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United Theological Seminary to move from New Brighton to Midway

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

Ecumenical seminary supports a community-based model to serve diversity of people inside and outside the church

At a time when seminary students are seeking connection, flexibility, and community involvement, the United Theological Seminary has decided to move from the suburbs into the city.

Seminary representatives signed a lease in September for 25,000 square feet at the Case Building (767 N. Eustis St.), and work will start soon on the space.

Classes for the spring term will begin at the new campus on Jan. 14, 2019.

Photo right: United Theological Seminary will be moving from New Brighton into the Towerside Innovation District and Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Paul. Classes are set to start in the former Case warehouse at 767 N. Eustice St. in January 2019, which is just a few blocks away from the Green Lightrail line on University. The new location also sits at the intersection of Highway 280 and Interstate 94. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

“Our new campus space will be designed to best serve seminary education of today where many students participate remotely and require state-of-the-art technology, and many in-residence students commute and prefer an urban setting with access to mass transit,” observed United Theological Seminary President Lee Zeidner (photo left provided).

“It will be in a vibrant community surrounded by emerging arts and non-profit organizations with socially conscious missions—this will create opportunities for collaborative efforts and opportunities for students to be involved in a multitude of community efforts as part of their training.”

Global Academy, a pre-K-8th grade International Baccalaureate Charter School, has purchased the seminary’s former location in New Brighton.

A melting pot of faith
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities was founded in 1962 by the United Church of Christ as an ecumenical seminary serving all Protestant denominations. “Unlike other seminaries in the Cities that were single denomination focused (Lutheran, Baptist or Roman Catholic), United’s founders recognized the value of ecumenical training as families and communities became melting pots of faith traditions,” observed Zeidner.

United was started in New Brighton as the merging of two seminaries: Yankton Seminary in South Dakota and Mission House Seminary in Wisconsin. The land it was built on was originally a pig farm. In the 1980s, much of the land was sold off and became Seminary Estates, a community of single-family homes.

Photo right: United Theological Seminary students in a typical class with examples of the school’s theological art collection in the background. (Photo submitted)

The current campus in New Brighton consisted of about five acres with four buildings: the original classroom building that now includes an award-winning architectural chapel built about ten years ago, a library and dining building, an administrative building and the residence building.

United will continue to own and operate the residential units adjacent to the New Brighton campus and rent them to students. The seminary will provide subsidies for transportation from the residential units to the St. Paul campus for students that do not have access to cars.

Strong social justice bent
United has had a strong social justice bent throughout its existence, pointed out Zeidner, such as advocating for women in ministry 25 years ago when faith leadership was very male-dominated.

United has served many seminarians who have been historically marginalized by traditional church teachings, he added, and United’s work has evolved as societal challenges inside and outside of the church have similarly changed.

“More recently United has been on the front lines of advocating for the welcoming and affirming of gay and lesbian people in the church and now in ministry,” said Zeidner.

“Seminary was once a cloistered environment mostly serving white men on a path to church ministry—today it is a community-based model that serves a wide diversity of people on paths to serving people inside and outside the church in developing and exploring their spiritual lives,” remarked Zeidner.

Photo left: United Seminary students learn alongside distance education students (on the screen in the background). (Photo submitted)

United has increased its focus on inter-religious chaplaincy —helping chaplains who will serve patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, the military, and other settings to better understand and relate to people of all faith traditions, not just Christians.

“Deeply understanding intercultural and inter-religious wisdom can help our graduates better serve those who they are in service to,” remarked Zeidner.

This fall, there are about 100 students enrolled at United, 80% in masters programs and 20% in doctoral programs.

About 30% of students are people of color, and 47% of students identify themselves as female. Students come from across the United States, as well as from all continents and a multitude of countries outside of the U.S.

No denomination represents more than 20% of students. Students who define themselves as “none” (having no religious path in their background) represent nearly 10% of students.

A flexible space
The one-story, 180-000-sq-ft brick Case Building was built by the Case Corp. in 1948 as a tractor parts distribution warehouse. Suntide Commercial Realty initiated development of the 1940s structure in St. Paul’s Westgate industrial area. The area includes about six city blocks nestled into an area bounded by University Ave. to the north, Hwy. 280 to the east, Interstate 94 to the south and the Minneapolis border to the west.

The space is currently a large shell with structural characteristics including many skylights and an urban green space. United hired Doug Pierce, an architect from Perkins and Will, to design its new campus.

The design will include a beautiful chapel, flexible space for creative expression including visual and performing arts, a space for prayer and meditation for those of many faiths, a community dining area, large classrooms with state-of-the-art technology, a technologically modern library, multiple bright and engaging student huddle and study areas and a patio in an urban green space right outside. The city plans to transform an abandoned rail spur and bridge over Hwy. 280 into a bike-and-pedestrian trail connection running past the Case Building.

“Our new space is designed with input from students, alumni, faculty and staff and in that context will create an ideal learning culture for a diverse and vibrant seminary community,” commented Zeidner.

