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Posts about People and neighborhoods

Sculpture Garden concept mixes wildness, formality

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 27, 2015 - 5:37 PM

A group that’s advising the $10 million revamping of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is opting toward crossing its 16th-century formality with 21st-century sustainability.

That means reinforcing the formality of the garden’s south end and leaving the garden’s signature Spoonbridge and Cherry where it is. But it also means adding a wilder-appearing area at the garden’s north end for both artwork and stormwater, and some potentially radical changes for the heat-leaking glass conservatory.

The proposed new look for the north end would create three grassed circles with radii ranging from 45 to 75 feet in the midst of an area that will be sometimes wet, sometimes dry as runoff dictates. Stormwater handling improvements in the boggy area bring up to $1.5 million in watershed funding to supplement $8.5 million the Legislature appropriated for the renovation.

But the conservatory is likely to get a new look. Changes there could range from mere improvements to existing features such as bathrooms and floors to removing the walls and heat from throughout the energy-inefficient building.

Among the recommended changes from landscape architecture consultant Oslund and Associates and Snow Kreilich Architects are new entry ports around the garden.  The west side, now a parking lot, could get a school and tour bus dropoff area, with staging space for events. The north side could get a clearer entry off neighboring Dunwoody Boulevard. Bus riders on Lyndale Avenue would get a stairway at the southeast corner to replace cowpaths they’ve worn. Pedestrians would get two ramps leading down from the Lyndale sidewalk through a hillside of floppy fescue grass.

The more formal south entrance would retain a central stairway but it will be flanked by accessibility ramps. It would lead to granite slabs recycled from elsewhere in the garden.  More durable granite chips would replace the crushed limestone that’s proven dusty as it crumbles.  Other areas would keep sidewalks for wheelchair access and to support cranes needed to install artwork.

The southernmost and most formal of the garden’s spaces would have its formality reinforced with a series of changes that include strengthening its north-south and east-west axes. The four quads of that more 16th Century formality would be emphasized with rows of linden trees, plus ornamental grasses and trimmable euonymus, a shrub known for its corky flanged bark and flaming autumn foliage.

Some of the high-traffic areas will get a more engineered base under the grass that uses sand and fabric in an effort to make the turf more resilient.

Project manager Dana Murdoch said the design concept now will be refined for a final meeting of the citizen advisory committee that’s scheduled for Feb. 23 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.at Walker Art Center.

Fitting all those changes into the project budget will be challenging, representatives of the project team warned the advisory committee convened by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which is working on the design with Walker Art Center. “It’s a series of choices,” committee Chair Margaret Anderson Kelliher said.  “Some things may be done in the short term and others may have to wait.”

Mayor's 'Cradle to K' plan set for release

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 23, 2015 - 2:44 PM

Mayor Betsy Hodges speaks at a July news conference. JEFF WHEELER / STAR TRIBUNE

The first set of recommendations from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges' panel on the heath and wellness of young children and families will be released Tuesday.

The Mayor's Office plans to hold a media conference with several members of Hodges' Cradle to K Cabinet to announce the release of a draft report. The 27-member group, which includes academics, leaders of nonprofit groups and parents, was formed in May. It was directed to come up with ideas for legislation, policy changes and other efforts that could help ensure more children have access to health and education programs.

The panel plans to discuss the process for finalizing the report and provide information on how community members can submit comments and questions.

Yonis sentenced with an eye toward job prospects

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 23, 2015 - 12:42 PM

Choked up but still professing innocence, former Minneapolis public employee Hashim Yonis caught a break Friday when a judge sentenced him to a gross misdemeanor for stealing park rental fees.

Hennepin County District Judge Tanya M. Bransford departed from the felony charge under which Yonis was convicted in November to impose a gross misdemeanor sentence. She did so in recognition that Yonis, 27, a former park and school worker, is seeking a doctorate so he can become a principal.

Yonis was considered a rising star in Somali circles in Minneapolis until the charges, attracting praise from Mayor R.T.Rybak, President Barack Obama and Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

"I can’t remember another defendant I’ve had who was working on his doctorate while his case was pending,” Bransford said.  Attorney Ira Whitlock told Bransford that a felony record would thwart his client’s employability as a future school administrator.

Bransford sentenced Yonis to 365 days in the workhouse, but he’ll serve only 59 unless he violates his probation terms in the next two years. He will be able to leave the workhouse for work or school. She also ordered him to pay $480 in restitution to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

She initially moved to order Yonis not to contact park commissioners during his probation, but later withdrew that after Whitlock raised questions about the breadth of the order.

