Community notebook: Changes ahead for Webster School in Northeast

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January 2, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss, Dylan thomas and Michelle Bruch
Jeremy Zoss, Dylan thomas and Michelle Bruch
Webster School could become a little livelier.

Anticipating higher public school enrollment, Minneapolis Public Schools might remake Webster into an early childhood education center in the fall of 2013.

That is good news for the St. Anthony East Neighborhood Association (SAENA), which was worried that Webster would become a large, vacant blight on the neighborhood. Since the K-8 school closed in 2006, Webster was mainly used as administrative space, and even that was scheduled to move out next year.

SAENA Board President Jeremy Wieland said he is “thrilled” by the possibility — new employees would support local businesses, and new kids would ensure the school is maintained well.

“An early childhood education program will best serve our community,” Wieland said. “[St. Anthony East] is a community with an abundance of rentals and starter homes.  There are often many young children in our community, and they’re often from families on the financial edge.”

School Board Member Jill Davis said the district will work to leverage more state funding for early childhood education because it’s a proven way to close achievement gaps.

“It’s expensive to do an early childhood site, but it’s also the right thing,” she said.

Another enrollment adjustment will impact Sheridan Arts Magnet, which will no longer serve 6­–8 graders and will become a Pre-K–5 arts magnet. The older kids will likely head to Northeast or Olson Middle Schools.

“This was a tough decision,” Davis said.

The Board of Education is projecting 180–350 additional students in North, Northeast and Bryn Mawr by 2015, with most of that growth in Northeast schools. The change is attributed to declining private school enrollment, Minneapolis’ new emphasis on neighborhood schools, and a bad housing market preventing the usual exodus to the suburbs.

Robberies on the rise downtown

An increase in burglary and larceny is driving an overall increase in Minneapolis’ crime rate even as more violent crimes decline. In downtown, the statistics are a mixed bag, with some types of crimes on the decline and others on the rise.

Burglaries have increased 5 percent citywide compared to last year, but burglaries in the 1st precinct are actually down 12 percent. Robberies are up 16 percent in the downtown area.

The increase in robberies has been driven by an incidents taking place at night around downtown drinking establishments.

“Most of our robberies occur between 11 at night and 3 in
the morning,” said 1st Precinct Insp. Kris Arneson. “They’ll focus on people who are alone or intoxicated.”

First Avenue nightclubs such as the closed Karma have long been hotspots for crime. But other parts of downtown have their problems as well.

“What we’ve seen this year that we did not see last year is juveniles on Nicollet Mall,” Arneson said. “We’ve put a lot of pressure on the Mall.”

Arneson said there are several reasons juvenile crime has been centered on Nicollet Mall. Many people transfer buses at 7th and Nicollet, and many schools issue Metro Transit Go Cards that offer unlimited usage. The cards offered young people an easy way to get downtown and cause trouble.

Police have been working on the issue with Minneapolis Public Schools and have placed an
8 p.m. curfew on student Go Cards, making it more difficult for juvenile offenders to get downtown at night. Patrols have doubled their presence on the Mall. In partnership with the Metro Transit police, a crackdown on minor infringements also reduced the amount of juvenile crime.

Cloud Cult member teaching toddlers music
SHERIDAN — Three-year-olds can now learn music from a Northeast rock star — Cloud Cult member Sarah Jane Elhardt is teaching classes at the Waite Park Recreation Center this winter.

A free trial class is coming up on Jan. 21, followed by a $35 month of weekly sessions for preschoolers and their parents.

“It’s not just organized chaos,” said Elhardt, who plays piano and French horn in Cloud Cult. “There is quite a bit of singing and ear training.”

Elhardt teaches melodies using solfège (think do re mi), which is an easy teaching method for kids to understand. She is on break from touring with Cloud Cult, a band that travels in a van covered in solar panels, records music at an organic farm and retains artists to paint onstage at each show. Its latest album, “Light Chasers,” was the band’s first to reach the Billboard charts.

Elhardt is a relatively new member of the 10-year-old band. She previously worked at the Minnesota Orchestra and Dakota Jazz Club, and noticed that Cloud Cult was holding auditions for a multi-instrumentalist that could play French horn and piano — two instruments she happened to play.

“It was kind of random,” she said.

Elhardt also teaches piano lessons at her home in the Sheridan neighborhood.