“The space is designed to be fully accessible, green and comfortable for our diverse student, faculty, and staff body.”

United’s move to the Towerside Innovation District and Creative Enterprise Zone will better support existing curricular offerings and make way for new educational models.

While coursework in the arts and theology, social justice, and interreligious competency have been optional up until now, starting fall 2019, they will be required. Technology infrastructure will support a growing base of distance education students.

Rev. Karen Hutt, vice president for student formation, vocation, and experience, plans to provide new places and contexts for United students to serve. “We’ve partnered with Episcopal Homes to support their spiritual development program through chaplaincy internships,” stated Hutt.
She continued, “Our partnership with Episcopal Homes is just one way our students are addressing the changing role of the church.

“People are lonely and in trouble everywhere—public spaces, clinics, libraries, correctional facilities, waiting rooms and human service organizations. These same people may not be going to church to talk to a minister, but they certainly benefit from talking to a chaplain or even a chaplain in training. This is what community and fellowship look like to our seminary students.”

The concept of church evolving
The concept of the church may be evolving, but the core needs of people are not going away, stated Zeidner.

“While much has been written about the diminishing perceived need for ‘church’ at the center of community life in modern society, the need for a spiritual life within the community is growing life,” said Zeidner. “A place to ask the big questions of life about the broader meanings of our lives and how we can live happier and more fulfilled lives in community with others are still important to many.”

He continued, “Despite the clouds of ambiguity about the future of faith communities, it seems clear that less will center on large buildings with steeples and stained glass.”

“More will require leaders who can bridge between the everyday experiences of people and historical contexts and texts in a manner that is perceived as relevant and useful,” Zeidner concluded. “More will require leaders who can lead from within the community rather than from raised pulpits with sage voices. Leaders will require strong interpersonal skills with egos that can tolerate conflict and ambiguity. More will require deep skills at meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of people.”

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CRWD is 20! 120

Capitol Region Watershed District celebrates 20 years of service

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

The iron used to make Ringler’s sculpture was heated to 2,500 degrees, and carried very carefully to the pour site by her students. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) celebrated two decades of exemplary water stewardship on Sept. 21. The well-attended gathering served several purposes: it showcased the agency’s new headquarters at 595 Aldine St., which will be completed in November. It was a chance to celebrate CRWD’s many achievements and strong community partnerships. And last, but far from least, supporters were able to watch sculptor Tamsie Ringler and her team make an art piece out of molten iron as the sun went down.

CRWD is a local, special-purpose unit of government that works to protect, manage, and improve lakes, streams, rivers, and wetlands within its boundaries. The district covers 40 square miles and includes portions of Maplewood, Rosedale, and St. Paul. All of the water in the district eventually drains into the Mississippi River.

Administrator Mark Doneux opened the evening’s program by saying, “We have had many successful projects and innovations in the last 20 years, all of which happened because of strong partnerships.”

Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman was the first to lift her glass and offer a toast. “I haven’t seen another agency that does a better job of using tools and tax levies responsibly. Here’s to another 20 years!” she said.

CRWD Citizen Advisory Committee Member David Arbeit has been on the board since the first day. “We moved to the Como neighborhood from Austin Texas,” he said, “and couldn’t believe how awful the water quality of Como Lake was at the time. The District 10 Council invited neighbors in to talk about what could be done. A group of us petitioned the State of Minnesota, and a modest version of CRWD was created in 1998. We’re proud of how far we’ve come.”

Following complimentary food from the Foxy Felafel food truck, beverages from Burning Brothers Brewery, and live blues music by Dan Rumsey, sculptor Tamsie Ringler supervised a live performance pour of molten iron. The iron used to make Ringler’s sculpture was heated to 2,5000 degrees and carried very carefully to the pour site by her students. The bright red metal filled the rivulets and streams of the 8 1/2’ x 12’ mold, eventually forming a portrait of the river that will hang in the new office building.

CRWD is excited to start the next chapter in its history. They’ll be moving into their Midway location in November, a repurposed building that formerly housed city street sweepers. Green building principles have been used to remodel the entire building, including stormwater management and energy-saving practices. The building will have public, interactive features designed to provide a unique look at watershed science. There will also be an on-site watershed learning center and a pocket park with water elements for neighbors and visitors to enjoy.

For more information, visit www.capitolregionwd.org.

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Galtier 16

New maker space at Galtier Elementary is a hit with students

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

A maker space is someplace where students gather to create, invent, tinker, explore, and discover, using a variety of tools and materials. No two school maker spaces are exactly alike—they’re as unique as the school culture they represent.

Galtier Elementary, 1317 Charles Ave., has a brand new maker space located in their Exploratorium/Library. According to principal Sharon Hendrix, “All of the classes (K-5) get a 50-minute block of time in the maker space each week. Suddenly it’s everybody’s favorite thing to do.”

