waste. When pet waste becomes part of the storm runoff, it adds disease-producing organisms, further impairing the water quality.
Clean your gutters. Flush your gutters to keep rainfall away from your house foundation. If they still overflow, consider installing wider “elbows.”
Pick up trash. Pick up litter in your street and along the boulevard so it isn’t swept down the storm sewer in a storm. If leaf debris collects between City street sweepings, consider raking and recycling it. Clear debris from around the storm drains.

If you arRain gardene considering renovation or landscaping:
Use permeable surfaces. If you are replacing a driveway or patio, consider permeable pavers. Gravel, flagstones, and bricks allow water to soak in between them.
5% slope: Make sure that the yard slopes away from the house a minimum of 5%, to minimize possible drainage into your basement.
Catch or slow the runoff: If your lawn slopes, consider installing a rain garden or berm to prevent or slow stormwater from flowing into the street. Install a rain barrel or cistern to catch stormwater runoff from your roof.
Channel the water: Direct your gutter downspout into your yard, not onto a paved surface. Consider incorporating slight slopes or ditches into your landscaping to slow the runoff, and channel it where you want it to go.

Be ready—the storms are coming! Do what you can to prevent stormwater runoff. We’ll need it for the water shortages to come.

The Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resiliency in our community.

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Discovery Club