Archive | February, 2018

Inside La Famila Tapatia

Despite glitches, La Familia Tapatia restaurant is an instant hit

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

It’s just past noon when customers begin to line up at the counter at La Familia Tapatia, a new take-out Mexican restaurant at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. Opened the week after Thanksgiving, the place is already popular even though, in early February, there is still no signage of any kind on the nondescript building. A sign with the restaurant’s name was to be installed at the end of January, but it arrived with a typo and had to be sent back.

Photo right: Inside La Famila Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Abe Ponce-Delgadillo, the manager and eldest son in this family-run business, said he is expecting a banner installed over the front door, very soon. “When we get signs,” he said, “we’ll be flooded.”

The Ponce family had been running a taco truck, also La Familia Tapatia, for four years, setting up at the Sun Ray Shopping Center and at breweries. It had a loyal following, mostly from the Mexican community.

He said that the family was expecting a slow start at the brick-and-mortar restaurant when they first opened, thinking they’d have a few curious people wandering in at lunch and dinner. But, the word had already spread on social networks, especially the local Nextdoor pages, and they found themselves facing crowds of hungry fans from the first day.

Photo left: Customers line up for Mexican take-out. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“We got sold out of some things, and there was a line out the door. That’s when we decided that we were going to put our main energy into the store and not just the food truck,” said Abe.

They found themselves shorthanded, as well. “We called up friends and family who had any experience in restaurants and asked them if they wanted some part-time work,” he said.

The head chef is Abe’s mother Martha Ponce, who said she always had a passion for food. “I love to eat and love trying new foods,” she said, and she fussed over preparing the lengua and tripa (cow tongue and tripe) for the next day’s menu.

Martha, her brother and her husband (now her ex), were using Martha’s recipes, inspired by the traditional foods from the Guadalajara region of Mexico. But, sometimes in business and with families, things don’t always go smoothly. The food truck, said Abe, was “stolen.”

Photo right: Erensto Ponce cooks for the lunch crowd. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“The thief wasn’t a criminal, but my mom’s ex-husband and brother,” Abe said. The truck’s title was in the brother’s name.

“Technically, he owns it,” he said. “We didn’t have anything between us in writing. It was a word-of-honor thing. He has leverage on it. We don’t even know where it is. It’s frustrating.”

“The truck was an old 1977 Wanabox food truck, in rough shape, but we needed it. It was our main income source. With it gone, we needed another truck, and it’s hard in this economy to find money for small startups,” he said.

But, they were lucky, finding an angel investor in Craig Ramsey, Abe’s fiancé’s business partner, who lent them money to purchase a new truck.

The family also decided that they needed a full kitchen to prepare the more complicated dishes they’d sell out of the new truck. They started thinking of a brick and mortar solution.

The meats like the tongue and tripe need to boil for five or six hours before they are ready to chop, spice, cook, and stuff into tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that customers will be ordering, Martha explained.

“The intestines,” she said, “need to be cleaned and cooked, and although I order 30 lb. of the meat, I end up with eight after cleaning and cooking,” she said. “The tongue needs to boil for four hours then cooked and peeled and chopped.”

She says she was surprised at the popularity of some of the more unusual meats among her non-Latin American patrons. “People are very open to ordering exotic meats,” she said. “It’s not just the Mexicans who are ordering these. They’re popular enough that sometimes we run out.”

Abe said that they looked at some locations but stumbled upon an ad on a business site saying, ‘Kitchen for sale.’ The space, on Larpenteur Ave., was perfect.

“Currently, both the kitchen and the food truck aid each other. The kitchen depends on the food truck, and the food truck depends on the kitchen, to repay the loan and pay the bills,” he said.

Customer Forrest Kelley came to pick up lunch, the second visit for him. Like many in the area, he originally heard about it on the social media platform, Nextdoor. Kelley lives and works in the neighborhood, he said, and today, he’s brought along a couple of co-workers who are eager to try some of the shop’s specialties. Kelley, who ordered a variety of tacos, is already a fan. “The food is great,” he said. “They use quality ingredients,” he said. “And they have this really good sauce used on the tortillas. It’s not spicy. It’s kind of smoky and rich. It’s hard to describe, but I almost want to drink it.”

Adam hopes that La Familia Tapatia faces a bright future. Right now, they’ll have to jump through some legal hoops and city regulations before they know how much seating they can add. He also sees a possible expansion in the future. He said he wants the restaurant to have a casual atmosphere, almost like ordering from a food truck. “Except, it’s inside,” he said looking out the shop’s windows on a new coating of snow.

Right now, the restaurant is strictly take-out, although there is some seating for those who are waiting for their orders.

