Archive | December, 2017

Como Pavilion

Como Dockside closes after three years; search on for replacement

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

What should replace the Como Dockside restaurant and programming operations at the Como Park Pavilion? More than 70 people weighed in with ideas Nov. 27 during a meeting at the facility. The St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation is already seeking a new partner and hopes to have a new operation up and running by spring 2018. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said there had been several inquiries from prospective restaurant operators.

Meeting facilitator James Lockwood said the intent of the meeting wasn’t to place blame but to discuss ideas going forward. Comments were transcribed and will be reviewed, along with online comments.

Any change will be reviewed by Como Community Council, which had an advisory committee in place when Como Dockside was retained. Members of the committee were present Nov. 27 and said they’re willing to serve again.

This is the second park amenity that is being replaced this winter. Parks and Recreation in November closed a submission period for requests for proposals for the park’s miniature golf course, for a course operator or operator of a new amenity.

Those at the Nov. 27 meeting had plenty of suggestions. One point several people agreed on is that they’d like to see more restaurants in the Como area. Having something at the pavilion meets a neighborhood need. Desires were expressed for a restaurant with a more varied menu, some breakfast offerings, and at least some limited winter service.

“I think unless you were walking in the park, you wouldn’t know a restaurant was here,” one man said. He suggested better signage along area streets. But, signage in the park is regulated tightly by the city.

A review of Como Dockside was inevitable. There was widespread praise for the variety of entertainment options, ranging from concerts to family game nights. “I liked that there was a lot of variety and we had entertainment we could walk to,” one woman said. Many people said they liked being able to rent boats and bikes at the park.

But restaurant service and consistency of food got mixed reviews. Several speakers said Como Dockside’s prices were too high and the New Orleans-style menu too limited for those wanting a regular family stop. “I felt the prices were a bit steep, especially for a family,” said one woman.

Minneapolis’ parks food offerings came up during the discussion. Some people pointed to the popular Sea Salt seasonal restaurant there. Others were emphatic that St. Paul isn’t Minneapolis and that anything here needs to keep St. Paul needs in mind.

Some people didn’t like walking into the restaurant space with children and seeing a large bar. Others were OK with that. Many people liked being able to pick up grab-and-go food at a service window and enjoy time in the park.

Como Dockside’s closing on Nov. 22 ends operations that began in 2015. In a statement released by the city, Como Dockside co-owner Jon Oulman said, “We had hoped a year-round staffing model and upscale full-service restaurant concept would be successful at the facility, but unfortunately, due to the seasonality of the facility and competitive labor market we could see that long-term we’d need to adjust—and we felt a different vendor would be a better fit for this space.”

But the space was packed at times, and empty other times. That wasn’t sustainable over the long term, especially with such slow times in the winter.

Como Dockside replaced Black Bear Crossings on the Lake. That restaurant operated for 14 years before getting into a dispute with the city and losing its lease. Black Bear owners David and Pamela Glass took the city to court and won an $800,000 judgment.

City staff said Nov. 27 that no decisions had been made on Como Dockside’s contract for the facility, which runs through 2020. Como Dockside was to share nine percent of gross revenues. Fee estimates were exceeded in 2015 and 2016, and looked to be close if not over estimates for 2017.

Como Dockside owners invested almost $300,000 in facility upgrades, to the restaurant/kitchen space, dock, promenade, dock, and concession stand areas. The city reimbursed the operators for almost $100,000 of those renovations. The contract also required Como Dockside to pay the city nine percent of its monthly gross revenue, or at least $100,000 annually after the first year of operations. This year that amount was expected to top the $150,000 mark. Final figures haven’t been released. But city officials said they expect to clear the $540,000 mark with facility improvements and shared revenues.

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Small Sums 3

Sometimes, a pair of shoes can change a life

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Danny Morgan was heading for a normal middle-class life. In the 1980s, he’d spent three years in college studying pre-law then for years, worked raising money for arts organizations like the San Diego Symphony. But, he developed heart and lung problems, and after a bout with pneumonia, he could no longer work. He ran out of money and housing options and became one of the half a million homeless men, women, and children in the United States.

Photo right: For many homeless, entering this door can change a life. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

But, Morgan wanted to get back on his feet. He’d heard about the arts scene in the Twin Cities and thought it would be a place for him to find a job. He arrived and found that the pay at local fund-raising organizations was lower than he expected and that affordable housing options were few. He ended up staying at Catholic Charities Higher Ground homeless shelter, searching for work. Although it’s hard to find work when you’re homeless, nationally, about 45 percent of homeless adults have some form of employment.

Most homeless adults—including approximately 1,150 in Ramsey County and 2,025 in Hennepin County—who manage to find work face another barrier. They need proper clothing or tools to begin their new jobs, things that they won’t be able to afford, at least until after a first paycheck.

