Archive | January, 2019


District 10 recommends approval of variances for TCGIS expansion

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

Board stressed they were not taking a position for or against historic preservation or value of former church building

District 10 Board members debate three variance requests from the Twin Cities German Immersion School who hopes to demolish the existing St. Andrew’s church building and construct an addition there. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

District 10 Board members have approved three variance requests for the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) expansion project, but the board has not taken a position for or against historic designation of the former St. Andrew’s Church building that is at the center of this divisive neighborhood issue.

Photo right: On Dec. 18, 2018, District 10 Board members (left to right) Amy Perna (Vice Chair), Ryan Flynn (Chair), Anne Hartmann (treasurer) and Tim Post (secretary) consider three variance requests from the Twin Cities German Immersion School. Representatives from the school and Save Historic Saint Andrews spoke at the meeting. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Before receiving official city approval, projects must go before their local district councils. In the Como area, the process for building projects is that they first go before the Land Use Committee, which is composed of however many neighborhood residents attend each meeting, and then the 17-member District 10 Board.

District council votes are advisory, and the city council is not required to go along with the recommendations.

While the approval process for the proposed school addition progresses on one track, the possible historic designation of the former St. Andrew’s Church building moves on another.

The city’s Preservation Commission ruled on Nov. 5, 2018, that the former church designed by the city’s first architect, Charles A. Hausler, is eligible for historic status. However, on Dec. 14, the city’s Planning Commission voted against it being eligible using a different set of criteria. The Heritage Preservation Commission held a public hearing on Jan. 14, past this Monitor’s deadline.

Variance 1: height
Charter schools often make do with spaces, observed TCGIS Executive Director Ted Anderson during the Dec. 18, 2018 District 10 Board meeting. “One of the biggest reasons that we’re motivated to build in this space is that we really want to have usable space for our kids.”

“We’ve seriously looked at how we can keep this building,” said board member and neighborhood resident Nic Ludwig. “We spent two months looking at that before we looked at other options.”

The proposed addition following the demolition of the former St. Andrew’s Church would have a cafeteria on the main level and an expanded commons area adjacent to the addition TCGIS built in 2013 when it moved to the site. Floor two would have six classrooms and RTI (response to interventions) space to provide individualized education.

In the lower floor would be two gymnasiums.

The proposed structure would be a bit wider and shorter than the existing church building.

However, it would be slightly taller than what is allowed by city code, so TCGIS is requesting a variance to the height of 3.1 feet for a total height of 33.1 feet. The existing church building is taller than what is now allowed by the city code. At the peak of the church roof, the current building is 47 feet tall, and it is 38 feet, 6 inches at the midpoint of the roof, according to a St. Paul staff report.

Photo right: District 10 Board member and Land Use Committee Chair Maggie Zimmerman presents highlights from the recent Land Use Committee meeting regarding the Twin Cities German Immersion School’s variance requests during a board meeting on Dec. 18. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

At the District 10 Land Use Committee meeting on Dec. 5, people had voted 96-76 to granting the variance. Land Use Committee members include anyone age 18 or older who resides in geographic boundaries of District 10; or anyone who is a designated representative of a business or nonprofit organization physically located within District 10.

Of the 230 people at the meeting, 187 were District 10 residents who could vote, according to Land Use Committee Chair Maggie Zimmerman. Of that, 60% were from subdistrict 2 (which includes Warrendale), 15% from subdistrict 1, 17% from subdistrict 4, and 8% from subdistrict 3.

Following the recommendation of its Land Use Committee, the District 10 Board voted 14-1 on Dec. 18 to support the variance request for height. Zimmerman and chair Ryan Flynn abstained from all the votes. St. Paul staff is also recommending approval of this variance.

Board position on historic designation
Vice Chair Amy Perna proposed an amendment to the first two motions that they be contingent upon the application for historical designation being denied.

“I think we have two processes going on and if the historic preservation goes through that changes the landscape,” explained Perna.
This amendment was not added following two 7-8 votes as the majority of board members felt that the issue would need to return to them if the historical designation moved forward.

Chair Ryan Flynn affirmed that support for the variance requests “is not an opposition to the historic designation.” He added, “The board has not taken a position on historic designation.”

Variance 2: lot coverage
The second variance request would allow TCGIS to have a total lot coverage of 36%, 1% more than the city’s allowable amount in an R4 residential district. Right now, the former St. Andrew’s Church occupies 32% of the site.

The Land Use Committee approved this by a 100-74 vote.

District 10 Board members approved 14-1 with two abstentions. St. Paul staff is also recommending approval of this variance.
Kevin Anderson of Save Historic St. Andrews (SHSA), the group pushing for preservation, argued that in the city’s zoning ordinance, there is language preventing the overcrowding of land and undue congestion of population. He pointed out that of the elementary schools in St. Paul, TCGIS is the highest in density. TCGIS has 375.1 students per acre while the next closest schools, Achieve Language Academy, has 270.5 students per acre, Murray Middle has 188.1 students per acre, and St. Paul Music Academy has 176.4 students per acre. SHSA believes the density puts a strain on the site and neighborhood streets.