Traffic concerns in Windom Park

WINDOM PARK — Changes to I-35W have residents of Windom Park a little worried they will have to field more traffic on Johnson Street.

County officials are trying to assure the neighborhood that won’t be the case, however.

A proposal by the state, county and city would create a new northbound entrance ramp at 4th Street and an extra lane from University to Stinson. The $13 million project is designed to relieve an area crowded with commuters. It would consolidate the Stinson/New Brighton Boulevard and Johnson Street exits into one ramp, allowing vehicles to head any of the three directions.

Residents in Windom Park are worried that vehicles would gravitate toward Johnson and double the traffic there.

 “The comment I hear over and over again is that traffic on Johnson is just almost unbearable for people,” said Gayle Bonneville, the staff person for Windom Park Citizens in Action. “This is further clogging up traffic that is already backlogged.”

Windom Park sent a letter to public officials, suggesting a trial closure of the ramp and an improvement in Johnson’s signage and roadway design.

In response, county transportation officials said they do not expect traffic to increase on Johnson.

“Cars that exit to Stinson or New Brighton today can still exit directly to those destinations in the proposed configuration, therefore causing forecasted traffic on the layout to show only background growth,” said Nick Peterson, senior project manager for Hennepin County.

Windom Park residents are also nervous about new noise barriers between Broadway and the Johnson Street bridge, noting that the large cement wall near East Hennepin is a magnet for graffiti and it’s an unsightly gateway to Northeast.

In a written response, the county said the noise barrier walls would look the same as the walls used in the completed I-35W/Crosstown project in South Minneapolis.

Construction is scheduled to start in mid-2012, with most of the project completed next November.  

National Marrow Donor Program celebrates 25 years and 50,000 transplants

NORTHEAST PARK — The National Marrow Donor Program, headquartered at 3001 Broadway St. NE, is marking the twin milestones of 25 years in operation and 50,000 donations made through the Be The Match registry, the world’s largest registry of potential donors of bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cells and umbilical cord blood units.

The organization was founded 25 years ago when Congress passed an act to establish a national marrow registry. Prior to its establishment, donor information was spread out across various organizations and offices throughout the country, said Director of Donor Recruitment Mary Halet.

The National Marrow Donor Program’s first transplant took place in 1987, when Wisconsin’s Diane Walters donated marrow to Brooke Ward of North Carolina, a 6-year -old suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

College student Miah Winterfeldt recently became the 50,000th donor when she donated peripheral blood stem cells to an unrelated donor. She was tested as a donor for her uncle, but he passed away before he was able to receive a transplant.

“I went back to school and they had a donation drive. It was essentially the same process that I was going to do for my uncle,” said Winterfeldt. “I decided if I could do it for him, why couldn’t I do it for somebody else?”

“We are delighted that we’ve had the opportunity to impact the lives of not only 50,000 patients, but 50,000 donors, as well as their friends and family,” said Halet. “There are many people whose lives are impacted by these donations.”

Both Halet and Winterfeldt encourage others to consider becoming part of the Be The Match registry and to look for more information on marrow.org.

Target donates thousands of books to local schools

For the second year in a row, Minneapolis-based Target Corp. has donated nearly 6,400 books to Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. In cooperation with nonprofit organization First Book, Target distributed free books to all public schools in both cities. Representatives of both school districts were consulted to ensure that the donated books aligned with school curriculum.

As part of the donation program, Target employees surprised the kindergarten classes at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary in Minneapolis and Jackson Preparatory Magnet School in St. Paul with a book giveaway and reading session on Dec. 19. Each student received two books and a Target book bag.

In advance of the holidays, Target also partnered with United Way to give away 3,000 decorated holiday trees to needy families.

Target Field receives additional LEED certification

NORTH LOOP — The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded Target Field LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver Certification for the operation and maintenance of the facility. The stadium previously received LEED Silver Certification for New Construction, earning Target Field the title of “Greenest Ballpark in America.”

The new certification focuses on how Target Field is operated and maintained in an energy-efficient manner. The stadium uses a Pentair rainwater recycling system to capture water for use in cleaning and reduced use of chemical cleaning products by 66 percent in 2011. The ballpark also reduced its energy usage by 12 percent in 2011, despite adding a new video board and additional outdoor heating units.