Hendrix is a second year principal at Galtier, and a 29-year veteran of the Saint Paul Public School District. “I’ve been very inspired by the maker space at the new Bell Museum,” she said, “and it helped to bring my thinking to the next level of what a maker space could be. Our staff believes in the mindset of our maker space because it incorporates design thinking and collaboration. The kids are challenged to look at problem-solving physically, by manipulating materials with their hands. They’re also challenged to look at form and function in real, three-dimensional ways.”

Photo right: Principal Sharon Hendrix enjoyed Galtier Elementary School’s new maker space, along with a kindergarten class. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The open, inviting space at Galtier has several low tables, and a variety of materials set out for kids to experiment with: everything from legos, blocks, and marbles to Play-Doh and craft materials. Students either work independently or with a friend, requiring relatively little instruction or assistance.

Hendrix explained, “We also have a 3D printer which has been popular with all of the grades. It’s important for kids to learn how to code computers and, with the 3D printer, they can see the results of their coding. It’s like learning a foreign language, and it’s an important one to learn. 80% of the jobs that will exist for our elementary school age students don’t even exist yet.”

Hendrix is looking for parents and community members interested in volunteering in the maker space, either on an ongoing or occasional basis. The supervising teacher, Wilson Goss, would always be present, and volunteers would work with small groups of no more than five students at a time. All talents and interests are welcome; makers are artists, crafters, knitters, seamstresses, builders, programmers, engineers, painters, woodworkers, tinkerers, inventors, graphic artists and more. Contact Hendrix directly at 651-293-8710 if you are interested.

The maker space is part of the five-year vision Hendrix has for Galtier Elementary. “I wrote and received a 50K Bush Foundation grant last April,” she said. “We’re using the grant in a number of ways including teacher training to personalize the learning experience, and professional development on improving classroom management with non-verbal cues. There are a number of students enrolled here who are coming from difficult life situations; we can’t get to academic learning until we have success with social and emotional learning. Our test scores are still not great, but I’m hopeful that innovations like the maker space, along with our other efforts to personalize learning, can help to turn things around.”

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Prior Ave N

On-street parking? Nope, wider bike lanes with buffer zones.

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

Right now, Prior Ave. between University and Minnehaha avenues has 2 traffic lanes, 2 5-ft bike lanes and one parking lane. A Council-passed proposal would widen the bike lanes and remove the on-street parking. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Wider, buffered bike lanes will be installed on Prior Ave. between University and Minnehaha avenues. The St. Paul City Council approved the project Sept. 5. The lanes are intended to provide a safer and more comfortable cycling experience on a north-south bike route. Work will be done as part of a street mill and overlay project this fall.

City Council members said they’ve heard strong support for bike lane improvements and unanimously approved the project. While the project has its supporters, including Hamline Midway Coalition and area cyclists and members of the city’s cycling groups, it has drawn objections from a landscaping business that uses Prior for parking.

Prior has had bike lanes for several years but they are about five feet wide in the area north of University. It’s not a width city officials and cyclists consider adequate today.

“It does meet our standards for bike lanes, but it is the absolute minimum,” said Reuben Collins of St. Paul Public Works.

Prior is a collector street and Municipal-State Aid route. It carries more than 4,800 vehicles per day. The posted speed is 30 miles per hour. It’s not a transit route but connects to several bus routes and Green Line light rail at University.

The street is about 40’ wide between Charles and Minnehaha avenues, with two 11’ travel lanes, two 5’ bike lanes, and an 8’ parking lane. It has parking on the east side.

The changes after the mill and overlay allow for 11’ travel lanes, 2’ buffer lanes, 7’ bike lanes, and no on-street parking. Public Works will also reconfigure the area near University on the north side of Prior, to add turning space and improve safety.

Because the project is in a commercial-industrial area with no residential uses, Public Works didn’t hold an open house but instead reached out to property owners. One property owner objected to the project, citing the loss of on-street parking.

Josh Arvold and his brother own Arvold Landscaping at 622 Prior. They bought their property in February and use their lot area to store landscaping materials and supplies. Arvold said employees and customers park on Prior and will have to walk a block when the parking is removed.

While supporting the street and bike improvements, Arvold said the change would create a hardship for the family business.

Collins said city officials heard from a second business owner who wants changes made on Prior south of University. But those won’t happen until the street is reconstructed in 2022.

Another person who’d like to see improvements extended north is Rob Clapp, one of the owners of the Can Can Wonderland entertainment complex just north of Minnehaha. He asked if the mill and overlay could be extended one block, as that stretch of street is in poor condition, and also asked city officials to consider making the street more walkable.

Clapp and other proponents spoke for the project’s safety aspects for bicyclists. Hamline Midway Coalition member Erin Parrish was among those who frequently bike along Prior, and don’t feel safe with the current narrow lane configuration. Neighborhood resident Jake Ruter cited the importance of Prior as a bike corridor.