Variance 3: parking
The last variance request generated the most discussion by the District 10 Board.

TCGIS is asking the city to waive the requirement that it provide 37 additional parking spaces with the addition. The school’s current proposal accounts for just 50 parking spaces, but it anticipates having 87 full-time equivalent employees with the school expansion.

The school’s parking lot on the west side currently has 33 spaces, and it will lose one spot with the addition. TCGIS will also remove the six-space parking lot on the east side to create green space there for a net loss of seven parking spaces.

It has contracted with Mission Church across the street to use 15 spaces there when they’re not needed by the church, an agreement that expires in June 2019. The school will offset nine parking spaces by providing bike racks for 36 bikes. The remaining vehicles are expected to use on-street parking in the neighborhood or by staff using alternative forms of transportation.

Ludwig noted that the school plans to meet with the city about using the Como pool lot, but that will cost the school money.

School representatives and those from Save Historic St. Andrews presented conflicting traffic and parking data during the meeting, with one side stating there was plenty of parking spaces available during school hours and the other stating there wasn’t. Each had photos to illustrate their point. The majority of TCGIS school students do come from outside the neighborhood and either ride the bus to school or come by vehicle. Of the 560 students, 55 live in District 10 and half in St. Paul, according to T. Anderson.

A traffic study is currently being done by TCGIS using measures set by the city.

At the Land Use Committee meeting, the school asked for a variance of 37 spaces. Before the District 10 board meeting, the city recommended a variance of only 29 spaces with no net loss in on-site parking.

During its vote, District 10 Board members agreed to follow through on the Land Use Committee vote (101-76) and approved a variance of 37 parking spaces on an 8-7 vote with two abstaining.

Those in favor of the motion explained that they supported more green space over parking. “I’m concerned about the message we’re sending to prioritize a parking lot,” said board member Laura Jo Busian.

Those opposed were concerned about shifting the burden of parking to neighborhood streets. “I think it does have the biggest impact on the neighborhood,” said board member Olivia Mulvey Morawiecki.

A neighborhood divided
School representatives stated that they don’t think they can keep the school financially stable and cover the costs of keeping the church as a historic building. “Will that make us leave tomorrow? No, but it will be a drain on our budget,” said T. Anderson.
They do not think the city should designate the former church as a historic site over their objections.

Save Historic Saint Andrews (SHSA) member Anna Moser pointed out that neighbors banded together to save the historic Victoria Theater at 825 University Ave. in Frogtown when the property owner wanted to tear it own. The structure was granted historic preservation status and is in the middle of a renovation project.

District 10 Board member Mike Ireland observed, “Since I started on the board there have been issues with the community and the school. It’s been exacerbated since the demolition came up. At some point, one side is going to walk away happy and one very sad.” He expressed his concern about the division he sees and asked how the school and community were going to come together after this.
On behalf of the school, Ludwig stated that TCGIS will continue to host neighborhood events such as National Night Out.
SHSA representative K. Anderson said that it is important to be respectful of each other in this process.

“I respect and understand that the school is an important part of our community, but I want it to be a positive part of the community,” stated Moser.

SHSA has requested data from the school to facilitate a design meeting this winter in which all stakeholders in the project would attempt to resolve the conflict and preserve the historic church structure.

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SPPD 03 slider

Western District Police Department seeks community connections

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

The Western District is the largest of the three police districts in St. Paul. With headquarters at 389 Hamline Ave. N., it is home to 120 police officers, sergeants, commanders, and civilian employees. ]

The senior commander is Steve Anderson, a 29-year veteran of the police force who was born and raised near Hamline and Edmund avenues. “The formula we use is 40% community engagement and 60% enforcement. There is no way we could be successful in our police work without the help of the community,” Anderson said.

Photo right: Senior commander Steve Anderson recommends starting or joining a Block Club as a way to build community and reduce crime. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Anderson was appointed to his position in 2017, the same year that criminal activity in and around Hamline Park was becoming a serious problem. A former Hamline Recreation Program kid himself, he decided to increase the police presence there on bicycles—not just in squad cars. “We bolstered our beat officers on bikes from two to six, and those are full-time positions,” he said. “The officers were able to interact with kids and identify those who were at risk for, or already were, committing crimes. The incidence of assaults quickly declined and has stayed down.”

“There are a lot of demands on beat officers,” he said, “because they’re responsible for everything that happens in their assigned grid. It’s usually just a few people who are causing problems in a neighborhood. The beat officers are tasked with getting to know families and neighbors, making face-to-face connections with the community they serve. We try to gain people’s trust. Once the beat officers learned which families had kids involved in criminal activity at Hamline Park, our community engagement unit, gang unit, and social services work with the parents to try and steer their kids in a better direction.”

The Western District covers a sprawling area: extending roughly from the Minneapolis border on the west, 35E on the east, W. 7th St. on the south, and Larpenteur Ave. on the north.