That’s where Small Sums comes in. The organization fills a unique niche, assisting homeless individuals who have jobs (or who have been offered jobs) with proper work clothes, work shoes, tools, and bus passes, something no other organization offers.

Photo left: Small Sums Executive Director Terry Thomas has work shoes in every size. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Terre Thomas, Small Sums Executive Director since 2013, says that this year they served 600 clients and is hoping to grow by another hundred each year. “I tell middle-class people that these people don’t get a letter saying, ‘You’ll start in two weeks.’ More likely, they’ll be told, ‘Can you start third shift tonight?’ and getting what they need for the job can be a burden,” she said.

“More than 50 percent of our clients need black non-slip or black steel toe shoes,” she said. So, Small Sums stocks dozens of shoes and boots in every size.

“Clients can also pick up outdoor work clothes, long underwear, casual shirts, and pants—things most working people take for granted.”

The donation center is located in an old building on University Ave., sharing office space with Landfill Books. The space is rent-free, thanks to Cheapo Record’s owner Al Brown. The entrance is through a door in the back of the building.

Thomas hopes to make the process as easy as possible for those who need it. “We don’t make people jump through hoops,” she said. Anyone who walks through the doors of Small Sums is offered a cup of tea or coffee. When they arrive here, we want to make this easy for them. Most of them are terribly tired; homelessness can be a huge burden. We want to turn that around.”

“I see clients trudging up the hill to our door,” said Thomas. “And then when they leave, they are visibly lighter.”

Photo left: (l to r) Sierra Hegstrom, Small Sum’s Outreach Assistant, former client Danny Morgan, and Executive Director Terre Thomas. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

The only requirements to get help from Small Sums is a job, or a job offer, and homelessness defined broadly. Clients do not have to be living on the streets. Couch surfing, living in a homeless shelter, or living out of a car, are all considered legitimately qualified as homeless, Thomas said.

Thomas and her crew shops sales and negotiate with store owners to supply her organization. She went to Payless Shoes and talked to the manager who notifies her whenever there is a buy-one-get-one sale. “If we buy then, they give us a 25 percent discount. Right now we have 240 pairs of shoes and boots in stock.”

“If we need tools, we go to Menard’s. We try to give medium quality tools and shoes. Nothing too fancy but nothing that’s cheap quality, nothing used,” she said. “We’re bargain ninjas,” she said. “We are always hoping to get better prices.”

Everyone who comes to Small Sums also gets a small packet with a few essentials including a toothbrush and toothpaste, a month-long bus pass and a gift card for a meal or two at Subway restaurants. The bus pass gets clients to and from work, but it can also add some normality and dignity to lives, letting the newly employed to visit friends, go to the doctor or the grocery store, Thomas said. The packet also includes a list of food shelves that don’t require a permanent address.

The group also gets support from some congregations, charitable foundations, and corporations. They take donations from individuals as well, including some who once sought out their services. Sometimes, Thomas said, they slip a note in with the packet saying, “A former client has bought you lunch.”

The charity also raises money through special events, including an annual luncheon featuring special speakers. Danny Morgan, the once homeless man who moved to Minnesota for work, is now working in a hotel kitchen. He told his inspirational success story to the crowd. Just last month, he finally moved into a small apartment in St. Paul. Small Sums, he said, helped lead him to a stable life. “The difference is huge,” he said. “It’s a miracle to transition from the helplessness of homeless.”

“My new neighborhood is quiet and peaceful, and I can sleep. I feel comfortable living here in the Twin Cities,” Morgan said. “And Small Sums helped lead me to be in a stable situation to find affordable housing.”

And, Morgan admitted, he’s even starting to think about returning to school.

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German Immersion 1

Twin Cities German Immersion School plans expansion on site

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Growing school investigates options, decides to renovate or replace old church building to accommodate future needs

The Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) has outgrown its current building at 1031 Como Ave. and plans to expand on its existing site.

School administrator Gael Braddock told District 10’s Land Use Committee the expansion most likely will require extensive renovation or replacement of the old Saint Andrew’s church building.

No work is likely until at least fall 2018.

School is in high demand
Outgrowing its site isn’t a new problem for the school, but one it has faced consistently as the students who come decide to stay, and more want to attend.

“Our school is in high demand, which points to the great work that our staff does with our children and families every day,” observed TCGIS Executive Director Ted Anderson. “Three hundred plus families trust us with their kids, and that is a huge vote of confidence in this age of school choice.”

Photo right: The Twin Cities German Immersion School has outgrown its current building at 1031 Como Ave. and plans to expand on its existing site. The expansion most likely will require extensive renovation or replacement of the old Saint Andrew’s church building. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

St. Paul residents Jeff and Gita Zeitler have sent both of their children, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, to TCGIS since kindergarten.