Improvements to Prior are consistent with the bicycle plan the City Council adopted in 2015. Long-term, a goal is to have the lanes be a connection to a future bike route along Pierce Butler Rte.

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Adopt a drain 1

Which neighborhood can adopt more drains?

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Calvin

Como, Hamline-Midway, and Macalester-Groveland accept the adopt-a-drain challenge for cleaner water

Which St. Paul neighborhood can adopt more storm drains over the next year? The challenge has been accepted by the Como, Hamline-Midway, and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods.

As of Oct. 1, 630 storm drains have been adopted by local residents.

The official breakdown of the competing neighborhoods:
• Como/District 10—197 participants have adopted 297 drains.
• Hamline-Midway—103 participants have adopted 159 drains.
• Mac-Groveland—115 participants have adopted 174 drains.

“Unlike adopting a pet or a child, storm drains are pretty easy to take care of,” remarked Hamline Midway Environment Committee member Lucia Hunt. “By signing up, a neighbor commits to watching a drain and making sure it stays clear of garbage, leaves, ice, and other debris. This means visiting the storm drain every month or two and sweeping it clean, weeding around it, and tossing litter into the trash. Chopping ice buildup in the winter is a great way to keep our streets clear and dry during slush season.”

Hunt first learned about the Adopt-A-Drain program while going through the Master Water Steward coursework when they were all encouraged to adopt their own drain.

“There is an education component to the Master Water Steward program, and instead of coming up with a unique idea, I thought about how to increase adoption rates in my neighborhood,” recalled Hunt. “I wanted to start a friendly competition between the neighborhoods to inspire some pride and pleasure in water conservation.”

The competition between neighborhoods began in August.

What washes down the drain…
“Water quality issues are making the news more and more here in Minnesota. We talk a lot about the impact of agricultural practices, but our urban impact can be just as damaging to the water bodies we love and are connected with,” observed Hunt. “Some of us use pesticides and fertilizers on our lawns, rake our leaves into the street, or are careless with our wrappers and garbage. It is important to realize what happens to all that stuff when it goes down the drains.”

“Many people do not know that our storm sewers go directly into lakes and rivers without any filtration,” remarked Jenni Abere, who administers the Adopt-A-Drain program out of Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education. “Also, many people don’t know that leaves and grass (in excess) actually pollute lakes and rivers.”

Phosphorus is one of the most troublesome pollutants in stormwater runoff. When leaves, lawn clippings, animal wastes, fertilizers, and soil are picked up by stormwater runoff and are carried directly to local lakes and streams, they provide the lakes with excess phosphorus. This excess phosphorus increases algae growth and is why lakes turn green.

“All of the water, plastic bottles, straws, leaves, and road grime go straight through the underground pipes to the Mississippi River—unfiltered, untreated, and unseen,” stated Hunt.

“We do not have any surface water in the Hamline Midway neighborhood, so everything appears to just ‘go away.’ However, if you take a stroll along the riverbanks, it’s a real eye-opener when you see all that trash accumulating and even worse is the invisible nutrient load flowing downstream.”

District 10 Como Community Council Executive Director Michael Kuchta pointed out that storm sewers are the tributaries for Como Lake.

“What washes down the sewer grates goes directly into the lake—trash, excessive nutrients, and who knows what else. It’s the equivalent to manure and fertilizer runoff into the Minnesota River. It directly degrades water quality,” stated Kuchta. “In our case, anyone walking past could see and smell the consequences this summer—green water, algae blooms, and all kinds of trash in the water and on the shoreline.”

40,000 pounds of debris diverted last year
By adopting a drain, participants commit to keeping it clear of leaves, trash, and sediment. These simple steps keep debris from washing down the storm drain and becoming pollution in local waterways.

Last winter and spring, St. Paul participants diverted more than 40,000 pounds of debris from metro area lakes and rivers.

The Adopt-A-Drain program began in 2014 with support from the city of St. Paul and Capitol Region Watershed District. It was subsequently piloted in Bloomington, Roseville, Maple Grove, and Minneapolis, with support from those cities plus Nine Mile Creek and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed Districts.

“There is a surprising number of people who are not ‘official’ adopters but who have been cleaning out their storm drains for years,” Hunt commented. “They understand that the work they do benefits the entire neighborhood and that those individual civic actions make the Midway a better place to live.

“If you are considering adopting, look for one that you walk by or live by so it’s not a hassle to visit it. You can even give your drain a name! Sign up at Adopt-a-Drain.org and pick one or two drains, or go all out and adopt an entire intersection to call your own.”

Kuchta added, “We’re in this friendly competition with other neighborhoods because it provides a fun way for all of us to take a simple, specific step to start turning things around. If residents adopt a drain, if they keep catch basins and gutters clear of grass clippings, leaves, and other debris, it makes an immediate, positive impact on Como Lake. Plus, you get a nice-looking sign for your yard.”

This fall, District 10 is also partnering with the city’s public works department to spread the word that it is illegal to rake leaves into the street.