Every third Tuesday, community meetings are held at police headquarters at 9:30am and 6:30pm. The Jan. 15th meetings provided an overview of 2018, as well as a year-end police report.

Attendance runs consistently high at these meetings. There are often guest speakers on issues that relate to policing, such as the use of force and new technologies like body cameras.

In addition, the St. Paul Police Department has a monthly get-together called Coffee with a Cop. Each of the three districts takes turns hosting, and all three senior commanding officers attend each month, as well as a handful of officers. The next scheduled gathering in the Western District is Feb. 26 from 9-11am at the White Castle at Lexington and University avenues. In a time when police/ community relationships can feel strained, this is an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better in an informal setting.

Like every police force in the country, the Western District is in need of more persons of color (especially women) interested in becoming officers. The St. Paul Police Department has launched the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy to ensure that young adults who want to serve as peace officers have the resources they need to succeed. Participation is aimed at adults between the ages of 18 to 24, who live in or around St. Paul, come from low-income families, or face barriers to employment. Call the Community Engagement Office at 651-266-5485 to learn more.

According to Anderson, the biggest problem facing police right now is the connection between violence, gangs, and social media. “Over 50% of our gang-related incidents are a reaction to social media posts,” he said. “Real or perceived slights provoke violence over and over again. Officers respond to these incidents, but they’re extremely hard to get ahead of because they happen so quickly.”

What can citizens do? According to Anderson, “If you see something, report it—but just give the dispatcher the facts. Similarly, if you make a social media post about something you saw—try to keep your opinions to yourself.”

To report a crime, call 911. For a non-emergency anywhere in St. Paul, call 651-291-1111. If you’re unsure which number to call, opt for 911.

Text-to-911 is now available throughout Minnesota, but should only be used when a person can’t safely make a voice call. Text-to-911 is a discreet way to report domestic violence, home invasion, human trafficking, or someone who appears at risk for suicide. Enter 911 in the “TO” field, then text your exact location and type of emergency. Text-to-911 has a 160 character limit, and there is no language translation available at this time.

“I’ve been a police officer for almost three decades,” Anderson said, “and I’ve only been involved in one exchange where shots were fired. Contrary to what people see on TV, flying bullets are not a daily thing for front line officers—though the possibility is always there. We are working hard to deter crime, to keep it from happening. I’m proud to say that in the Western District, we had a 22% reduction in shots fired in 2018. It’s impressive how many positive things a street cop does every day. This is the norm for most cops.”

Contact administrative assistant Olivia Scullark at 651-266-5423 with any questions about the St. Paul Police Department’s Western District.

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Mortenson Construction builds stadium as a good neighbor should

Mortenson Construction builds stadium as a good neighbor should

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

Mortenson Construction has a long, impressive resume, and you don’t have to travel very far in the Twin Cities to see one of their projects. Their crews built the recent restoration of Orchestra Hall, the Walker Art Center addition, major projects at the Minnesota Zoo, US Bank Stadium, the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum, and many others. Their latest project, which will take 20 months from start to finish, is Allianz Field in the Midway neighborhood. According to project supervisor Greg Huber, “Things are moving along right on time.”

Photo right: Greg Huber, Mortenson Construction supervisor for Allianz Field, said, “To me, the most exciting thing is this. Yes, we’ve built a new stadium, but we’ve also improved the site for the community in so many ways.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Constructing a major league soccer stadium at the busiest intersection in the state has had its logistical challenges. Huber said, “We started with a really good plan and, because of that, the project has gone well. We came in with a solid understanding of the site, complexities and all. Community impact means a lot to us; that piece has to work for the project to be successful.”

Huber explained, “In the beginning, we had to dig a really big hole. We were hauling about 6,000 cubic yards (56,000 cubic feet) of soil and debris off the site daily, and bringing in huge deliveries of structural steel and other building materials. Because Snelling and University avenues are already so busy, we didn’t want to add to the congestion. We used Pascal St. instead, to provide as little disruption to the neighborhood as possible. We had a few neighbors come to our construction office in the beginning, worried about how long certain noise levels would last. Thankfully, the worst of it, like the pile driving, only took a couple of weeks.”

Mortenson Construction has made communication with existing tenants of the Super Block a priority throughout the process.

According to Huber, “Site supervisor Scott Amudson is the one with boots on the ground every day, making sure we’re in touch with the needs of the tenants at RK Midway. For example, we built the stadium from south to north, so that the tenants who had to move could stay in place as long as possible. It would have been easier for us to work in the opposite direction.”

Construction is slated to be done on Feb. 22, 2019, with the first Minnesota United FC soccer game scheduled for mid-April. Once the construction fence comes down, Huber anticipates that the public will be pleasantly surprised. “The soccer club didn’t have to go to the lengths they did with landscaping and other community amenities to get approval for this project,” he said. “Regarding the trees, there was literally no tree cover on this site before. Nearly 200 dormant trees were planted this fall, and they’re not just little saplings: the trees have trunks with a 6-8” diameter, which is unusual for a new planting. We believe we’re creating a better sense of place here by putting in community green space.”