Target Field also donated unused food from its concession stands to local charities, recycles, composts and uses the adjacent Hennepin Energy Recovery Center facility to convert waste to heat for the facility.

“The Minnesota Twins organization believes our future success — both on and off the field — is built on a business model that embraces operational efficiency, environmental stewardship and social responsibility,” said Twins president Dave St. Peter in a statement. “We’re proud to have earned LEED certification for the operation of our facility and will continue to seek ways to improve the sustainability of Target Field.”

Local nonprofits receive federal funding to fight youth homelessness
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department has granted $21.5 million to renew funding for 163 homelessness programs in Minnesota. The funding ensures that these programs will remain in operation throughout 2012. Additionally, a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation will allow several local youth homelessness to expand their services.

“The grants we’re awarding today will literally keep the doors of our shelters open and will help those on the front lines of ending homelessness do what they do best,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a statement.

While the HUD funds ensure that the various homelessness programs will be able to maintain their current services, the Otto Bremer Foundation separately announced a $4 million grant to expand services at six organizations in the Twin Cities. The Bremer Foundation grant will add 28 additional beds for homeless youth in the Twin Cities, an increase of 43 percent over the current number of available beds designated for young people experiencing homelessness.

The recipients of the Otto Bremer grant are Minneapolis-based organizations YouthLink, Avenues for Homeless Youth, Catholic Charities’ Hope Street, the StreetWorks Collaborative and St. Paul-based Face to Face’s Safe Zone and the Salvation Army’s Booth Brown House.

Rosalux finds new home

LOGAN PARK — The Rosalux Gallery is poised to celebrate its 10th anniversary this winter in a new home for 20 artists at the Van Buren building.

“You walk in, and it gives you the feeling that this is the place where something great can happen,” said gallery founder Terrence Payne. “Rosalux is stoked.”

The gallery has bounced around several locations in Minneapolis. It started out at a Central Avenue space on the East Bank, Payne said, until a neighbor’s crystal meth lab exploded. It spent a little over six years at the Open Book building Downtown, until rising rents pushed the gallery to its limit. A small lease at Chowgirls Catering eased the gallery back into business, and it moved to 1400 Van Buren St. NE in October.

“We found a space for us that is pretty much perfect,” Payne said.

Rosalux is hosting its annual open-door exhibition in February, followed by a special 10th anniversary show in March.

Annual count finds more biking and walking
The number of bicyclists pedaling Twin Cities streets was up 52 percent this fall from 2007, and up 22 percent from 2010.

Those numbers come from Bike Walk Twin Cities’ fifth annual count of bicyclists and pedestrians, held every September since 2007. The 2011 results, released Dec. 16, also showed an increase
in walking of 18 percent from 2007 and 9 percent from 2010.

“We’re very excited just to see the number that high, to see that big of a jump in a community that already had, if you look back to 2007, a pretty strong biking community,” said Hilary Reeves, communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities. “It just shows there is some momentum to this.”

The Twin Cities was one of four communities awarded $22 million in the 2005 federal transportation bill as part of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. The program seeks to demonstrate how infrastructure projects can boost bicycling and walking rates.

Grant funds, administered by the St. Paul nonprofit Transit for Livable Communities through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, contributed to the creation of the Nice Ride bicycle-sharing program and have helped to expand the existing network of bikeways by about 75 miles since 2007. A significant jump in bicycling and walking on Bryant Avenue South highlights the impact of those projects.

The new Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard added traffic-calming elements, signage and striping to that low-motor vehicle-traffic street. The bicycle boulevard didn’t officially open until the fall, but improvements were added over the course of the summer, and the survey showed the numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians recorded at one point on the boulevard more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, from 71 people to 157.

The lesson, Reeves said, is that well-designed bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure really does encourage people to ditch their cars and try alternate modes of transportation. The improvements also discourage bad habits, like bicycling on sidewalks.

An estimated 335,000 bicyclists and 18,000 pedestrians crossed Loring Bikeway Bridge in 2011, based on this year’s count. The bridge over Lyndale Avenue is at the north end of the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard.

Volunteers counted bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul on a weekday afternoon in September. As in past years, the count measured non-motorized traffic between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., capturing bikers and walkers during the afternoon rush hour.

