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‘Our House: The Capitol Play Project’ will showcase local talent

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
“Welcome to the People’s House!” is the opening song of the upcoming Wonderlust Production’s newest work. Our House: The Capitol Play Project is a two-act play about the Minnesota State Capitol that will be performed at the newly renovated Capitol building Jan. 19-28.

The play explores the world of the Capitol through story, song, and movement. While half a dozen of the 18 cast members are professional actors, the rest are a cross-section of the Capitol community and the community at large—giving voice to stories told by politicians, staffers, civil servants, building maintenance crews, security officers, lobbyists, researchers, reporters, and citizens. In short, welcome to the people’s house.

As the play opens, a wild-card governor has just been elected, and the regular order of business at the Capitol is thrown into chaos. A chorus of seasoned employees tries to get their way, while an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the people who have devoted themselves to public service. Inside the marble halls, the atmosphere is brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and shifting power.

Photo right: Andy Dawkins (far left), retired legislator and cast member, rehearsed for the upcoming performances of Our House: The Capitol Play Project. Dawkins learned about the play from reading an article in the Midway Como Monitor last winter. Other cast members left to right are Delinda “Oogie” Pushetonequa, David Zander, and Gabrielle Dominique.

Wonderlust Productions has been creating plays in the Twin Cities since 2014. The method they use for crafting their scripts involves holding story circles months in advance of when the play is first performed. In the case of this play, 20 story circles were held, and hundreds of stories were collected. From those threads, an early version of the script emerged, and two rounds of auditions were held.

As with all Wonderlust Production plays, this show reflects a broad community perspective. Contributors to the story circles spanned ages from 20 to 80 years and included voices from varied ethnic and racial communities. This project is the culmination of a three-year effort to tell, not one definitive truth of the Capitol, but an amalgam of stories that rest beneath the sensational news headlines and partisan divides.

Photo left: Ginger Commodore, long-time Twin Cities performer and one of the cast leads, practiced the show’s closing number in the Capitol rotunda.

Hamline-Midway resident Andy Dawkins came to an audition at Wonderlust’s workspace in the Midway (550 Vandalia St.) last year and was cast as Cass Gilbert, the Capitol’s formidable architect, and as Good Dave, a lobbyist who works hard on behalf of education issues. In real life, Dawkins is a retired, longtime St. Paul DFL legislator, and an avid baseball player.

Dawkins practiced law for many years in addition to being a legislator, and has not been in a play since the 8th grade. “I’ve been surprised by how much goes into producing a play,” he said, “all the behind-the-scenes stuff, not just memorizing lines but remembering cues. It’s a ton of work. We rehearse five nights a week and Saturdays too, but it’s been worth it.”

He continued, “I was an insider at the Capitol for a lot of years, and I felt like I had meaningful memories to share in the story circle I attended. There was more of a bipartisan spirit during my time as a legislator than there is now. The Democrats held the majority for the first seven years that I was there, and we had a Democrat as governor. The next eight years that I served, the Republicans were in power. We did a lot more talking across the aisle then; I think I had as many good friends in one party as I did in the other.”

Dawkins concluded, “Seeing Our House: The Capitol Play Project will give viewers some insight into the way state government works. We need to be more transparent at the Capitol, to really invite people in so they can start to think about what’s going on there—so that we can ‘do government’ better.”

Photo right: Co-director Leah Cooper worked with the acoustic challenges of the the play’s final song—set in the Capitol rotunda. The unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world, after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Capitol Play Project will have six performances during the last two weekends in January. The play features a live four-person band and several musical numbers. All of the shows except Jan. 26 are matinees and will be performed during public hours at the Capitol. The play travels throughout the building—comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Accommodations will be made for those with limited mobility. The performance on Jan. 27 will be ASL interpreted.

All tickets at the door are free but subject to availability. There are only 100 seats for each performance. To guarantee your seat, reservations are available online and cost $25. The Fri., Jan. 19 preview is pay-what-you-can. Visit www.wlproductions.org or call 651-393-5104 for reservations, discounts, and more information. Performance times are 2pm on Fri., Jan. 19; 12:30pm on Sat., Jan. 20 and Jan. 27; 1:30pm on Sun., Jan. 21 and Jan. 28; 7:30pm on Fri., Jan. 26

Photo left: Real-life Capitol staffers Cindy Farrrell (far left) and Ned Rousmaniere (far right) watched rehearsal in “the vault.” Former legislator Andy Dawkins and stage manager Kari Olk also looked on. The vault is one of the newly restored spaces in the Capitol, and will house the play’s first act. The play will travel to several different locations in the Capitol during the second act, adeptly lead by three actors in the role of tour guides.