Other amenities will include on-site benches made with granite from Cold Spring MN and a public walkway on the south side of the Super Block that connects Snelling Ave. to Pascal St.

One of the mottos at Mortenson Construction is, “Finish safe, finish strong.” Huber explained, “We have over 580,000 worker hours logged on this project so far, and we’ll have 650,000 by the time it’s done. That translates as a lot of meaningful employment to a lot of people—many of whom are local. We also believe that businesses of all sizes in this neighborhood will benefit from the transformation of the Super Block. There will be a big uptick in foot traffic.”

When Allianz won naming rights to the new stadium, they added it to their list of branded stadiums in Munich, London, Sao Paulo, Vienna, Nice, Turin, and Sydney. That will make St. Paul something of an international destination, as there are presently more people outside the US that enjoy soccer than there are in.

Huber concluded, “We believe this will be an iconic structure for decades to come.”

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Unique collaboration is a win-win for St. Anthony Park Home

Unique collaboration is a win-win for St. Anthony Park Home

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

When Elizabeth Clement was growing up in British Guyana, she never thought she would be able to go to college. “I immigrated to Minnesota in 2014,” she said, “and was surprised to learn that college would be possible for me here. In Guyana, only the very wealthy have that opportunity. My first step was to enroll in the Nursing Assistant Training at the International Institute of Minnesota, where I developed a set of practical skills. I completed their eight-week program four years ago, and got a job right away.”

Photo right: Elizabeth Clement is well on her way to fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a registered nurse. She said, “It’s simple; this is what I’m good at.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Clement was hired by the St. Anthony Park Home, just a mile up Como Ave. from the International Institute. It is a privately owned and operated skilled nursing facility that provides long and short term care, rehabilitation, respite care, and hospice services. While Clement continues to develop her skill set there as a nursing assistant, she is also working toward a BS degree as a registered nurse at St. Paul College. She is determined to make her childhood dream of becoming a nurse a reality.

Mona Salazar is the director of nursing at the St. Anthony Park Home. She said, “It is just that sort of determination that develops excellent employees. Since the International Institute approached us about forming a partnership in 2002, we’ve hired well over a hundred of their nursing assistants. The first group of graduates that we hired struggled with English, so the International Institute came on-site to our facility to offer extra language classes (at no charge) including conversational English, medical terminology, and phrases that were frequently used with patients. We paid the nursing assistants for the time they spent studying, and their English quickly improved.”

“Entering the medical profession as a nursing assistant is a great way to get started,” Salazar said. “The International Institute offers its tuition-free training program to immigrants, and they gain practical experience here—as we are a clinical training site. Many of the students do their practicum at the St. Anthony Park Home: they learn to bathe patients, attend to basic needs, and check vital signs. Seven of our current nursing staff started as nursing assistants, and are now either licensed practical nurses or registered nurses.”
Salazar explained, “Employees and residents comment that this facility has a home-like feel. I’m very proud of our ethnically rich staff.

Photo right: Youa Xiong went through nursing assistant training in 2010 and has worked at the St. Anthony Park Home ever since. A native of Thailand, she now lives in the Como neighborhood with her family and became a licensed practical nurse in 2013. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Most of them have had to overcome significant obstacles to finish their educations, to work on their English skills, and to learn to understand our American culture. We’ve had nursing assistants come to work with us from Myanmar, Thailand, East and West Africa—almost every country you could imagine. Wherever they come from, it seems that they’re used to caring for multiple generations in their home countries. They are natural caregivers, and we’ve all learned from that.”

Residents at St. Anthony Park Home have benefited culturally from the diversity of the nursing assistants too. According to Salazar, there have been many ethnic song and dance performances over the years, shared meals from the traditions of other countries, and even a lesson by Ethiopian nursing assistants on the proper preparation and serving of the world’s best coffee.

The St. Anthony Park Home was built as an orphanage more than 100 years ago. Located at 2237 Commonwealth Ave., just behind the Children’s Home Society, the facility transitioned into being a nursing home in the late 1950s. It’s been owned by the same person for 27 years, and most of the department heads have been in their jobs for more than two decades. The 84 bed, three-story facility is very much part of the neighborhood.

For more information about the Nursing Assistant Training at the International Institute, contact Julie Garner-Pringle at 651-647-0191 (#314), or email jgarner-pringle@iimn.org. Students are required to pay $30 for a background check, $100 for the state Nursing Assistant certification test, and to provide their own uniform, but otherwise there is no cost.


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2019 annual Fireside Reading Series line-up announced

2019 annual Fireside Reading Series line-up announced

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

All photos submitted

The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library will present the annual Fireside Reading Series, featuring six weeks of author readings, at 7pm on Wednesday evenings in January and February at the Hamline Midway Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave. The program annually highlights the work of some of Minnesota’s finest writers who have published a new work in the previous year.

New this season, in addition to their presentations, Fireside authors will be asked to talk about what “home” means to them. The goal is to complement the citywide conversation happening this winter as part of Read Brave Saint Paul, an intergenerational reading program whose 2019 theme is housing. The Fireside events are free and open to the public. Patrons can enjoy coffee, cider, cookies, and book signings. American Sign Language interpretation will be provided for all six events.

