Whether you're a driver or a cyclist, the section of West River Parkway lying below the old St. Mary's Hospital is arguably the worst parkway segment in the city.
Southbound drivers have been known to shift into the oncoming lane to avoid the plethora of potholes. The surface has been patched so many times that the jolting can leave a cyclist feeling scatter-brained.
But help is on the way. Starting April 29, the parkway will close for five weeks between S. 4th Street and Franklin Avenue for renovation.
Crews will mill the badly deteriorated parkway a full seven inches deep, and then replace the road surface. Preliminary wore to replace some curbing and concrete crosswalks and adjust manhole heights is already causing some lane closures for parkway users.
'They'll love it when it's done," said Mike Kennedy, the city's street maintenance supervisor.
The work is part of a long-term program of parkway paving done for the Park Board by the city's Department of Public Works. The budget is $500,000 annually, and it's intended to provide a 20-year fix.. In some cases, maintenance workers need mill down only the top two inches of asphalt. But in this case, they're going down a full seven inches, which may take them into virgin soil.
That's based on what Kennedy said that crews have found in other parkway locations. The parkways, built in the 1970s, were supposed to have seven inches of paving over a gravel base. But often that's not what crews are finding, according to Kennedy. Good road building practice lays paving atop a thick base of gravel so that roadway subsurfaces can drain. That keeps the freeze-thaw cycle from heaving pavement. It's particulrly surprising that that such a base is absent given that some sections of parkways run on unstable peaty soils near lakes or swamps.
Curious, we contacted Jeff Spartz, a park commissioner for part of the '70s, and an advocate for preventive maintenance. "That is a surprise to me," Spartz said, when informed of Kennedy's findings. "That explains why that thing is so bad."
Spartz recently drove the section slated for repairs. "It was a frightmare," he said. "No one was going over the speed limit, I can assure you of that." He noted that the payoff from preventive maintenance is often 20-30 years down the road, too long a horizon to be a priority for many politicians.
In case you're among those who wondered why the sections north and south of the one scheduled for this year's work were done last year while this far worse section was left untouched, there's a logic explained by Park Commissioner Scott Vreeland. Metro storm tunnel work where S. 4th meets the parkway meant heavy equipment was using the adjacent parkway into the fall, so it didn't make sense to risk that new paving would get damaged, he said.
They sat silently as the school board held a planning retreat Wednesday evening, but out in the hallway some 46 students, staff and parents from Washburn High School had plenty to say about the ouster of Principal Carol Markham-Cousins
Many wore Miller orange and blue. Some held cutouts displaying the face of Markham-Cousins. Among them was the principal's husband, Rick.
The students, many of them active in the arts, offered powerful endorsements of Markham-Cousins's influence on their schooling.
Senior Aaliyah Gary recalled Markham-Cousins asking students if they needed tutoring help and pushing her not to drop a physics class she was struggling with. "Without that, I wouldn't;t be graduating," she said.
Freshman Kavon Wilborn felt an instant bond with Markham-Cousins. "Her passion and dedication to students is something unusual," she said.
Markham-Cousins was removed by district administrators after a week of protests aimed at keeping the job of Athletic Director Daniel Pratt, who was popular among the school's athletes. After she was accused of using intimidation tactics by a student leader of those protests, the district acted, saying it wanted to calm the school.
But students supporting her said their take on Markham-Cousins deserved a listen before she was replaced. "It happened so abruptly that it strikes a certain level of fear into me," said junior Robert Jackson. He cited himself as an example of a student boosted by exposure to the arts. Markham-Cousins recruited a staff that elevated the school's theater, music and other arts programs. Before her, the school went 17 years without a student play, Dean Marylynn Boone said.
Boone, one staffer willing to speak by name, said the quick removal left students wondering how a leader can be removed in the face of accusations without an investigation. Antoine Duke, a 2011 graduate, said the absence of process in the removal of a principal is notable in a district when process is paramount.
"She was removed and the reasons weren't made clear and that's an injustice," said sub teacher Alissa Paris, who countered the district's rationale for removing the principal by arguing that removing her was more disruptive than her presence. "We were blindsided and we're not happy with it," she said.
The views of those attending weren't universally held at Washburn. Some parents and teachers felt that Markham-Cousins was arbitrary, didn't listen to input and refused to adapt her pedagogical approach to the school's changing demographics.
The board only takes public testimony at certain designated times during its official meetings. But the Washburn advocates had a few minutes to mingle with board members during a bathroom break.
But supporters like parent Cindy Stuart were left feeling shortchanged: "I think it's a travesty they have sent her away and not recognized the good that she's done."
Athletic departments and student activity accounts are headed for some increased scrutiny from the auditor at Minneapolis Public Schools.