The sample sizes are small at some locations and, combined with variables like the weather on the day of the count, can lead to significant swings in the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists from year to year. But the accumulation of data over five years reliably shows an increase in biking and walking across the Twin Cities, Reeves said.

Of the four communities to receive Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program funds, Minneapolis was the most northerly, coldest and most urban, and it had the most existing bicycling infrastructure. “The challenge for the Twin Cities was: Given a good base, how far can you push it?” Reeves said.

Bike Walk Twin Cities plans to continue pushing it in the years to come, even as the pilot program funds run out. They are expected to fund a survey in 2012 and possibly another in 2013, adding to the understanding of how growing numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians are co-existing with
vehicle traffic.

“Transportation is just going that direction, that we’re looking at it multi-modally,” Reeves said.

Bike Walk Twin Cities also funded a dozen different planning studies so that, even when the pilot program ends, “there will be shovel-ready bike and pedestrian projects for the next round of funding, wherever that comes from,” she added.

Winter on the Greenway
Some significant percentage of bicycle commuters in Minneapolis continue to ride throughout the winter — one estimate puts it at about 19 percent and another at 39 percent.

Whatever the real number is, all you have to do is spend a morning standing on the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard, or one of Southwest’s other busy bicycle routes, to know plenty of people just bundle up and ride. During the morning commute on snow-free days in mid-December, it was not unusual to count a bicyclist every minute on the Bryant Avenue bicycle lanes, and sometimes more.

The Midtown Greenway Coalition, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and Bike Walk Twin Cities are joining together to get even more people out biking and walking in the cold and snow. The three organizations are planning a winter walk and ride on the Midtown Greenway beginning noon Feb. 11.

The day will include food, education and activities in addition to a group bike or walk on the Greenway. Registration for the Winter Wonder Walk/Ride is free on the Midtown Greenway Coalition website, midtowngreenway.org.

Kim Ellison to fill board vacancy
The School Board on Dec. 20 appointed Kim Ellison to fill the seat being vacated by long-serving Board Member Lydia Lee.

Ellison, an executive assistant at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties since 2008, will be sworn into office Jan. 10. She is the former wife of Representative Keith Ellison (DFL–5th District).

Ellison’s current employer is an agency that works with low-income families to reduce poverty, and she works closely with both the agency’s board and executive director. She was previously employed as a high school teacher at Guadalupe Alternative Programs, a St. Paul-based community education and social services agency, from 1999–2008, and taught high school math at The City Inc., a Minneapolis alternative school, from 1996–1999.

Lee is a former middle school math teacher who began serving on the School Board in 2005 and was its longest serving member. She officially leaves the School Board Jan. 1, and is relocating to California later this winter for what she has said are “family commitments.”

At her last board meeting, Lee was honored by fellow board members.

“Lydia Lee has inspired many of us,” Board Chair Jill Davis said. “She is honest, she has integrity, she has kept her eye on the ball in terms of what we do for kids, in terms of education, and she loves math.”

District hires new chief financial officer
Minneapolis Public Schools’ new chief financial officer, Robert Doty, officially joined the district Dec. 20.

Doty most recently was a partner with DFA Financial Services, a St. Paul-based accounting firm serving small- and medium-sized construction, waste management and manufacturing businesses. He joined DFA as a consultant in 2000 and was named partner in 2010.

In a statement released by the district, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Doty was “a well-respected senior-level executive who brings extensive finance, administration and public accounting experience” to the district.

“His proven ability to improve operations, his strong qualifications in general management and business planning and his leadership skills will be crucial to our efforts to create sustainable finances as outlined in our strategic plan,” Johnson said in the statement.

Doty previously served as vice president and comptroller of Dunwoody College of Technology beginning in 1997, and in 2002 he became the college’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, a position he retained until 2010. Doty’s career began at Ernst & Young, a firm he joined in 1985; he has also worked at Burlington Northern Railroad, St. Paul Travelers Insurance Co. and Independent Television Service, a media company that produces dramas and documentaries for PBS.

The district had been without a permanent chief financial officer since the start of the school year, when Peggy Ingison left to take a similar position with the Minnesota Historical Society. Ingison joined the district after a three-decade tour in state government, where she served as state finance commissioner under Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Reach Jeremy Zoss at jzoss@mnpubs.com, Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com and Michelle Bruch at michellebruch82@gmail.com.