Sarah Stonich, author of “Laurentian Divide,” will be the guest on Wed., Jan 23. The best-selling author of “Vacationland” returns to the remote town of Hatchet Inlet with a poignant portrayal of life on the edge in northern Minnesota border country. Stonich is also the author of the critically acclaimed novels “The Ice Chorus” and “These Granite Islands,” as well as “Fishing with RayAnne” (writing as Ava Finch) and her memoir, “Shelter.”

Wang Ping, author of “Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi,” will speak on Wed., Jan. 30. In a memoir that spans two rivers, two continents, and two cultures, Wang Ping traces her journey from China to America through the stories of the people that carried her along her travels. Wang’s publications of poetry and prose include “Aching for Beauty,” “The Magic Whip,” and “The Last Communist Virgin,” winner of a Minnesota Book Award. She is professor of English at Macalester College.

Gary Eldon Peter will discuss his new title “Oranges” on Wed., Feb. 6. Winner of the 2016 New Rivers Press Many Voices Project competition in prose, this debut short story collection traverses the life of Michael Dolin, a gay man from the Midwest who must find his own confusing path to adulthood after a personal loss. Peter’s short stories have appeared in “Callisto,” “Water~Stone Review,” “Great River Review,” and other publications. He is a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Heid E. Erdrich and Gwen Westerman, “New Poets of Native Nations,” will be the guests on Wed., Feb. 13. Edited by Erdrich, this landmark anthology celebrates 21 poets of diverse ages, styles, languages, and tribal affiliations to present the extraordinary range and power of new Native poetry. Erdrich is Ojibwe and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She is the author of five collections of poetry, including “Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media,” winner of a 2018 Minnesota Book Award. Westerman is an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She is the co-author of the Minnesota Book Award-winning “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota” and a poetry collection, “Follow the Blackbirds.”

Martin Case will discuss his new title “The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became U.S. Property” on Wed., Feb. 20. The story of “western expansion” is a familiar one: U.S. government agents, through duplicity and force, persuaded Native Americans to sign treaties that gave away their rights to the land. But this framing, argues Case, hides a deeper story. Case is a freelance researcher and writer and was a key participant in the development of “Why Treaties Matter,” a collaboration of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian Institute.

To wrap up the series on Wed., Feb. 27, Karen Babine will discuss her book “All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer.” When her mother is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Babine can’t help but wonder: feed a fever, starve a cold, but what do we do for cancer? Generous and bittersweet, these essays chronicle one family’s experience of illness and a writer’s culinary attempt to make sense of the inexplicable. Babine is also the author of “Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life,” winner of a 2016 Minnesota Book Award.

The Fireside Reading Series is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. For more information on the series, visit www.thefriends.org/fireside.

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Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

Twin Cities German Immersion School – a public school, committed to its students, teachers, and the Como neighborhood

By Julie Alkatout and Dianne Bell, Board Members,  Twin Cities German Immersion School
It is an exciting time for the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS), as we enter our 14th year as a public charter school in St. Paul, and make plans for a significant campus improvement project. After renting our first two locations in St. Paul, we were thrilled to invest in the future of TCGIS with the purchase of our current Como site in 2013. At that time, the vacant 1950s era school building and decommissioned church were vastly underutilized and undermaintained.

We breathed new life into the property by remodeling the classroom building, bringing it up to code for modern school use, and physically connecting it to the former church. We adaptively reused the former sanctuary as our gymnasium and the former basement fellowship hall as our school cafeteria. Now we have the opportunity to provide our students and staff with a purpose-built educational facility to meet programming needs with more classrooms, small group learning spaces, dividable regulation-sized gymnasium, and above-ground light-filled cafeteria.

With the success of our public school, we have a waitlist for enrollment and less than typical attrition for a language immersion school, with full class ranks maintaining through 8th grade. Along with the demand for our K-8 school comes the demand for homes in the surrounding neighborhood. When relocating, our families and staff often choose to live closer to TCGIS. Two families have purchased, remodeled, and increased the value of once foreclosed properties within one block of our campus.

Teachers and families have elected to relocate to St. Paul from other states and even other countries specifically to be part of TCGIS. We also have families that already lived in the neighborhood and were incentivized to stay when their children enrolled at TCGIS through the standard lottery process of a public school. Currently, over 50 District 10 children attend TCGIS, and approximately half of our students live in the city of St. Paul.

Our school strives to be an integrated and active member of the Como community and the city of St. Paul. Since 2016, we have been collaborating with St. Paul Central High School, to feed TCGIS graduates from any city directly into St. Paul’s Central High School, where the students can continue developing their hard-earned German language fluency through an advanced German program available only at Central. In 2018, half of our graduates elected to take this route.