“We’d like to add a couple of bistro tables and chairs outside when spring comes around. We also would like to open earlier, offering a Mexican breakfast—scones, conchas, orejas (Mexican puff pastries), hot and iced coffee, and blended drinks.

For now, however, he said, the family will concentrate on serving homemade and honest food, the best Mexican food in the East Metro. And, he hopes, the banner will be up soon.

“I’m grateful that everyone has been so supportive and patient with the transition from a food truck to a day-to-day brick and mortar. It’s a different set of challenges, but I believe we’ve got a great team behind me and my mom,” he said.

La Familia Tapatia, located at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. W. If the signs are not up, look for Gold Eagle Cleaners…it’s next door.

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Gordon Parks High School celebrates 10th anniversary in March

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) plans to celebrate its 10th anniversary in March with a week of special events.

GPHS is the largest of seven alternative day school programs in the St. Paul Public Schools district. Founded in 1991, the school was originally called the St. Paul Area Learning Center. It was renamed the Unidale Alternative Learning Center after the local strip mall it operated in. When the rented space became too small, the district constructed a new $7.5 million, 34,000-square-foot facility.

“We re-named ourselves from Unidale to Gordon Parks High School after moving from the corner of University and Dale to 1212 University,” recalled GPHS Curriculum and Media Arts Coordinator Paul Creager.

The new school was dedicated on March 6, 2008, just one day and two years after school namesake Gordon Parks died at age 93.

“Our interest in naming the school Gordon Parks was built around his legacy of living in St. Paul, and using the arts to transform his life and fight against racism and classism,” explained Creager.

“Since that time, our staff has led internal reform to create a brand of alternative instruction that attempts to reinvest student interest in lifelong learning. After a decade of this work, we have many more miles to go to reach our goal, but we want to recognize accomplishments.”

Carrying on the legacy of Gordon Parks
St. Paul native Gordon Parks’ life and work as a photographer, film-maker, writer, and civil rights activist provides the school with a model for the thoughtful, active, and successful citizens staff are dedicated to helping students become, according to the 10th-anniversary website gordonparks10.blogspot.com.

The school offers flexible programming, media-infused courses and curriculum, a supportive advisory program to help keep students on track for graduation, and a host of community partnerships, internships, and job support activities that use Gordon Parks’ life as an inspiration and guide.

As a small, orderly, and friendly school, staff work to make it impossible for students to be invisible or to get lost in the shuffle.

Gordon Parks High School is proud to carry on Parks’ legacy by infusing media activism and the arts into core subject areas. Like Parks himself, the staff strives to help students choose the most effective intellectual “weapons” that will transform their prospects and the world.

Students can fulfill state and district graduation standards requirements in many ways—from studying documentary film and nonfiction writing with the English department, to hands-on applied experiences in algebra and chemistry and community-based art, social studies, and environmental studies programs.

At Gordon Parks, students are expected to practice thinking in real ways as a part of their daily school experience. They are expected to be full participants in their own educations and to take themselves and their possibilities seriously.

GPHS offers a range of programs that meet the needs of about 200 students between the ages of 16 and 21, regardless of their current level of academic progress or educational achievement.

The school offers an 8:30am start time, with flexible, year-round, academic programs. Since implementing a three-week grading and curriculum cycle, attendance increased by 100 percent although daily attendance is about 50 percent.

To meet student needs the school has social workers, counselors, special education teachers, educational assistants, and on-the-job training.

This wide range of support services encourages lifelong learning while taking into account family situations, parenting concerns, employment schedules, and housing issues.

The school is also home to an evening high school and offers online classes to accommodate full-time and dual-enrolled students, as well as students who are working.

The school is geared towards students who are pregnant or parents; struggling with chemical dependency, mental health problems, or abuse; behind a grade level or two; limited in English proficiency; or homeless.

“We’re not bad kids,” remarked 17-year-old LaDavia Allcorn, who is a senior at GPHS. “People learn different ways. People don’t all learn by sitting in a little box and writing all the time. For me, I can’t sit there.” Instead, Allcorn has gotten involved in the various projects at the school, including creating a park next door to the school, and also serves on the leadership team. She appreciates how school staff has encouraged her to get involved.

She’ll graduate later this year, but she knows she’ll be back. “I’m not done,” said Allcorn. “I’m coming back to help this school.”

Celebration week events
Tues., Mar. 6 is slated as Gordon Parks Legacy Day at GPHS. The day will include comments from the Parks family, as well as showing of “Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks.”

On Wed., Mar. 7, “The Learning Tree Day,” students are encouraged to create art projects that will be displayed at a gala on Friday. “The Learning Tree,” a film written and directed by Gordon Parks in 1969, will be shown several times throughout the day. Community guests are welcome from 3-6:30pm.