Our House: The Capitol Play Project is co-written and directed by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper from the words of the Capitol community. It features original music by Becky Dale, vocal coaching by Elizabeth Grambsch, choreography by Leah Nelson, and design by Heidi Eckwall, Andrea Gross, Zeb Hults, Peter Morrow, and Abbee Warmboe.

Editor’s Note: Margie O’Loughlin, the author of this article and long-time reporter for the Midway Como Monitor, is part of the cast of Our House: The Capitol Play Project.

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Emerald Ash Borer

No ‘Happy New Year’ for ash trees in St. Paul

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

The spread of emerald ash borer means that Como, Hamline-Midway, and Frogtown are among neighborhoods where trees will come down this year.

Tree removal in Highland neighborhood, which is losing more than 250 trees, is to start first the week of Jan. 8. That launches a three to four-month process around the city. Work in other neighborhoods is set for later. Neighbors will be notified before trees come down. Tree replacement will take place in the spring and fall.

A concentration of trees in the Pierce Butler Rte.-Hewitt-Taylor area will come down, east of the Hamline University campus. Stretches of LaFond Ave. in Hamline-Midway and Frogtown will lose trees, as will part of Stinson St. in the North End and Fisk St. in Frogtown.

Image left: stock image

The Como neighborhood will also lose many trees, especially along a stretch of Alameda St. between Maryland Ave. and Wheelock Pkwy., and on Maywood St. between Wheelock Pkwy. and Cottage Ave. Look for trees to come down along Nebraska and Arlington avenues as well.

During discussion of the 2018 city budget, St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm expressed concern about the rapid pace at which the insects are spreading and killing trees. The city has been able to get grants in the past, Hahm said, but as the insects have spread statewide, that funding is harder to obtain.

The city’s structured removal program in the past has focused on areas where there were concentrations of ash trees. Ash trees in decline, due to branch or root injuries, wind damage or other structural defects, were targeted for removal.

Because the borers continue to spread and affect trees throughout the city, the 2018 program will focus only on confirmed infested trees. Those trees were found during 2017 surveys of trees citywide.

Hahm said Park and Recreation’s goal is to have ash tree removal completed by 2025. Parks forestry staff hopes to remove 1,613 boulevard tree removals and 579 parks trees in 2018. About 1,350 trees were removed in 2017.

How the city funds ash tree removal has changed for 2018 and future years. The costs were covered by the city’s street right-of-way maintenance assessments. Those have been moved back to the property tax levy now that the assessments were deemed improper by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court decision and the city’s need to cover costs for 2017 meant that an additional $517,155 that was earmarked for tree removal last year had to go to other right-of-way costs. That would have allowed for more than 1,600 trees to be removed last year.

Outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman’s 2018 budget calls for $1.7 million in resources, to step up the removal of trees in city parks as well as along boulevards. The ongoing spending for trees along city streets is $892,000, with a one-time added allocation of $798,000. The destructive insects are expected to destroy all the city’s ash trees over time.

Since 2010 St. Paul has used a “structured removal” program to cut down ash trees on boulevards and in city parks, to strategically reduce the number of ash trees citywide. Trees are replaced with other species. Emerald ash borer causes ash trees to decline and become brittle. Branches can easily fall and cause injuries to people or property damage.

Emerald ash borers were found in the city about a decade ago. The insects, which bore under an ash tree’s bark and feed on the tree’s circulatory system to the point where the tree dies, have spread throughout St. Paul. They affect all species of ash trees. The city in recent years has done some targeted tree treatment and allows property owners to treat their ash boulevard trees if they obtain permits to do so. But there has been ongoing debate as to whether treatment is a long-term, cost-effective solution. The city only treats ash trees that are between 10 to 20 inches diameter at breast height, in good health with no known defects and in areas where there are no conflicts with utility wires, street lights or street clearance.

Want to see the status of your block’s boulevard ash trees? The city has an interactive map showing trees to be treated and trees to come down. The map can be enlarged to better find streets. Go to www.stpaul.gov/departments/parks-recreation/natural-resources/forestry/emerald-ash-borer.

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S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como Zoo focus on endangered animals

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

New program helps people understand what they do locally makes impact globally


Help polar bears this winter by turning down your thermostat two degrees.