4-year-old adopts a drain
When four-year-old Miriam Hansen walked past the Adopt-A-Drain exhibit at the State Fair, it was a no-brainer for her family. They adopted a drain.

Photo left: Miriam Hansen checks her drain daily. “Drains need to be clean so the water can drain down it,” explained the four-year-old. (Photo submitted)

“My daughter’s pre-K class focused on learning about rivers,” explained her mother, Jill Hansen, of the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, who was inspired by her daughter’s excitement. “As a part of this, they included drains and where the water goes.”

During family walks, they started paying attention to the storm drains they walked past and cleaning them as needed. “We had many conversations about water, the animals living in and around the river, and the effect trash can have on them,” said J. Hansen. “It was exciting for our daughter. The connection she made with helping the earth and animals was caring and beautiful.”

Miriam checks her drain daily. If she notices that the drain near hers that was adopted by neighbors needs to be cleared, she is very prompt in telling them so.

“Drains need to be clean so the water can drain down it,” explained the four-year-old. “The water goes to the river. We can’t let garbage go down it because then the fish could eat it and die.”
J. Hansen appreciates the Adopt-A-Drain program.

“I love that it empowers the community to play a small part,” said J. Hansen. “If we all do a small part it can make a big difference.”

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Mitra Jalali Nelson Photo

Newly elected council member to focus on renters and affordable housing

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

Mitra Jalali Nelson (photo right provided) has been an organizer for grassroots issues most of her adult life. Now, as the newly elected member of St. Paul’s City Council, she says she wants to start organizing from within the power structure. Nelson plans on focusing her efforts toward transit sustainability, police accountability, and finding ways to advance economic equity in the local economy.

But, at the top of her list is affordable housing.

Her diverse ethnic background—her parents are both immigrants, one from Korea and the other from Iran—has given Nelson unique insight, she says. Her family, who ran a small business, moved all around the Twin Cities.

After attending Mounds View High School, she expanded her horizons, moving to Madison for a degree in political science and then to post-Katrina New Orleans, working at a high school for two years with Teach for America. From there she returned home to St. Paul, becoming an organizer with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. She joined Rep. Keith Ellison’s local office as his public safety and immigration outreach director, where she spent the last three years.

During the 2012 election, she worked to pass a $39 million annual St. Paul Public School funding levy, which, she says, helped her sharpen her negotiation skills, something she now hopes will serve her as a council member.

Nelson, now 32, didn’t grow up dreaming of a seat on the city council. But, when St. Paul Council Member Russ Stark resigned his office to work with newly elected Mayor Melvin Carter, and a special election was called in her Ward 4 neighborhood, Nelson decided that she could serve the public better as an elected official. Ward 4 includes Hamline Midway, Saint Anthony Park, Merriam Park and parts of Mac-Groveland and Como.

She started to campaign last winter and by spring was winning endorsements from unions and progressive organizations. She gained support from Mayor Carter and in April got the thumb’s up from the DFL at their April convention.

Samantha Henningson, Stark’s legislative aide, took over the seat when he left, but as part of her agreement to take the interim job, she pledged she would not run for the office.

Instead, three candidates—Nelson, Shirley Erstate, and David Martinez—were on the ballot and on Aug. 14, Nelson was elected with 54 percent of the vote. Erstad received 41 percent and Martinez, whose campaign was mired in controversy, received only 5 percent.

When she took office on Sept. 5, Nelson became the only renter on the Council. She says she hopes to include other renters as an important part of her constituency, with housing affordability as one of her key issues.

Nelson says that her supporters reflect the changing younger face of her district in St. Paul. “Renters make up more than 50 percent of the city,” she said. St. Paul has a large younger population, with a median age of only 31.7 years.

“I think the idea is that housing stability is important to community stability,” Nelson says. “I want to work for housing affordability. The city can be an important part of that. Zoning can be used to create more value. Preservation and new housing don’t have to be at odds.”

While she supports the construction of new, affordable mixed-income housing, she says that the city should also work to preserve older housing, including landlord programs to fund repairs to existing properties, keeping the cost of rents down.

But, while Nelson hopes to support younger and single people who are not ready to buy, she thinks that there are ways the city can help those ready to transition to home ownership.

“For those trying to buy a home for the first time, the city runs programs to help people with down payment assistance, responsible lease to own programs, and homeowner classes,” she said.

Nelson says that for existing homeowners, rising property taxes can sometimes become a problem. “We have to be thoughtful on property tax increases and how we spend our money. On a macro level, there is a group who pay no property taxes,” she said, mentioning St. Paul’s many hospitals, clinics, and parking areas. “The idea is if we can engage smart development in industrial and commercial areas, people won’t feel that they are picking up the bill. In the past, we have not developed our community. We have lost opportunities.”

“I think we need to make the best possible use of our land everywhere and can, across our city, meet the needs of our community,” she said. “I would like to see a mix of industrial and residential across our ward to sustain our tax base and meet our growing housing needs.”