Civic Engaged Storytelling Day is set for Thur., Mar. 8 with activities from 12:30-3pm. Mario Sprouse, Gordon Parks’ personal music arranger for 25 years, will be among the special guests that day. Presentations will focus on the intersection of civic engagement, storytelling, and curriculum. History of GPHS curriculum about Parks’ autobiography, “A Choice of Weapons,” will be given.

Gordon Parks Gala at the St. Paul Hotel will take place on Fri., Mar. 10, 6-9:30pm. It will include a three-course meal, silent auction, live music, a vibrant student-led showcase of projects and performances, as well as curriculum highlights from the last ten years. Special guests include Mario Sprouse and Gordon Park’s son David Parks. The evening features acclaimed Twin Cities actor and playwright Ronald Collier, who will read selections of Parks’ literary works.

Individuals tickets for the gala are $100. Or sponsor a table for $1,000; this includes five tickets for your organization and five tickets for students. Purchase tickets at spps.org/gordonparks-tickets.

Learn how community members, local businesses, and students can be involved in the celebration by contacting principal Traci Gauer at 651-744-1212.

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Russ Stark

Russ Stark resigns from City Council to work for Mayor Carter

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Residents of St. Paul’s Ward Four will have three City Council members in succession in 2018. Ten-year incumbent Russ Stark leaves the City Council in mid-February to serve as Mayor Melvin Carter III’s point person on environmental policy and sustainability.

Stark (photo left provided) said that he’s eager to take the spot in the Carter administration. The issues he’ll be working on are ones he has championed while on the City Council. His council accomplishments include getting the city’s first bike plan passed and helping to guide Green Line light rail construction.

The remaining City Council members will select an interim Ward 4 member in the days ahead. As the Monitor went to press, two people had announced for the interim seat. One is Hamline-Midway resident Samantha Henningson, who has served as Stark’s legislative aide for the past decade. The second is John Van Hecke, a St. Anthony Park resident who was a founding member of the think tank Minnesota 2020. He is a former member of the Snelling-Hamline Community Council.

Ward Four includes all of Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods, and parts of Como, and Macalester-Groveland.

In St. Paul, interim council members typically are appointed with the understanding that they won’t seek the seat on a permanent basis. Both Van Hecke and Henningson have said they would not run in an election if appointed. The special election is expected to be held in August along with the primary for state offices.

The process of choosing an interim replacement moved quickly as the vacancy was posted in late January, and had a Feb. 2 deadline. A new council member could be appointed Feb. 14 and seated by Feb. 21. Stark’s last day on the council is Feb. 16.

The person elected in August could take office immediately and would serve through 2019. 2019 is when all seven council seats are on the ballot. As of Monitor deadline, no one had announced a campaign for the permanent seat.

City Council members in St. Paul are considered to be part-time and are paid $63,000 per year. His new full-time salary in the mayor’s office is $105,000.
Stark admitted that he has mixed emotions about leaving the City Council, but that he is excited to take on a new role.

Stark is now one of Carter’s three top staff members, along with Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher. Stark’s new title is “chief resilience officer,” and he’ll be working on issues including reducing the city’s carbon footprint and the implementation of organized trash collection.

Carter has also named Toni Newborn as his chief equity officer and Tarek Tomes as point person on innovations in government. All three positions are first of their kind in city history.

Stark said in his final council newsletter that while the chief resilience officer post is a new position in St. Paul, similar positions have been created in more than 100 cities around the world to better position themselves concerning climate change and emergency preparedness. He said the job’s tasks will be shaped by the mayor and the community. “The questions I am already asking include: What more can St. Paul do to lessen our carbon footprint? What will make our City more resilient to coming changes? What future climate-related changes could affect St. Paul, and what should we start doing now to get ahead of these issues?” said Stark.

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CRWD Rendering_News Release.pdf

CRWD to put $7.2mil into Midway building

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

The Midway neighborhood will soon be a focal point for sustainable design, development, and education once Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) moves into its new headquarters at 595 Aldine St.

Construction on the $7.2 million facility is scheduled to start in March, with a move-in date set for fall 2018. MSR Design is the architecture firm, and JE Dunn has been selected as the construction manager for the project.

The renewed building will utilize green building principles including stormwater management practices and energy efficiency measures to conserve natural resources, create a healthy workplace and protect the Mississippi River. Gathering spaces will also be available for community and partner organizations to use.

Plus, CRWD will create a community watershed learning center and will offer on-site educational opportunities to showcase its work to protect, manage and improve water resources including Como Lake, Crosby Lake, Loeb Lake, Lake McCarrons and the Mississippi River. One of the community highlights will be a pocket park, combining the natural and built environments with interactive elements to draw in neighbors and visitors.