“That amount of change in temp may seem small to us, but it has a positive impact over time,” observed Como Park Zoo & Conservatory Events Coordinator Lindsay Sypnieski.
In fact, if every American adjusted the thermostat up or down by one degree each season, it would save as much energy as the state of Iowa uses in a year.

Taking action now won’t result in an immediate stop to climate change, but new studies show that people could see the effects in about a decade, according to the Polar Bears International, an organization that Como partners with that is focused on how climate change is affecting polar bears in the wild.
Ways that people can help endangered animals is the focus of a new program at Como Park Zoo.

S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como
While Como has been a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (S.A.F.E.) program since 2015, it began S.A.F.E. Sundays last November.

The purpose of the new initiative is “to communicate Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s effort as part of this program and engage our visitors in conversations about the animals here at Como, how we help them in the wild, and what the visitor can do to help save these animals from extinction,” explained Sypnieski.

Polar Bears will be the focus on Jan. 14, and orangutans, tigers, spider monkeys, and langurs have been discussed since the program began.

Palm oil affects orangutans
In early December, the S.A.F.E. Sundays program focused on palm oil and orangutans.

Orangutans (photo right courtesy of Como Zoo and Conservatory) are being affected by the palm oil crisis due to deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries (primarily Borneo and Sumatra) where palm oil is harvested. A century ago there were more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated at 104,700 based on updated geographic range (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered).

Here in Minnesota, people can help the orangutans by “making conscious choices with our buying habits and making sure that companies we purchase items from are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,” observed Sypnieski.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is working to transform the market to make sustainable palm oil the norm. The North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON) was just established on Dec. 19. Founding members of NASPON include Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Companies, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Company, Conservation International, Control Union, Dunkin’ Brands, Fuji Oils, International Flavors & Fragrances, IOI Loders Croklaan, Kellogg Company, Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo, Rainforest Alliance, and Target.

Cell phones affect gorillas
Recycle your cell phone, save the gorillas.

It may not be as simple as that, but a recycling program to collect old cell phones at the Como Zoo and other American zoos is highlighting the little-known connection between cell phone use and the survival of African gorillas.


Coltan, a mineral that is used in making cell phones, is extracted in the deep forests of Congo in central Africa, home to the world’s endangered lowland gorillas  (photo left courtesy of Como Zoo and Conservatory).

Columbite-tantalite (coltan for short) is a metallic ore that, when refined, becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties are ideal for making capacitors, which are used in many electronic devices, including cell phones.

Conflict, illegal mining, and the growing bush-meat trade (the hunting of wild animals for food) have all contributed to a 70 percent population decline of the eastern lowland gorilla, according to some estimates.

Como partners with Eco-Cell, a cell phone-recycling firm based in Louisville, KY, and receives funds for each phone donated. The newer smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, can usually be reused and are worth money back. Many old cell phones cannot be reused and must be recycled. Eco-Cell recycles these types of devices properly and uses best practices regarding smelting, diversion of toxins and reclamation of precious metals.

Drop off unwanted cell phones in the collection boxes located in the Como Visitor Center and Primate Building. Collections from recycling drives can also be mailed directly to Eco-cell; contact ComoEducation@ci.stpaul.mn.us to receive shipping labels.

Upcoming programs
Plan to attend upcoming S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como. Learn about penguins on Jan. 21, lemurs on Jan. 28, gorillas on Feb. 4 and snow leopards on Feb. 11. Each program runs from 1-3pm, and you can find a full schedule online. Look for the S.A.F.E. Sundays table at the featured animal’s exhibit.

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Ways to connect with your Metropolitan Regional Arts Council

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

Long before University Ave. became a corridor of nonprofit organizations, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) established itself at 2324 University Ave. in the Midway neighborhood.

Senior program director Greg Nielsen explained, “Our primary function is to be part of the state arts funding system. A state as geographically diverse as Minnesota would be difficult to serve with just a centralized state arts board in the urban core. The 11 regional arts councils can meet the needs of Minnesota’s 87 counties more responsively, reaching into the cultural nooks and crannies of our state.”

Photo right: MRAC’s Greg Nielsen, senior program director, and Becky Franklin, grants and operations manager. The two are serving as interim co-directors until a permanent executive director can be named. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to the 2017 Creative Minnesota Report, Minnesota is home to “an astonishing 104,148 artists and creative workers who make their home in every county.” The term creative workers refers to 41 occupations including architects, curators, librarians, dancers, actors, choir directors, writers, editors and more—with an economic impact upwards of $600 million annually.