A deeper look at spending and financial controls for both areas is due by June 30, the school board's Audit Committee was told Wednesday.
"We are going to look at athletics first," Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty told the panel. "It's a timely thing for us to do for a whole lot of reasons."
The board was given a higher level review of athletic finances last summer by a contracted auditor. That's prompting the deeper look by the same firm.
That means that the matter of athletic finances was under scrutiny before questions were raised recently about procedures used to try to order a Washburn athletic field scoreboard, one example of where district officials say proper purchasing procedures weren't followed.
But the issues go well beyond Washburn, Doty said, and they need to be corrected. "I do believe there's been some mismanagement. I do believe there's been a lot of inconsistency," Doty said.
But when audit Chair Richard Mammen added that he'd heard rumors of kickbacks, Doty said he's found no hints so far of that.
He said that athletic directors at high schools tend to create processes that work for them but don't follow district procedures. Another issue is caused by the co-mingling of district funds and those raised by groups such as booster clubs, he said.
"There are issues that need to be corrected," Doty said.
Afterward, he said the Washburn issues are an example of lack of communication over policy and the purchase effort for the scoreboard wasn't consistent with policy. Doty said tha athletic department review will cover not only finances, but operations, structure, personnel, and processes.
John Washington retired as district athletic director last fall, and the district last week named former Gopher basketball player Trent Tucker as his successor.
The district's auditor said in a review of student activity accounts for last school year that the district hadn't established procedures to assure that all cash collections are recorded, and so limited its audit accordingly.
A veteran Minneapolis and parochial school administrator will see Washburn High School through the end of the school year as principal.
Craig Vana will start Monday, filling the post left open by the district's abrupt decision this week to remove Carol Markham-Cousins as principal in favor of an unspecified role elsewhere in the district.
Vana was a popular and visible principal for five years at Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis, where he has lived for 40 years, His trademark was standing out on the school steps each morning to greet busloads of arriving students. He's also been a principal at Folwell Middle School, and an assistant principal at Southwest High School.
Vana will serve while the district searches for a new Washburn principal in a process that asks staff and parents what they seek in a leader, a protocol that's been developed and used to fill recent vacancies. He said he was asked by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson to take the job. Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle notified Washburn families of the change in letter dated Friday.
Vana's personality is likely to have a calming impact on a school roiled this week by protests. Student concerns over the future of Athletic Director Dan Pratt, whom the district said was being investigated for a "private personnel matter." led to a walkout on Monday. Reaction by Markham-Cousins and other building administrators to another planned protest Tuesday led to a sit-in by perhaps one-quarter of students on Wednesday. The removal of Markham-Cousins was publicly announced Thursday.
Battle's letter said that the change was challenging for Washburn and the district, and asked for cooperation through the end of the school year.
Vana worked in a number of central office positions after Edison, heading secondary schools as an associate superintendent. overseeing teacher and instructional efforts, and working on career and technical education and high school reform. He's been heavily involved in the council that advises Minneapolis on job training, and supported the city's summer employment program. He also spent 17 years as a teacher, administrator and coach in parochial schools, chiefly at St. Charles Borromeo in Northeast.
Vana said his priority for the remaining seven weeks of school will be “just to be as supportive as I can of staff and students to be sure we have a great spring and a culmination with graduation and looking forward to the future.”
The Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council has taken the unexpected step of endorsing mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, weeks after its president told the Star Tribune that the organization would likely hold off on making such a decision until after the DFL convention in June.
“We’ve got relationships with all of the candidates that are running, and we’re in a difficult spot,” said trades council president David Ybarra in an interview last month.
But at a meeting last night, he said today, about 30 trades council delegates voted unanimously to get in the mix early.
They opted to “have some influence in identifying a candidate and supporting them, rather than sit on the sidelines and have someone else make that decision for us,” said Ybarra.
Andrew is a former Hennepin County commissioner who now works as a green marketing executive. He is vying for the DFL endorsement for mayor against Council Members Betsy Hodges, Gary Schiff, and Don Samuels, as well as former City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes. Attorney Cam Winton is running as an independent.
Following candidate screenings, Ybarra said, “I came away with the belief that our endorsement meant more to Mark than it did to the other candidates – that, along with the track record that he exhibited when he was on the county board, was enough for me to change my opinion.”
DFL Chairman Dan McConnell, who is also business manager of the trades council, sat in on the endorsement meeting but did not cast a vote.
“I am a bit surprised,” he said today. “I had hoped they would hold off until after” the party’s June 15 convention.
Trades council members applauded Andrew this afternoon as he stood at the corner of 6th Avenue N. and 5th Street N. trumpeting his support for adding more jobs to the city and expanding its tax base.
“Building is the key to our future and I am so honored to have the most important builders group in our community standing with me today,” he said.
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