“CRWD is adopting the City of St. Paul’s Sustainable Building Policy, and the result will be a stunning remodeled building that will meet standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED),” says Mark Doneux, administrator of CRWD. “Our new offices will provide a flexible workplace to accommodate our organization’s growth without the need to acquire additional building space. Plus, the uniquely designed workplace will provide all the space, equipment and support systems in one location that CRWD staff members need to excel at their jobs.”

Since its inception in 1998, CRWD has leased office space in St. Paul.

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Senior Strolls slider

Seniors invited to stroll around Como before park opens

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Senior Strolls offered indoors and outdoors from 9-11am on the first Tuesday


Seniors, take a stroll through Como Park Zoo & Conservatory before it opens to the public on the first Tuesday of each month.

Senior Strolls is a new, free program for the 55+ community that began in December 2017. It is funded through the Legacy Amendment.

“This new program is a great way to get active and social, with a little adult learning thrown in to spice it up!” said Como staff member Noah Petermeier.

Activities in a beautiful space
The goal of the program is to encourage the 55+ community to engage in physical, social, and mental health activities in a beautiful space.

“We leave it up to the individual to choose how they wish to spend the time,” explained Como staff member Matt Reinartz. “Whether they want to come and chat with a friend, walk for exercise, meditate, or chat with an interpreter and learn some new plant and animal information, the choice is up to each participant.”

Photo right: Interpreters stationed inside the Conservatory share information and answer questions about the specific gardens. (Photo submitted)

Enter through the Visitor Center main entrance during cold months. Doors open promptly at 9am and Como opens to the public at 10am. Participants may bring a caregiver who is not 55+.

Calmer atmosphere
“People enjoy having the space open to them before public hours,” remarked Petermeier. “We receive positive comments from folks excited to be here without the crowds, and talking to the interpreters on an adult level.”

In the cold winter months, participants take refuge in the Conservatory, getting exercise at a comfortable temperature while still seeing lush greenery and plants from all over the world. There is a place for guests to hang up their jackets.

When the weather warms up, and the snow and ice melt away, early entry will shift from the Conservatory to the zoo grounds. Those who participate will get to experience the zoo waking up as they leisurely stroll around the outdoor spaces.

Guided learning
Volunteer interpreters answer questions and share fun facts with visitors as they stroll through the grounds that are calmer in the mornings before Como officially opens.

Photo left: “We receive positive comments from folks excited to be here without the crowds, and talking to the interpreters on an adult level,” remarked Como staff member Noah Petermeier. (Photo submitted)

Interpreters stationed inside the Conservatory share information and answer questions about the specific gardens. “They will be able to help guide your learning as you stroll,” observed Reinartz.

Como volunteer services department members at one station field questions about how people can get involved and volunteer their time at Como for those who are interested.

Right now the program is geared towards individual learning, but as it evolves organizers may include more structured learning opportunities, according to Reinartz.

Como also offers adult classes that provide more in-depth knowledge about plants, animals, and conservation. Browse the education section of at www.comozooconservatory.org or the Facebook page under events. Upcoming morning programs for adults include Orchid Odyssey on Apr. 21, Primate Enrichment on June 16, Japanese Gardens on Aug. 25, and Big Cat Enrichment on Oct. 21.

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Governor’s Forum 026

Governor’s Candidate Forum on the New Environment held at Hamline University

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Minnesota Governor’s Candidate Forum on the New Environment was held Jan. 24, at Hamline University’s Anne Simley Theatre. The six leading Democratic candidates for governor took the stage on a Wednesday evening in a forum hosted by 25 of the state’s leading environmental and conservation groups.

Regarding the absence of GOP candidates, Sarah Wolff, advocacy director for Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said, “We were very disappointed. We invited the six GOP candidates who had shown the most traction in their candidacies; three declined outright, and three did not respond.”

“The forum was called ‘Our New Environment’ for several reasons,” Wolff said. “The seriousness of environmental and conservation issues is increasing in our state. We have two high impact projects being considered right now: the Line 3 Pipeline and the PolyMet Mine. And, of course, things have changed dramatically on the national front with the Trump administration’s actions.”

The public was asked to submit questions in five categories, or vote for their favorite question already posted online. The categories of questioning include air and climate, land, water, legacy and funding, and cross-cutting issues.

Here are the questions addressed at the forum:
—What should be the state’s role in acquiring land to protect habitat as well as hunting, fishing, and recreational opportunities?
—Do you think that the current draft permits for Polymet, including DNR’s Permit to Mine, adequately protect MN waters, downstream communities, and taxpayers? Do you support this project as proposed?
—Cropland runoff is the largest source of pollution to MN’s waters, and we’re not making progress. What will you do to accelerate the incorporation of water-friendly perennial crops and cover crops?
—Since 2001 the state commitment of General Fund dollars for environment and conservation has dropped from a consistent 2% of the budget to less than 1%. Would you work to reverse this trend? How?
—MN environmental problems fall disproportionally on people of color, tribal communities and people with low incomes. As Governor, what steps would you take to address these disparities?