MRAC serves the highest density of artists state-wide: those living in the seven-county metro area, and will award some 500 grants to organizations and artists in fiscal year 2018.

“Regional arts councils are the entry points for many emerging, small, and mid-sized arts organizations and groups,” Nielsen said.
There are grants available through MRAC for arts activities support, organizational development, capital purchases, management consulting, and more. Most grants are publicly funded, with dollars received from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

The only privately funded grant is called the Next Step Fund, made available through a partnership with The McKnight Foundation. These $5,000 grants are awarded to individual artists for career advancement, and the application deadline is approaching fast on Mar. 19.

“In the spirit of MRAC being as accessible as possible,” Nielsen said, “work samples are not required for the Next Step Fund—and the application narrative is only two pages long. We’re often the first funder for recipients of this program. The untold story of MRAC is that we’re a community-directed organization. Our seven-person staff serves as the conduit of information, but we don’t choose who gets any of our grants.”

Grant selection for all of MRAC’s grants is determined by peer review panelists, who volunteer their time throughout the year. MRAC will use the services of more than 250 community volunteers in 2018. Each team of 4-10 will be assigned 25 applications to evaluate before making funding recommendations to MRAC’s board of directors. MRAC is currently accepting applications from new panelists who would bring a diverse personal, professional, and artistic perspective to the process. For more information, contact community connections manager Oskar Ly at Oscar@mrac.org.

Photo right: Alan Berks, co-director of St. Paul’s Wonderlust Productions said, “For our current production, “Our House: The Capitol Play Project,” we received an Arts Activities Support grant from MRAC, and it has been invaluable. I’m not exaggerating when I say that our theater could not exist without the support of MRAC. Theirs was the very first grant we received when we did our Adoption Play Project last year. They made that play possible, and they have other community-driven grants that are essential to arts groups of our size.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to Nielsen, the state of the arts in Minnesota is very, very good. “We consistently rank #1 in the country for per capita dollars invested in the arts,” he said. “We owe our enviable status to the Legacy Amendment, which was voted in by Minnesota voters in 2008 and went into effect in 2010.

Six years ago, as a serious recession was brewing and opposition to tax increases was rising, Minnesota voters chose to write a 25-year tax increase into the state’s constitution. That decision raised the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of 1%, or half a penny for every dollar spent. Money from the Legacy Amendment, worth about $300 million per year, or $7.5 billion over its lifetime, is dedicated to clean water, the arts and culture, parks and trails, and outdoor habitat.

Nielsen concluded that “the Legacy Amendment has significantly broadened MRAC’s reach, but we’re still funding fewer than half of the worthy requests we receive. No artists are going to get rich off of these grants—they’re more like infusions—but they can definitely help artists get to the next level of their careers, and arts organizations to increase access to their communities.”

To learn more about the wide range of MRAC grant opportunities, contact the front desk staff at 651-645-0402.

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Como Pavilion

Como Dockside closes after three years; search on for replacement

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Sums 3

Sometimes, a pair of shoes can change a life

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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German Immersion 1

Twin Cities German Immersion School plans expansion on site

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

No work is likely until at least fall 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once families enroll, they don’t leave
The tuition-free German Immersion School opened its doors in the fall of 2005 with kindergarten and first grade at the old Union Hall along Eustace Ave. As it grew by adding a new kindergarten class each year, it moved to a larger but 90-year-old office building at 1745 University Ave. In the 2012-2013 school year, TCGIS reached its full configuration as a K-8 school.

The next year, it moved its 370 students to the recently renovated former home of St. Andrews Catholic Church and parochial school in the Warrendale neighborhood along Como Ave.

The charter school’s small class sizes help ensure individualized attention for up to 24 students per class. The school offers full-day immersion kindergarten, English instruction beginning in third grade, and Spanish language in the seventh grade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Biz Saturday 11

Small Business Saturday features local sellers and artisans

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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



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








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






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







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







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




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

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Night Trains 64 B slider

Night Trains is now a winter tradition

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plating Inc slider

Federal EPA hopes to wrap up Plating Inc. site in early December

Posted on 07 November 2017 by Calvin

Lots of work still to be done as hazardous cleanup tasks and the future of the site passes to state, county, city

All photos courtesy of the US EPA
Weeks of hazardous materials cleanup at an abandoned Hamline-Midway metal plating plant reached a turning point as November began. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completing its work at Plating Inc. and is handing off ongoing site monitoring and next steps to city, county, and state officials. While neighbors are glad to hear of progress, they have a message for elected officials.