In addition, we improved the TCGIS school grounds by converting expansive pavement to greener playground. We installed beautiful rain gardens as pollinator habitats and underground water collection systems to manage stormwater and prevent polluted runoff from entering Lake Como, an effort that earned TCGIS a nomination for the Capitol Region Watershed District’s Watershed Partner of the Year Award last month​.

Our parent-teacher organization put on an Oktoberfest 5K Fun Run around Lake Como and invited everyone to participate. Our teachers schedule volunteer days for the students to make an impact by picking up trash around Lake Como and the neighborhood. The school playground serves as a community meeting place for neighborhood families and kids. National Night Out for the neighborhood has been hosted at the TCGIS playground. Our energetic school becomes very quiet throughout summer, weekends, and anytime school is not in session, which cumulatively equates to over half the year. We think the neighborhood benefits from a vibrant and stable public school that is committed to the neighborhood.

We truly strive to be a good neighbor and have taken action to improve our impact on the neighborhood during the busy traffic times of a school day. When TCGIS first moved into the neighborhood in 2013, the school didn’t have a busing program. TCGIS now collaborates with nearby Great River School to provide busing to both schools. The inaugural bus program offered two routes, which has grown to the five school bus routes currently available. These five buses transport one-third of our students to and from school and many students walk, bike or carpool, greatly reducing the number of TCGIS vehicles driving into the neighborhood. Our supportive parent-teacher organization hosts regional picnics at the start of each school year to help TCGIS families make connections and arrange carpools.

Setting us up for safety during school release time, we often see our school’s principal and director of curriculum outside wearing safety vests and directing cars in the pickup line. With the goal of improving operational efficiency, the administration implemented the PikMyKid app to allow parents to announce their arrival to staff pick-up coordinators. In October, TCGIS hosted a meeting to discuss traffic safety with a City of St. Paul civil engineer and brainstorm ideas for improving operations.

For the building project permit process, we prioritized and commissioned an independent traffic impact study at a cost of over $12,000 to the school. The preliminary results from this study were shared with the City’s civil engineer and the study’s recommendation to modify the signal light timing at Lexington/Como during school peak times has already been implemented.

Our proposed site plan with the replacement of the small east parking lot with a larger playground will also have a positive impact on traffic safety. Removing this parking lot and driveway takes away the hazard of one interaction zone between vehicles and pedestrians.

The resulting longer stretch of continuous curb will create a safer line of buses or cars during drop-off and pick-up. In November, the administration began assigning additional staff to assist as crossing guards, to encourage pedestrians to use a dedicated crossing zone at Como and Oxford safely by stopping oncoming traffic for the pedestrians.

To address historical parking complaints from residents on Van Slyke, the administration asked staff not to park along Van Slyke to leave spots open for residents. Staff honor that request and there is always ample parking available. In response to the traffic study’s recommendation to minimize parking along Como Ave., the administration now has requested staff and parents refrain from parking on Como Ave. as well. In addition to all these efforts, we are continuing the conversation with the city regarding the Safe Routes to School Program. TCGIS administration is eager to collaborate, make improvements, and get results.

We look forward to our new school facility and the continued vibrancy and success of TCGIS—one of Como’s public schools. We value our place in the Como neighborhood and ask for your understanding and support throughout this campus improvement process.


Zoning Commission holds off vote on TCGIS expansion plans

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

Delay gives school and community time to reach agreements on parking, traffic, pedestrian safety, and sound issues

Given the unresolved issues regarding parking, traffic and playground noise at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, the District 10 Board asked the St. Paul Zoning Commission to hold off on decisions that would facilitate the school’s expansion project.
While the District 10 Board approved three variance requests on Tues., Dec. 18, it delayed action on the school’s site plan believing it to be incomplete.

During a Dec. 20, 2018, Zoning Commission meeting, District 10 Executive Director Michael Kuchta asked the commission to table action to give the school, city staff, and community time to “fully review, deliberate and reach agreements” on various issues.

“The plan, as it currently exists, is incomplete,” wrote Kuchta in a letter to the commission. “It should not be approved until numerous areas of uncertainty are settled. Parking, traffic, pedestrian safety, and sound and sight buffering of the school’s play areas all are specific issues that remain unresolved.”

Kuchta cited uncertainty about how many on-site parking spaces the school needs and how that might be addressed.

He pointed out that city staff and the community have not had adequate time to review a 200-page traffic study submitted by the school. “It is unclear what actions city staff will require in areas such as traffic flow, student drop-off and pick-up, bus parking, crosswalk treatments, a Safe Routes to School plan, and related issues,” Kuchta wrote. “Especially because of the high percentage of private vehicles that transport students, these decisions have intense impacts on quality of life in the immediate residential neighborhood.”

He also pointed out that the school’s playground is unusually close to nearby residences.

“These are issues that exist today—and will continue to exist—regardless of what form the school’s expansion takes,” stated Kuchta.

The Zoning Commission agreed to table the issue following a four-hour hearing, and the school agreed to extend the legal deadline for review by 14 days to accommodate this.

The Zoning Commission will next review the issue on Jan. 17, and send a final recommendation to the Planning Commission on Jan. 25. The city council could review this on March 6.