Photo right: The forum was co-moderated by Elizabeth Dunbar, who covers the environment for Minnesota Public Radio, and Dave Orrick, who reports on state government and politics for the Pioneer Press. More than 200 people heard the forum live, and it was streamed online to eight public satellite locations throughout the state.



Photo left: Participating in the forum were (left to right): former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, State Representative Tina Liebling, State Representative Erin Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, State Representative Paul Thissen and U.S. Congressman Tim Walz.



Photo right: Erin Murphy is a registered nurse and six-term legislator who works at the intersection of healthcare and politics. She said, “I became a nurse because I care about people. I went into politics for the same reason.” Of the PolyMet Copper Nickel Mine proposed for Northern Minnesota, she said, ”When we’re pitting jobs against water—water should win.”



Photo left: Chris Coleman (on left), three-term mayor of St. Paul said, “During my tenure in City Hall, we made environmental issues and sustainability top priorities. We have an environmental quality here in Minnesota that most states envy. We will have to fight like mad to keep it that way.” Tina Liebling (on right) is a seven-term legislator from the Rochester area. She describes herself as a bold progressive, and the first DFL candidate ever elected from Olmstead County. She supports returning the percent of the state’s general fund dedicated to environmental issues to 2%, or more if that’s what it takes, to address the issues adequately. The dollar amount has slipped below 1% in recent years.

Photo right: Three-term State Auditor Rebecca Otto (left) exemplifies her commitment to the environment by having built her own energy efficient, solar-powered home, and driving an electric vehicle. Her Minnesota-Powered Plan proposes to create between 70,000 and 250,000 high-paying permanent clean energy jobs throughout Minnesota, revitalizing our economy without raising taxes. Legislator Paul Thissen (center), a former speaker of the Minnesota House, said, “From my perspective, the two greatest issues we face today are climate change and Minnesota’s standing as the state with the second worst racial disparities in the country. I believe these two things are closely related.” U.S. Congressman Tim Walz (right) has also been an award-winning social studies teacher and national guardsman—the most highly decorated soldier in the US Congress. He has served in Congress since 2006. Of the Enbridge Energy Line 3 Pipeline (proposed to carry 760,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil/day across Minnesota), he said,”I oppose this project because climate change is an emergency. The Line 3 technology is outdated, and delays the inevitable.”


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Park Names Jamie Tomlin

Park names whittled down to three after community vote

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Gordon Parks High School students play role in shaping and digging into park’s history by collecting votes


Again and again, students at Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) have worked to make sure citizens are involved in the journey to transform a vacant lot next to their school into a five-acre park.

GPHS, along with the Skyline Tower apartment complex and Union Park District Council, expressed concern about the park name selection process being planned by the city earlier this year, pointed out Curriculum & Media Arts Coordinator Paul Creager.

“As a result, we helped organize a process that resulted in a huge increase in community participation, with numerous voting sites in the neighborhood adjacent to the future park,” said Creager. “We want to empower community.”

512 vote on top three names
The school served as a voting location for students and parents, as well as for nearby Midway residents.

Citizens were asked to give input on 15 possible park names. These 15 names originated from several community engagement activities in 2016-2017, where over 100 name ideas were gathered. Of those, 15 names met city of St. Paul criteria and were the most popular, including: All Nations/New Nations, Family (Lakota: Tiospaya or Tiwahe), Freedom, Gordon, Green, Harmony, International, Lexington-Hamline, Midway, Mosaic, Peace (Arabic: Salam), People (Somali: Bulsho), Union, Unity (Sanskrit: Samadhi) and University.

The voting process whittled the 15 options down to the most popular five in November: Peace Park, Midway Park, Mosaic Park, Tiwahe Park, and Unity Park.

At two meetings in December, one held at Skyline Towers and the other at the regular Union Park District Council Board meeting site, citizens agreed to forward three names to the city’s park and recreation commission.

The community voting process resulted in 512 votes being cast for Peace, Unity, and Midway.

St. Paul parks and recreation will recommend to the city council one name this month.

In the past, students have referred to the park as Three Ring Gardens after its long history of housing circuses, while the city labeled it Lexington Commons.

In 2016, with $1.5 million from the city’s 8-80 Vitality Fund, The Trust for Public Land put together the purchase of the three parcels that will become a 5-acre park as part of the group’s focus on more green space along the light rail line. The land was then conveyed to the city.