Photo right: Overview of the Plating Inc. exterior at 888 N. Prior Ave.; facing south.

“I hope our state and city and county officials don’t forget us and leave us behind,” said Plating Inc. neighbor Dee Schleifer. “You guys don’t live here. Please don’t forget us.”

Keeping the community informed is a priority moving ahead, said Ward Four City Council Member Russ Stark. His office will take over community outreach centered on the cleanup. He suggested that officials meet again with neighbors in January.

More than 30 people attended an Oct. 26 community meeting at Newell Park to hear from federal, state and local officials about Plating Inc., 888 N. Prior Ave. The property housed plating operations since 1938, but the most recent owners apparently walked away in 2016 for financial reasons. Not only were chemicals left in open vats and trenches, the building was the subject of break-ins and copper theft.

Photo left: At the Plating Inc. site, crew members spray water on insulation bricks that contain friable asbestos to reduce the dispersion of the particles during removal.

Neighbors are concerned about past waste disposal practices, and whether yards, gardens and a pond along Pierce Butler Route are polluted. They asked for help to pay for soil testing in their yards and gardens. Local and state officials will check into those issues.

The EPA went in in late August with a “time critical” removal and cleanup plan. EPA On-Site Coordinator David Morrison described the complex cleanup over the past several weeks. Crews had to deal with more than 80 open vats of chemicals. The building had a blue haze in the air from leaks and chemical interaction with moisture. The building’s plumbing system had frozen. The lack of maintenance meant asbestos pieces had fallen inside. That mess had to be cleaned up before chemical cleanup and removal could begin.

Then the most caustic and dangerous chemicals had to be contained. Strong acids were found in vats. Chemicals had to be tested to see what they were, with samples from every vat and drum.

Photo right: Pooled, liquid waste was removed from under the waste treatment lines.

The EPA secured more than 20,000 gallons of hazardous acids and caustic materials from open vats. About 80 drums of caustic and acidic solids and other industrial sludge were contained from vats and containers. About 9,700 gallons of waste liquids were pumped from open vats into tanker trucks. Lab packs containing 849 pounds of hazardous waste stored in small-volume containers were also shipped off for disposal, along with another 1,400 pounds of non-hazardous waste used metal plating. Overhead lines and processing equipment had to be dismantled and drained.

Efforts were made to recycle some of the chemicals. But some were congealed and couldn’t be pumped out. Those materials were removed manually. The building has had 24-hour security. Air monitors were placed in and around the property.

By early November the EPA and its contractors were shifting from cleanup to disposal. That means taking bids on items and getting them taken away. Once disposal is set, the remaining hazardous materials will be gone. Metal vats can be cleaned and scrapped out. An underground tank containing about 1,100 gallons of diesel fuel will be pumped out.

Photo left: Caustic solution release in floor trench at Plating Inc.

The EPA trailer will be gone. The goal is for the work to wrap up by early December. Congresswoman Betty McCollum said that it’s fortunate that the mess was found before the U.S. was hit by hurricanes in late summer and fall. Natural disasters would have meant a slower EPA response.

“There’s still a big job ahead,” Morrison said. But part of that job will be shouldered by the state, county, and city.

“Once the EPA is done the city, county and state all have roles to play,” Stark said.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Department of Health, and St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health and St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) workers then step in.
The MPCA’s role is remediation, with the property likely going into a state cleanup program. State and county officials’ future work will also include monitoring a 500-foot industrial well in the building basement and determining what to do with a smaller well that is clogged and cannot be checked. Water samples were taken from the deeper well.

Photo right: Crew members pumping fluid from a vat into a sealed tote for proper storage and transportation.

Stark said the city also has jurisdiction over the property as a vacant structure. DSI Deputy Director Travis Bistodeau said the building is a Category Two—meaning it has property code problems that need correction before it could be sold and reoccupied.

Another concern is the fate of the property itself. The current owners are in arrears on property taxes, and over time the site could go into tax forfeiture and eventually be sold to a new owner. Stark and County Commissioner Toni Carter are seeing if that process could be expedited. City officials have heard there is a party interested in buying the property.

Officials haven’t said yet what penalties the current property owners face as an investigation is still ongoing.

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