Since the election was to fill a vacated seat, Nelson will have to run again in the general election next year, along with the other seven members of the council. If she wins, she will represent her district for four more years.

For now, Nelson is ready to get to work. “The special election was a whirlwind. But, I want to get to work right away. It’s exciting to live in our city, and I am excited to do this job differently. I want to attend community events, have forums and meet people. People want to get involved locally and I want to engage with them.”


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Higher Ground Academy moving to Metro Deaf building

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

School shuffle means that 19-year-old charter school will open second campus in Como neighborhood next fall

Higher Ground Academy (HGA) will open a second campus in the Como neighborhood in fall 2019.

The K-12 charter school currently at 1381 Marshall Ave. will be moving into the facility at Brewster and Pascal that Metro Deaf School intends to vacate at the end of 2018. Metro Deaf School is moving to 1125 Energy Park Dr.

“This is really an opportunity for us to serve our students better,” said Principal Dr. Samuel Yigzaw.
Higher Ground will spend the spring and summer next year renovating the space, converting smaller, 1-on-1 spaces into about 18 larger classrooms suitable for grades seven and up, according to Yigzaw. There will also be smaller classrooms available for group work.

Photo right: Higher Ground Academy (HGA) will open a second campus in the Como neighborhood in fall 2019 at the facility at 1471 Brewster St. that Metro Deaf School is currently in. Metro Deaf intends to move at the end of 2018 to 1125 Energy Park Dr. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

‘Cramped’ at current building
HGA initially applied with its authorizer in 2013 to expand its academic program to a second location, with the intention to move the younger grades.

Driving the move for the charter school is the desire for more space, and greater flexibility for programming, pointed out Yigzaw. The new location will offer this and the ability to add students. High on the list of desires is more labs and open space. The new facility has a gym that is not available at 1381 Marshall Ave.

“We are cramped here,” stated Yigzaw. “Now with a larger space, we should be able to bring in more opportunities to our students.”

He added, “Higher Ground is an environmentally friendly school, and we want students to grow in sustainability towards the environment. Proximity to Como Park will be a very good opportunity for us.”
In the fall of 2019, about 300-350 students will move to the second campus. The plan is to eventually grow to 500 students there.

Culturally responsive environment

Higher Ground Academy’s mission to “create a socially committed, morally responsible and ethnically diverse learning environment that values students individually and collectively.”

The school currently serves 760 black and East African students. The school has a low teacher-student ratio of 18-1, and 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. HGA is authorized by Audubon Center of the North Woods.

This vision and purpose of Higher Ground Academy is to encourage student’s maximum intellectual and leadership development to meet 21st century educational standards of education. In order to graduate, all students must have evidence of acceptance for a college place.

The school bills itself as “a college prep school that strives to educate our students in a culturally responsive environment,” according to Yigzaw.

Photo left: “Higher Ground is an environmentally-friendly school, and we want students to grow in sustainability towards the environment. Proximity to Como Park will be a very good opportunity for us,” stated Principal Dr. Samuel Yigzaw. (Photo submitted)

HGA emerged from Executive Director Bill Wilson’s belief that charter schools offer greater flexibility to serve students struggling in the traditional public school system. The former St. Paul city council member and state Commissioner of Human Rights was joined early in the school’s development by Dr. Samuel Yigzaw, then a University of Minnesota graduate student. Their shared passion for serving black students falling behind in traditional public schools has been the school’s driving force throughout its history.

The school opened in the fall of 1999 for kindergarten to ninth grade students. An additional grade year was added each year until it became a K-12 school in the fall of 2002. The school has almost a 100 percent graduation rate.

While HGA has always catered to black students, as time went on the demographics changed from being predominantly African-American to predominantly East African students.

Some of the school’s students have recently immigrated, some are first-generation immigrants but have been in the United States for a period, and some were born in the United States but still share the culture of their immigrant family. In addition to English being new to many students, formal education itself is new.

HGA’s leadership is not hierarchical but is instead vertical. Under the guidance of the principal and executive director, leadership is distributed to grade-level team leaders who take the place of an assistant principal.

The tenets of Higher Ground Academy are that all children can learn; that children learn all of the time; that experience teaches immediately; and that expectations are built on experience.

More information on the school can be found at www.hgacademy.org.




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Glimpsing Resurrection Cancer Trauma and Ministry

Hamline professor writes book on cancer, trauma, and ministry

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

Dr. Deanna Thompson, a professor of religion at Hamline University for 22 years, released her fifth book last month, entitled “Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry.” The launch party in August drew together colleagues, university administrators, cancer patients, religious leaders, chaplains, health care professionals, family, and friends.

Thompson said, “My new book explores what it’s like to be undone by cancer, and how the lens of trauma enables us to better understand the long-lasting emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of illness.”