The park is still in the fundraising stage, and will hopefully be developed in late 2018.

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

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

According to a green space assessment, just 2.3 percent of the area is dedicated to parkland, although parks make up an average of 15 percent of St. Paul. The new park will be within a 10-minute walk of more than 2,600 residents—including the residents of Skyline Tower, who are largely East African immigrants.

Student engagement
“Our work on the future park at Griggs is an example of civically engaged storytelling-approaches to curriculum,” remarked Creager. “Highly engaging, state-standard aligned curriculum is available in the community around a school and doesn’t need to be purchased from Pearson Inc. and Scholastic. For students, interaction with this park project boosted their sense of civic agency, and familiarity with the processes of championing community change.”

Photo right: Gordon Parks High School English teacher Jamie Tomlin collects ideas for park names during a student-led event on the future park property held in 2017. These names were then whittled down to 15, then five, and finally three that were forwarded to the parks and recreation department. The three finalists were Peace, Unity, and Midway. In all, 512 votes were cast on the names. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Creager added, “For the educators involved, the project gave us an opportunity to apply learning in a relevant, tangible way, and show that schools can play a vital role in the communities where they are located.”

GPHS remains dedicated to staying informed regarding ongoing park work through the Trust for Public Land and city of St. Paul.

Although 17-year-old LaDavia Allcorn will graduate this spring, she plans to come back and assist with the park. “I’m not done,” she said. “That park isn’t built yet.”

The park caught Allcorn’s attention the very first day she attended GPHS as a sophomore, and ever since she’s been working to make the park a reality. She’s so glad for the opportunity through GPHS to get credit for “doing something amazing like this.” Working through the process of getting a park created has been an eye-opener for her.

“I’m ready for that park to be built,” said Allcorn. She’s excited for the day when she can bring her kids to the park and let them know she helped make it happen.

It is a park that the school and nearby community need, according to Allcorn, who recently helped garner votes on the park name. Personally, she favored the name “Our Park,” because, as she explained, “It’s everyone’s park.”

Allcorn pointed out that parks are beneficial in many ways, and she’s looking forward to students being able to have a space to spread out a blanket, take a break from school, and enjoy the mental health benefits associated with green space.

“They deserve that,” stated Allcorn, who observed that this park might be something small for others, but it’s something big for them.

Soil analysis at park site
GPHS students have also begun collaborating with Kat Hayes, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota, and her grad students.

“The future parkland has a unique history, and some of the soil is relatively undisturbed,” stated Creager.

Students have done archaeological mapping projects on the property.

The archaeology curriculum includes components such as biology modules using bone casts and teaching bones from the university’s anthropology department labs. A demonstration was given on LIDAR (light detection and ranging), a noninvasive way to record and assess the site, as well as a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) module, that gave students a chance to see how this technology is used in the field.

Students also learned how archaeologists set up sites and document everything in 3D space.

Under the direction of GPHS science teacher Joel Abdella, students have recently begun conducting a soil analysis project.

This project and the future park space has “helped begin years of science and social studies curricular inquiry,” said Creager. “These projects also create a shareable class experience that will help inspire more taxpayer support to leverage policymaker involvement with thoughtful school change, and inspire students and staff to keep pushing for the educational reform our schools need.”

Creager added, “Kat is also an incredible fit for us because she brings a deep background of exploring sensitive racial and economic histories into archaeological inquiry.”

Participants appreciate this project because it involves so many things—historical research, contemporary social relevance of urban planning, questions of environmental justice, applications of science and math to real-world problems, and thinking about how to commemorate the past.

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West Midway fire station to get redeployed ambulance and fire engine

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

As more housing developed along University Ave., and vacant industrial buildings are repurposed, St. Paul city leaders have called for more public safety resources for the West Midway area. More than a decade later, that request is becoming a reality.

St. Paul Fire Station 20 (photo right), 2179 University Ave.—which serves parts of the West Midway, Merriam Park and St. Anthony Park—will get an ambulance to meet growing demand for medical services. A fire engine will be placed at the station, too. That’s a result of a fire and medical services redeployment plan announced Jan. 22 by Mayor Melvin Carter III.

The move triples the number of rigs at Station 20. Only a ladder truck is there now.

Station 20 is targeted for replacement in the next few years. It is in an area with substantial new housing development and redevelopment of older industrial buildings, spurred on in part by the 2014 opening of Green Line light rail. For several years city leaders have discussed the need for more fire and medical service in that area.

Last year a fire department labor-management committee proposed moving Engine 7 from Station 7 (1038 Ross Ave.) to Station 20. The committee also recommended retaining the three rescue squads that Coleman wanted to eliminate. Stations 7 and 20 are not equipped with ambulances, so the committee suggested moving a reserve ambulance to each location.