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NAACP opposes TCGIS expansion

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

The NAACP opposes the proposed expansion of the Twin Cities German Immersion School.

In a statement issued in December, the St. Paul NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) explained its reason for opposition: “We believe that it will exacerbate the racial and socioeconomic segregation in the St. Paul schools.”
The NAACP sees this as a larger problem involving charter schools in general.

At the 107th National Convention in July 2017, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The resolution stated, “charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, TCGIS’ student population is 87% white, 13% students of color, and 7% low-income (qualifying for free-or-reduced-price lunch). In contrast, the surrounding school district, St. Paul Public Schools, is 21% white, 79% students of color, and 68% low-income.

“Expansion of such a predominantly white and relatively wealthy charter school in the heart of the city would frustrate efforts to desegregate St. Paul schools and contribute to further racial and socioeconomic segregation,” the NAACP stated.

“The concerns of local educational policy are highly germane to the decision-making of any city governmental body. Racial and socioeconomic segregation in our schools is the responsibility of all government officials to eradicate, and it is certainly their obligation to avoid any decision to make things worse. Education has a special place in our society. The Minnesota State Constitution singles out education to receive special protection and requires unique obligations by the state to provide an adequate education to all students. Courts since Brown v. Board of Education have found that segregated education is both unconstitutional and immoral.”

The NAACP urged the Planning Commission and all other city officials involved to reject the proposed expansion and prevent further segregation of local schools.”

The St. Paul NAACP is part of a national network of more than 2,400 branches of the NAACP in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The NAACP has more than 500,000 members and is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all persons, and to protect constitutional rights.

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Street changes near Allianz Field please some, rile others

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

As Allianz Field is prepared for an April opening, neighborhood streets continue to change. A proposal to convert one block of Roy between Spruce Tree Dr. to Shields Ave. from one-way northbound to two-way status won a vote of support Jan. 2 from the Union Park District Council (UPDC), following a December recommendation from its Transportation Committee.

Although the Roy St. section eyed for change is one small block, it could mean big changes for the adjacent neighborhood. It is part of a larger residential permit parking district. The block has three houses and an apartment building on one side, and a church on the other side. The street is used for parking by the adjacent Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 436 N. Roy St., and the nearby Central Baptist Church, 420 N. Roy St.

Committee support is with conditions. One request is that parking on both sides of the Roy block is retained. The second is to improve signage to reduce motorists’ confusion. Signage on nearby University Ave. that directs motorists to turn south on Fry St. to reach Spruce Tree Dr. and avoid the busy University and Snelling avenues intersection should be looked at and possibly removed. Another request is for the city to continue to seek neighborhood input as the change moves forward.

UPDC would also like a one-year follow-up on the change so that the St. Paul Department of Public Works could determine what, if any, impacts the changes have.

A final decision on the street configuration goes to the St. Paul City Council for a public hearing and final vote. That process is expected to take about 60 days and would wrap up by the time the stadium opens. Property owners along the street will be notified before the council hearing. If the change is approved, changed street signs will go up in the spring.

Street issues tied to soccer stadium construction have been a bone of contention between city officials and UPDC. One year ago, the district council passed a resolution outlining its values for pedestrian safety at access with the stadium project. “New development in the area, and at Spruce Tree Dr. and Snelling specifically, will increase pedestrian demand at that intersection,” the resolution stated.

UPDC expressed opposition to a median fence on Snelling between University and Shields avenues, stating it is inconsistent with the high-density, pedestrian-oriented streetscape envisioned by the Snelling Station Area Plan and the Snelling Midway Redevelopment Site Master Plan. The district council called for retaining a pedestrian crossing at Source Tree Dr. and asked the city and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to consider a well-marked, unsignalized pedestrian crossing with a refuge median on Snelling at Spruce Tree Dr.

Instead, the city and MnDOT erected the long median and fence, with a small gate at Spruce Tree Dr. that will only be open on game days. The Spruce Tree Dr. signals came down several weeks ago. The signals at Shields were installed last week. Shields is extending east of Snelling into the Midway Center superblock bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. Shields will extend west to Pascal and will be in front of the new stadium.

The change to Roy is part of the larger traffic plan for Allianz Field. One reason for the change is access to the Spruce Tree Centre parking ramp. Spruce Tree is at 1600 University Ave., the southwest corner of Snelling and University. Since the retail-office building opened in 1988, vehicles could access its parking ramp by turning from Snelling onto Spruce Tree Dr. But, the median and removal of signals prevents that.

The two-way change is part of the greater stadium traffic plan, said Elizabeth Stiffler, project manager for Public Works.

The two-way street proposal generated some debate on social media. But only a few neighbors attend the Transportation Committee meeting. Joel Lawrence, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church, said that while he understands why the change was proposed, he does have concerns. One issue is retention of on-street parking, which both churches use on Sundays. Stiffler said parking would remain. Roy in that block is about 32 feet wide.

Lawrence also said better signage is needed, as well as attention to traffic speeds. Committee members agreed and asked Public Works to monitor those issues after the change is approved.