Photo right: Dr. Deanna Thompson of Hamline University said, “In the future, there’s hope that a Stage IV cancer diagnosis won’t be a death sentence. As a patient with incurable cancer, the question for me is ‘How do I live with cancer?” not ‘How do I beat it?’” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In 2008, Thompson was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, despite having up-to-date mammograms and lacking the gene for breast cancer. Stage IV, or metastatic breast cancer, are terms used to describe an advanced stage where cancer has spread from its original site in the breast to other tissues and organs in the body. Before receiving her diagnosis, Thompson’s breast cancer had metastasized to her spine—mysteriously breaking not one, but two, of her vertebrae. She has spent the last ten years thinking, writing, and talking about how cancer and faith might co-exist.

“Eighty percent of people with metastatic breast cancer live only five years after diagnosis, and I’m on year 10,” Thompson explained. “There’s hope that, in the future, this will be experienced more as a chronic condition, like diabetes. In the meantime, I’m passionate about helping those who are living with cancer and other serious illnesses expand the way they tell their stories.”

While researching her book, Thomson learned that the vast majority of cancer patients display two or more persistent symptoms of trauma. Yet, the most recent mental health diagnostic manual (called the DSM-5) refers to serious illnesses like Thompson’s as part of the “normal vicissitudes of life.”

To hear Thompson tell it, there was nothing “normal” about what she experienced in the last ten years. “At the age of 42, I had to resign from my full and beautiful life: I was the Religion Department Chair at Hamline University, actively engaged in school activities with my two young daughters, and suddenly I felt like a spectator in my own life. I couldn’t imagine myself in a year, let alone five years. Going through the worst parts of the treatment, I was just trying to survive,” she said.

Photo left: “Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry” can be purchased at the Hamline University Bookstore, and at Amazon.com. (Image from Amazon.com)

Thompson is a researcher, an author, an educator, and a theologian. “I still have a lot of questions,” she said, “many of which probably won’t be answered in this life. I’m learning to live with those spaces of irresolution. I have a daily practice of reading the psalms now, even if I feel I can’t talk to God sometimes. There are 150 psalms in the Bible, and 60 of them are laments. For people of faith who are turning to God in times of illness, there can be a sense of guilt for being angry at God. I believe that lament, argument, and protest are all faithful responses.”

She concluded, “Initially, I felt like I had experienced a resurrection. I thought I was going to die, and then I lived. Now, I’ve been living this way for quite a while. As the science of medicine evolves, we’re keeping people alive longer. If you’re one of the lucky ones who survive, then what? One of the scariest things for me was signing up for my life a second time because I know that I might have to resign again. Medical professionals and people working in pastoral care could benefit from this understanding of trauma and serious illness.

For information on upcoming, local speaking engagements visit www.deannaathompson.com.

“Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry” can be purchased at the Hamline University Bookstore, and at Amazon.com.



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Two parking lots at stadium site

Two small parking lots approved next to the soccer stadium

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

MN United wins again; City Council approves 5-year permit despite objection by both local community councils

Two interim parking lots, with fewer than 200 spaces in all, can be built for the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium. On Aug. 15 the St. Paul City Council granted an interim use permit to Minnesota United Soccer Club Holdings LLC for the lots. The lots east of Snelling Ave. can remain in place for up to five years.

Illustration right: Two small parking lots west of the stadium and east of Snelling Ave. can be built. (Illustration provided)

The creation of interim surface parking for the stadium, which opens in 2019, is a point of debate. Some stadium neighbors fear being overrun with soccer fan parking and question whether the spaces would be enough to even make a dent in the parking need. Others contend that more needs to be done to encourage transit use, walking and biking to games, and sharing of existing ramps and lots. They believe that building even small interim parking lots sends the wrong message.

Councils wanted more time
Approval was despite a request from Hamline Midway Coalition and United Park District Council seeking more time to discuss the issue. In a letter from both councils, Megan Conley stated, “While we appreciate the need for additional parking on the roughly 20 soccer event days, this space resides in a neighborhood of people who interact with the location 365 days per year. We believe it is possible to create a dual use for this space that can meet the needs of the team and the community.”

Representatives of the district councils met with Minnesota United lead owner Bill McGuire in March and July to discuss ideas to make the space aesthetically pleasing, potentially as space where neighbors could gather and connect with one another. McGuire rejected that suggestion and told the council representatives that the space would be developed in a short time. In the meantime, it will only be used for parking.

“The team’s request for permission to use the space for parking for five years indicates that imminent development is less likely than first anticipated, and that the suggestions made by the community representatives should receive serious consideration. Also, because these parking lots will be paid lots on game day we believe this revenue will offset the modest expenses incurred in creating a dual use,” Conley wrote. “With that in mind, we respectfully request that you delay approval of this interim permit … We believe it is reasonable to delay this decision because the team will not need parking until spring 2019, which leaves adequate time to create and implement a shared vision for the space.”