The move provides a faster medical response to area calls. The closest ambulances are currently at Station 23 (1926 Como Ave.) or Station 14 (111 Snelling Ave. N.)

Station 7 will keep its current ladder truck and get an ambulance.

The changes reallocate about $1.7 million but don’t create additional budget needs. The shift of equipment and personnel wins praise for providing ambulances for two fire stations that don’t have them. Demand for medical calls in the city far outpaces fire calls.

But the loss of a fire engine is a disappointment to East Side leaders, who contend they are losing needed fire protection. Carter announced the move not long after Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince held a press conference protesting the loss of Engine 7.

Though she agreed with the need for more medical resources citywide, Prince opposed moving Engine 7, saying it is needed in the lower-income neighborhood around Station 7 which has many older wood frame houses.

Both the firefighters’ and fire supervisors’ unions support the changes, as does interim Fire Chief Butch Inks. “I appreciate the thoughtful approach that the St. Paul Fire Department, Local 21 and Local 3939 have engaged in with the development of this plan,” Carter said in a statement. “I’m confident that this plan will help meet our residents’ needs, both on the East Side and throughout all of St. Paul.”

The plan is being implemented now and doesn’t require St. Paul City Council approval because it doesn’t change the city’s 2018 budget and the $62 million allocated to the fire department. The council and former Mayor Chris Coleman agreed to lay over any reorganization decision until after Carter took office.

St. Paul Firefighters Local 21 stated support of the plan. “The consensus of this [labor and management] committee is to increase emergency medical services assets in the City of St. Paul. Without adding financial resources or personnel, this plan accomplishes that goal.”

The shifts also mean the St. Paul Fire Department can keep all three of its rescue squads. Each of the rescue squads has a specialty, along with assisting at fire and accident scenes. One is an emergency response and a second is chemical assessments at the scene of a leak or spill. The third rescue squad is dedicated to complicated rescues such as a cave-in. Coleman wanted to cut a rescue squad to meet the high demand for emergency medical services and add two super medic units. Super medic units allocate staff so that a station can operate a fire truck and ambulance at the same time. That means fire rigs are not tied up on medical runs and are available to respond to fire calls.

Coleman’s recommendations were tied to a Fire Department study carried out by an outside consultant, TriData. The study, which was released last July, found that fires account for less than five percent of the department’s emergency calls. The study called for changes in how medical services are delivered, noting the time and costs of sending out larger rigs.

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Mizna 05

Three-month schedule of Arab films underway at local colleges

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

The non-profit organization Mizna, located at 2644 University Ave. W., suite #115, is a forum for Arab-American film, literature, and art. Mizna will be screening films about Arab and Arab American culture in five different locations over the next three months. This film festival tour, as they’re calling it, is the first of its kind for the organization. Mizna has been sponsoring film festivals since 2003, but their films haven’t traveled to multiple venues before.

The following films will be shown: “Tramontane” at Concordia College on Feb. 8; “As I Open My Eyes” at Hamline University on Feb. 23; “Mariam” (and a selection of other short films) at the College of St. Catherine on Mar. 9; “The Preacher” at Metropolitan State University on Mar. 23. All shows begin at 7pm. On Apr. 14-15, a touring mini-fest will be held at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in out-state Minnesota.

Sponsors for the film series include the Knight Foundation, the Legacy Amendment, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Michelle Baroody is Mizna’s film festival director and curator, and a Ph.D. student in cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. “Ours is one of the longest-running Arab films festivals in the country,” she said. “Since 2003, our films have been a gateway through which community members enter to get involved in other programs at Mizna (writing activities, Arabic language classes, and drumming.)”

She continued, “We have a core of supporters for our film festival, but we look forward to bringing our films to more audiences in different venues this year. We’re calling this festival a tour because we’ll be traveling throughout St. Paul and beyond.

Students may attend films at all location for free, regardless of which school the student attends; there is a sliding scale for others including low income and seniors. Reservations are strongly suggested, even for free student tickets, and can be made online at www.mizna.org. People are encouraged to arrive half an hour early, as tickets in the past have sold out. For more information, email Jordan@mizna.org.

“So much of life feels political for Americans since the 2016 presidential election,” commented Baroody, whose father is Syrian American. “In truth, that’s how it’s always been for Arab-Americans—at least since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. There’s an undeniable stigma against Arabs, Arab-Americans, and Muslims in this country now, and fear and confusion get perpetuated in the media. You can’t ignore that something isn’t right in the world. At Mizna, we want the community to know that people of Arab origin are much more than bombers, belly dancers, and billionaires.”