“We love the school for a lot of reasons—parents are involved, and the teachers are wonderful!” stated Jeff Zeitler. “Becoming fluent in German is frosting on the cake. Our kids are already learning Nepali from their mom at home, so they’re on their way to becoming trilingual.”

The Zeitlers’ first choice of school was the closest St. Paul Public school, but the boundaries were drawn such that they couldn’t get in and were re-routed to a school much further away. So they checked into TCGIS and other charter schools and were impressed by what they saw at TCGIS.

Once families enroll, they don’t leave
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.

In its fifth year on the Como Ave. site, TCGIS is experiencing its first year of being over its designed capacity, according to Anderson.

The Como Ave. site was built for 23 individual class sections and 560 pupils. This year, the school has 24 class sections and more than 525 pupils.

If current student retention patterns hold, TCGIS could have as many as 27 class sections, K-8, by the school year 2020-21.

Anderson says the unanticipated growth is primarily the result of unusually high retention rates; in other words, once families enroll in the school, they don’t leave.

Options explored
Through its strategic planning work, the TCGIS School Board resolved and announced that TCGIS would remain a K-8 school and keep all grades on the same site.

“With these parameters set, the Facilities Committee explored the possibilities of renting space across the street in the long term and acquiring additional property, neither of which have proven possible,” wrote Anderson in a letter to the school community. “In the last months, it has become clear that construction on our current footprint will be our solution to the space issue.”

Photo left: When the German Immersion School moved into the former St. Andrew’s church site, it converted the former church sanctuary into a multi-purpose gym and auditorium, and constructed a new building to connect the existing structures. (Photo submitted)

Before moving into the 60,580 square feet at their current location, Welsh Construction managed a project that included converting the former church sanctuary into a multi-purpose gym and auditorium, and constructing a new building to connect the existing structures.

The School Board’s Facilities Committee, chaired by board member Nic Ludwig, is working to develop a timeline, budget, and plan for expansion of the school’s spaces to accommodate growth.

“In addition to creating more space, the situation also presents the opportunity to improve our existing facilities,” according to Anderson. The conversation includes classrooms, gym, cafeteria, Special Education (office, learning spaces), office/administration, and fine arts.

The School Board’s Facilities Committee meets monthly, and the meetings are open to the community.

School addressing concerns
School staff has also begun meeting regularly with District 10 board members and staff to address parking, noise, and congestion concerns surrounding school activities.

The school has designated Director of Operations Gael Braddock as Neighborhood Liaison and is the go-to person for neighbors’ concerns.

Orthodox Presbyterian Church has agreed to share its parking lot with the school, and TCGIS is also exploring the viability of using the Como Pool lot for parking.

School staff have been asked to leave at least one space per house open on Van Slyke, and encourage parking on Horton and Jessamine in spots that are not in front of residences.

In regards to complaints about noise from the playground, the school is considering installing a new fence to provide some visual and noise protection.

Over the summer, the crumbling playground surface, which is the same used at other St. Paul schools, was fixed by the manufacturer.

“The building TCGIS is in has been a school since the 1950s,” pointed out Zeitler, who is concerned that some neighbors are trying to push the school out of the neighborhood.

“I think there is sometimes a feeling that we own the space on the streets in front of our houses, and I can sympathize since we also live in St. Paul and dislike it when tenants of the apartment buildings across the street park in front of our house. But we live in the city, and that’s one of the trade-offs—tight parking.”

He added, “This has been a school for generations, so any neighbors were well aware that they were going to live near a school when they purchased their house. This is not a nuclear waste storage site. It’s a school—an integral part of a healthy community.”

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Small Biz Saturday 11

Small Business Saturday features local sellers and artisans

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Small Business Saturday was held at Celtic Junction on Sat., Nov. 26. The event, now in its third year, gave neighborhood shoppers a small-scale, friendly destination on what is historically the busiest shopping weekend of the holiday season.

The event is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC). Board member Greg Anderson said, “We had 30 vendors this year, and half a dozen volunteers. At HMC, we believe it’s important to give small, independent business owners a chance to showcase their talents.”

Photo right: Sabrina McGraw is an independent consultant for Scentsy, a company that creates products that smell really good. Scentsy’s core belief is that fragrance and memory are inseparable, and McGraw had many of their scented wax cubes, warmers, and diffusers on hand to sell. She has been a Midway resident for 13 years and said, “My neighbors are like family to me.”



Photo left: Photographer Karen McCauley was on-site throughout the day to photograph kids with Santa (played by Mitch Siglowski).