The change on Roy from two-way to one-way was made in 1967 by City Council ordinance. Stiffler said records don’t show why the change was made. Committee member and lifelong St. Paul resident Pete Clasen said the change was made in response to the construction of Interstate 94 so that Roy wouldn’t become a cut-through street for motorists seeking a faster route to the interstate. Roy’s current south end configuration wouldn’t allow for easy freeway access.

Another issue the committee discussed was Spruce Tree Dr. use. Since 1988 Spruce Tree Dr. has functioned as a bypass for motorists. Those traveling east on University or north on Snelling used Spruce Tree Dr. to avoid the Snelling-University intersection, which has long ranked as one of the busiest and most polluted in the state. The turning movement from northbound Snelling is now cut off with the median. The southbound turn to Snelling is made more challenging with the removal of the traffic light.

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Emerald ash borer continues to ravish St. Paul budget

Emerald ash borer continues to ravish St. Paul budget

Posted on 13 January 2019 by Calvin

The battle with emerald ash borer continues in 2019 in St. Paul and around the region. The city’s structured removal program starts this month, with a map and schedules to be released soon. But the pesky insects are moving through St. Paul neighborhoods faster than city forestry crews and dollars can keep up. The goal of the Department of Parks and Recreation is to eradicate the pests by 2024. But that will mean more city and outside funding is needed.

Removal of trees is to get underway this month, in the neighborhoods north and east of Lake Como. Dozens of trees are affected in an area roughly bounded by Milton St., California Ave., Dale St. and Ivy Ave.

Cottage Ave. and Avon and Alameda streets will be among those hard-hit by tree removal.

Several East Side neighborhoods and parts of Highland, Frogtown, and Summit-University will also lose trees. Property owners should have received postcards by now.

Not only is emerald ash borer a focus in the city’s 2019 budget, but it is also called out in the legislative agenda adopted Dec. 19 by the St. Paul City Council. ThaoMee Xiong, intergovernmental relations director for St. Paul, said the city is asking state lawmakers to provide funding to help St. Paul and other cities deal with the pests. That would help cities identify, remove, replace and treat infested trees, through an ongoing grant program with annual funding. A specific dollar amount wasn’t given.

City officials have had mixed success in obtaining state assistance since 2009 when emerald ash borer was found in South St. Anthony Park. That gave St. Paul the dubious distinction of being the first city in Minnesota where the pests were found. Almost the entire city is now directly affected by the insects.

The rising costs of tree removal and replacement are a worry for parks administration and City Council members. But as emerald ash borers spread throughout the state, competition for state grant funding is going to increase. Minneapolis has a special property tax levy for its tree removal and replanting budget.

With emerald ash borer, the insects’ spread and tree loss accelerate a decade after the first insects are found. St. Paul is hitting the 10-year mark in 2019.

Department of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm outlined how the pests have bored holes into the city’s budget. The 2018 city budget included more than $1 million in general fund money and $1.5 million in state funding, for a total of $2.593 million to remove and replant trees. The state’s 2017 bonding bill provided the $1.5 million grant to support tree removal and replanting in St. Paul. That grant doesn’t continue into 2019.

The 2019 budget has $1.343 million in ongoing funding, and $1.196 million in one-time funding to continue last year’s level of service into this year. The budget totaled $2.593 million in 2018 and is at $2.539 million in 2019, for a reduction of more than $53,000.
Having more resources in place will allow the parks forestry staff to address emerald ash borer in a more equitable fashion, rather than simply responding to complaints, said Hahm.

Parks had hoped to remove as many as 5,456 trees in 2019, in its budget proposal to Mayor Melvin Carter. But the approved budget for this year allows for removal of about 2,153 trees.

Trees infested with emerald ash borer die over time and their branches become very brittle and fall. Emerald ash borer larvae kill ash trees by tunneling under tree bark and feeding on the trees’ circulatory systems, which move nutrients up and down the trunks.
According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the insects are now found in 17 Minnesota counties and in 35 states around the country.

Minnesota is highly susceptible to the destruction caused by the pests, according to state officials. That’s because Minnesota has approximately one billion ash trees, the most of any state in the nation.

The spread of emerald ash borer has meant that St. Paul has lost many of its ash trees already. Chemical treatments and even stingless wasps have been tried to at least slow the insects’ spread.

Between 2009 and 2017, city crew removed 9,360 of an estimated 26,540 boulevard ash trees and 1,020 of the roughly 10,000 ash trees in its parks.

The 2019 budget calls for removing 1,565 ash trees from boulevards in 2019 and that same number of trees each year after that through 2024. That would leave more than 6,200 ash trees still standing.

In parks, 588 ash trees are targeted for removal in 2019. Removal that same number of trees each year through 2024 would leave more than 4,000 trees still standing.

But that could take a big bite out of the budget, with estimates for boulevard trees rising from almost $3.8 million in 2020 to almost $7.5 million in 2024. For parks, the estimates rise from $1.8 million in 2020 to $4.3 million in 2024.

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