Recently the district councils formed a community benefits task force to work on stadium-related issues. What form any stadium-related community benefits would take hasn’t been determined.

Ward Four Council Member Samantha Henningson said she shares the district councils’ frustration as to how the interim use permit request was brought forward. But she also acknowledged that “there are a lot of moving parts” with stadium development. She planned to set up a meeting between Mayor Melvin Carter III’s office and the two district councils to discuss their concerns.

Ward One Council Member Dai Thao said he’ll continue to work with the team and community members on potential shared use.

No one appeared at the public hearing on the interim use. City staff recommended approval. Senior City Planner Kady Dadlez said that interim use permits are allowed under state law if they met a set of specific conditions. Interim uses under state law must conform with a city’s zoning regulations, must have a set end date, cannot impose additional public costs if the property is restored in the future, and must follow any conditions the city sets.

The city, in turn, can put limits on an interim use permit. The City Council approval Aug. 15 allows the stadium’s parking lots to be in place through Nov. 2023. The lots will need to be paved and striped, with rain gardens, curbs and gutter, and lighting. If the interim use period ends without redevelopment, the pavement must be removed and replaced with grass. Rain gardens must be maintained in good working condition. Handicapped parking must be placed close to the stadium. A city site plan on the file for the lots must be followed when the lots are built.

What the master plan says
A master plan for the superblock bounded by St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues and Pascal St. was approved by the City Council two years ago. The plan calls for office/retail uses in the area along Snelling where the parking lots are to be located, with structured or ramp parking.

The master plan outlines the possibility of short-term parking use. But because the interim parking isn’t part of the approved plan, an interim use permit is needed.

St. Paul doesn’t grant many interim uses. One controversial permit is for a parking lot near the University of St. Thomas. Its site was supposed to be developed several years ago, but has had its interim use permit extended twice.

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Como Lake Clean-up slider

Neighborhood involvement sought for Como Lake clean-up

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Calvin

Shoreline buffers help to capture stormwater runoff from roofs, driveways, and parking lots in the fully built-out watershed that feeds Como Lake. The tall-growing native plants reduce shoreline erosion by holding the soil in place and discourage geese from congregating on the water’s edge. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) held the first of three community meetings regarding the future of Como Lake on Aug. 9 at the Como Pavilion.

Community members are encouraged to attend the two remaining meetings and become part of this public advisory group. CRWD staffer Bob Fossum said, “It’s crucial that we tap into the wealth of engaged neighbors, citizens, and users of Como Lake.”

“Como Lake is a shallow, urban lake with a fully developed watershed,” Fossum explained. “For the last 20 years, our organization has worked on installing projects to capture nutrient-laden runoff including rain gardens, stormwater ponds, and underground infiltration systems. Despite all this work, water quality improvement is still needed. Our emphasis has been on the watershed; now it’s time for us to start looking directly at the lake.”

The Como Lake Strategic Management Plan was created in 2002 and has been the blueprint for efforts to protect, manage and improve the lake ever since. The plan is being updated to reflect the latest science, innovations in stormwater management, and community goals for the lake. CRWD intends to use input from their citizen advisory group, as well as agency input, to help create a more balanced eco-system.

Como Lake has been a St. Paul destination spot since the mid-1800’s and has gone through many changes in that time. Its current size is 72 acres, some 50 acres smaller than it was before the Como Golf Course was built.

In 1925, a significant dredging project added more depth to the lake.

By 1998, Como Lake was suffering from shoreline erosion, water pollution, accumulated litter, and runoff from unfiltered stormwater. The District 10 Council petitioned the State of Minnesota to create the CRWD; its members knew that help was needed to restore the health of Como Lake.

All lakes contain a mixture of nutrients, but the water in this lake is out of balance. Como Lake contains three times as much phosphorous as it should for a lake of its size, which causes an overgrowth of algae to bloom throughout the season. There are three main reasons why this happens: stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, decomposing plants (especially the invasive species Curly Pond Weed), and the process of lake-bottom sediment breaking down.

Each of these events releases phosphorous into the lake, which results in spontaneous algae blooms.

In addition, Como Lake suffers from an unbalanced food web. It holds too many panfish because the larger predator species don’t thrive there. Panfish eat zooplankton which, in a healthy lake, can help to keep the growth of algae in check.

The goal of the updated Como Lake Strategic Management Plan is to identify a holistic, adaptive strategy for in-lake management, to complement the many improvements they’ve made in watershed management over the last two decades.

Consider becoming part of the public advisory group to make your voice heard. CRWD is partnering with the Fresh Water Society and LimnoTech, a nationally recognized expert on clean water and healthy ecosystems. This is an opportunity for people who care about Como Lake to help shape its future.

The next two public advisory group meetings will be held in November 2018 and February 2019. Contact CRWD’s Britta Belden at 651-644-8888 or britta@capitolregionwd.org with questions about upcoming meetings.

Learn more about the Como Lake management planning process at capitolregionwd.org/comolake.



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