Photo right: The wood and acrylic pens from Uncle Fester’s Pens are crafted by hand, one-at-a-time. 






Photo left: John Morrison of Jowemo Wood said, “I make something for everyone who eats, drinks, or worries.” He held up a bowl full of his biggest selling item, which he calls worry woods: scraps of polished wood from his workshop that will fit comfortingly into the palm of any hand.







Photo right: The term “milliner” has evolved to describe a person who designs, makes, or trims hats primarily for a female clientele. Milliner Karen Morris modeled one of her hand-made hats.







Photo left: Shelby Teal hand rolls every polymer clay bead for her jewelry line called Rolling Vibe Tribe. She is currently a Studio Arts/Religion major at Hamline University.




Photo right: Lucy Schroepfer sews from 5-6am every morning to make products for her business Luce Quilts, before heading off to her day-job. She brought an assortment of quilted products for the home kitchen, as well as quilts, and two-dimensional, quilted visual art pieces. 

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Night Trains 64 B slider

Night Trains is now a winter tradition

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

The three largest layouts in the museum feature model trains built on the “O Scale.” This is the scale commonly used for toy trains and rail transport modeling. In the “O Scale,” which is pictured here, 1/4’ is equal to 1’. Other museum layouts feature a wide range of scales and gauges, both larger and smaller than the “O Scale.”

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Twin City Model Railroad Museum is running its Night Trains exhibit at full speed right now. In its still new location at 668 Transfer Road, Suite #8, the railroad museum will be dimming its lights every Saturday night from 6-9pm through Feb. 24, 2018, to create a winter wonderland. Santa Claus is scheduled to make guest appearances on Dec. 16 and 23.

Photo right: “Train Doctor” Peter Southard used a pair of needle-nose pliers to wire a passenger car. The University of St. Thomas professor said, “I really like fixing things, and it’s more fun doing that here than at home.”

The Night Trains exhibit has been part of St. Paul holiday tradition since the 1990’s. The museum’s large display of vintage trains, period streetscapes, and buildings glow warmly on Saturday nights—creating a sense of stepping back in time. Small-scale holiday lights and decorations adorn the Night Trains exhibit, adding to the festive spirit.

The Twin City Model Railroad Museum has been a proud part of St. Paul since 1934. Current president Oscar Lund, a retired economist and self-described train nut, has a passion for railroad history and train travel. “This event is our main fundraiser,” he said. “We get a lot of repeat customers who enjoy bringing their families to see the Night Trains. The response that we get from visitors is that this exhibit is just magic.”

The Museum settled into its current location on Transfer Road in May of 2016, just south of the former Amtrak Station along the Minnesota Commercial Rail Yard. Before that, it had long tenures in both Bandana Square and the St. Paul Union Depot.

Photo left: Barry Krelitz, one of the museum’s 150+ volunteers, interpreted the Orient Express exhibit for visitors. The non-profit railroad museum could not exist without its strong volunteer base.

According to Lund, the Museum is at a time of critical growth. “We’ve relied on income ‘from the gate’ for so long, and not enough on donors and corporate sponsors. We received a tremendous amount of support from the community when we had to move from Bandana Square, and now we’re in a space where we see even more potential for expansion. We’ve managed to operate for 83 years with a staff of volunteers, but we will soon need to hire permanent staff. This is an exciting time for our museum.”

Volunteer Paul Gruetzman also has a long view of the Twin City Model Railroad Museum. He started building exhibits more than 30 years ago when the museum was housed in downtown St. Paul. Along with his father, his wife, and their children, Gruetzman has made significant contributions of time and talent to the museum over the years. One of his greatest contributions has been completing a scale version of the Stone Arch Bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. “I like building things and sharing my hobby. The level of fellowship that we enjoy here is something really special,” Gruetzman said.

The museum features more than 11,000 square feet of interactive train layouts. The exquisitely rendered “O Scale” panorama shows railroad life in the Twin Cities during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. This was a time when both steam and diesel engines shared the rails.

To learn more about the Twin City Model Railroad Museum’s regular hours of operation visit www.tcmrm.org or call 651-.647-.9628. The museum is also available on a limited basis for special sponsored events.

Photo below: An estimated 7,500 visitors will come to view the Night Trains this season. The cost is $15 for visitors five years and older, and those under four are free. To make it affordable for families and groups, the cost for the third and subsequent visitor is half price – up to a group size of 10.

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Study underway on how to minimize traffic hassles from stadium

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AOF KSTP Interview

News from Como Park High School

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Logan Verdoorn 2

Teenagers dive in to the themes of Shakespearean Theater

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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City Council votes another $4 million for Stadium infrastructure

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Books for Africa logo

Local group instrumental in gift to great Alexandria Egypt library

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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