Mizna is committed to presenting compelling Arab expression, creativity, and artistry. Their mission states that “For our community—so often written and spoken about—we are claiming a space to tell our stories and present our art. Mizna offers Arab and non-Arab audiences the chance to engage with cutting-edge Arab art in all its power, beauty, complexity, and humanity.”

Baroody concluded, “Art brings different perspectives and different audiences together. Of the various media that we work with, film may be the easiest to connect with. But film, narrative, and stories—these are all things we can have a cathartic connection to.”

The film festival is one of Mizna’s two anchor programs. The other is their semi-annual literary journal by the same name. Since 1999, Mizna has published the only journal of Arab-American literature in the country. Featuring celebrated and emerging voices, the award-winning journal contains a breadth of stories and ideas. Subscriptions can be purchased through the organization’s website. The most recent issue of Mizna can also be found at Moon Palace Books, Boneshaker Books, Subtext Books, Common Good Books, May Day Books, and the University of Minnesota Book Store.

Photo right: Mizna Executive Director Lana Barkawi said, “We live in a society that paints Arabs, Arab Americans, and Muslims in broad, stereotypic strokes. Mizna exists so that people can see us expressed on the screen and on the page in our full humanity.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Mizna Executive Director Lana Barkawi explained, “The Arab and Arab American population isn’t large in Minnesota when compared to Michigan, New York, or Texas. But we’re here, perhaps 60,000 of us, though the census data aren’t exacting. The subscriber base for our journal is upwards of 600, and more than 1,500 people attended our fall Arab Film Series held at St. Anthony Main Theater. We’re reaching people.”

When asked to translate the meaning of the word mizna to English, Barkawi said, “It is a poetic term that refers to a desert cloud, one that holds the promise of rain and relief.”

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Stadium noise variance raises ire of residents on social media

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

A blanket sound level exemption for the new Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium was set to return to the St. Paul City Council for a vote Feb. 7 at City Hall. If the exemption is adopted, home games, league events, exhibition games and city-sponsored events at the new stadium will not need sound level variances. Because the variance is in a use agreement approved previously between Minnesota United FC and city officials, it may be all over but the shouting.

Joe Spencer, who works on special projects for the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED), said the exemption to noise regulations is in the use agreement approved last year by the city and Minnesota United FC.

Allianz Field construction is underway at the northeast corner of Snelling and St. Anthony avenues, the former Metro Transit bus barn site and part of the former Midway Center property. It is expected to open to games early next year. Minnesota United typically plays 17 regular season games at home, if a look at recent schedules is any indication. Soccer games are on Saturday evenings, starting at 6:30 or 7pm and usually last two hours.

The first home game this year is Sat., Mar. 17. The last is Sun., Oct. 21.

Spencer called the exemption “simple and straightforward” and said it would “streamline” the event process for Allianz Field.

“It’s not expected to be needed or used a lot,” he said. Environmental studies conducted as part of stadium planning indicated that soccer games and other events wouldn’t be in violation of daytime sound level regulations. Nighttime noise limits kick in at 10pm. With soccer games typically starting at 7pm, it’s not expected that games would go later than 10pm. Later play would only happen due to inclement weather, a television schedule-related delay or overtime periods.

If a concert or fireworks display is planned, those would need variances and would have to go to the City Council for approval.
Despite many concerns raised about the exemption on social media and in calls to council members Dai Thao and Russ Stark, only one person attended a Jan. 17 council hearing to speak in opposition.

Hamline-Midway resident Stephanie Digby, who lives north of the stadium, was the only person to speak in opposition. “I’m going to be suffering from noise pollution,” she said. Digby said the variance feels discriminatory and that it is bringing further changes to what has been a quiet neighborhood.

“I feel there are many of us who have been completely ignored,” Digby said.

A layover was approved Jan. 17 to give Union Park District Council (UPDC) a chance to weigh in. The Jan. 22 snowstorm forced the council to cancel a neighborhood meeting to discuss noise concerns.
Stadium noise has been an issue in neighborhoods around Concordia University’s Seafoam Stadium. The sound from football games has carried as far north as Minnehaha Ave. in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood and south to Summit Ave. But those games end before 10pm.

“The assumption is that you essentially cannot quiet fans down,” Stark said of the soccer variance. Council members and Spencer noted that Allianz Field is designed in a way to mitigate sound. That is true of the stadium design as well as how the sound will be handled. Instead of large speakers at one end, as is the case at TCF Stadium at the University of Minnesota, Allianz Field is designed to have smaller-scale speakers that will be spread throughout the stadium.

Spencer said that the plan is to have Allianz Field be a “good neighbor” and mitigate sound as much as possible.

Questions had been raised as to whether or not the exemption would also apply to CHS Field in Lowertown, which is used by baseball teams including the St. Paul Saints. Spencer said that isn’t the case.

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