Yonis was accused of taking more than $5,000 in funds collected for rental of a soccer field at Currie Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood after Somali residents complained that they couldn’t access the field on weekends. But a jury found he’d taken less than $1,000, an amount that still qualified as a felony because it involved government funds.

Yonis was unable to speak for about 15 seconds when he stood to address Bransford before the sentencing.  “I have already walked to the gate of hell the last four months.  It’s very difficult for me to stand here.  I feel I must be dreaming,” he said. “I continue to say I am innocent.”

Yonis continued to maintain that he was victimized by a political conspiracy involving other park commissioners because he was dismissed after he filed to run for a Park Board seat. However, the investigation of allegations against him began more than a month before he filed.

Bransford made a point of reading from one unidentified juror’s post-trial evaluation that “I was repelled by the conspiracy theory.  It undermined his credibility.”

Yonis, who is married with two children, lives in north Minneapolis. He worked for the park system until it fired him. He appealed and later agreed to resign. The school district also dismissed him as a probationary employee from a post at South High School.

Among the character witnesses for Yonis was Mohamud Noor, a school board member who earlier withheld comment on the charges against Yonis because he said he’d be involved in the personnel matter. He praised Yonis for integrity.  But prosecutor Susan Crumb said Yonis “exudes an air of entitlement.”

Whitlock said he is considering an appeal of the conviction on multiple grounds after Bransford denied his motion for a new trial.

Minneapolis adding positions in equity effort

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 23, 2015 - 10:57 AM


City Coordinator Spencer Cronk, who is overseeing the hiring of several new equity roles, attends a meeting in September. DAVID JOLES/STAR TRIBUNE

Two efforts touted as key to Minneapolis' work on racial equity are nearing a launch -- once the city finds the people to lead them.

Next week, the City Council will vote on one proposed new position: a director of an "innovation delivery team," who would oversee work funded by a multimillion-dollar Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. The grant, announced late last year, will provide up to $2.7 million over three years. The city primarily plans to spend it assessing how it provides services -- things like towing cars or cleaning up graffiti -- and analyzing if all residents get the same level of service.

City Coordinator Spencer Cronk said the director position will be the first of several the city will add to help with that work. In total, the city plans to add six full-time positions, all of them funded by the grant money and designed to last only until those funds run out.

The proposed salary range for the director position is $100,167 to $118,092. Descriptions for the other jobs have not yet been released.

The council will get a full update on plans for the grant at its Wednesday meeting of the Committee of the Whole. The council will likely vote on the director's job description Jan. 30, and then he'll post the job for applicants. Grant requirements stipulate that a director must be appointed by the end of February.

Cronk said the grant will provide the city with a "really important asset that we can bring to our residents."

"We've seen during some tough financial times that the city had to cut back in a lot of areas," he said. "And one of those areas was a strong data analytic capacity."

As the city gathers that data, he said residents can expect to be kept in the loop and given opportunities to share their thoughts.

"A lot of the philosophy behind Bloomberg Philanthropies is to be much more transparent and engaging, and to make sure this is an interactive tool you can use with city residents," he said. 

Meanwhile, Cronk's office will soon add another two staff members, who will focus on racial equity efforts. Those positions are separate from the grant. 

The city has set aside $250,000 for its additional equity work which became a topic of controversy in the final stages of the council's budget approval process. Some council members questioned the role the new positions would play solving problems with racial inequities in the city, but the council ultimately voted to spare the new positions from the chopping block.

Cronk said his office expects to hire those two new staff members in the near future.

Council approves Lake-Knox settlement

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 16, 2015 - 12:38 PM

A settlement that's aimed at ending the pumping of groundwater into the Chain of Lakes from a luxury apartment building in Uptown won City Council approval Friday.

The consent agreement sets a March 31 deadline for Lake and Knox LLC to end discharge from 1800 W. Lake St., a 57-unit building. It is required to fill the lower of its two basement parking levels by then so that pumps can be shut off. The owners plan to offer valet parking for tenants until that lost parking can be replaced on an adjacent lot.

Area Council Member Lisa Goodman said the settlement's chief environmental contribution is ending the flow of an estimated 75 pounds annually of algae-feeding phosphorus borne by pumped groundwater into the lake. But she said it sends a signal to developers that ignoring city orders to halt such pumping won't be tolerated.

“I don’t think anyone else would be stupid enough to take this route,” Goodman said. The deal is expected to win Hennepin County District Court approval.

The city and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources already have issued permits that allow the pumping to continue legally during the basement work. Lake and Knox also is required to apply to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its mortgage holder for permission to proceed.

If that approval doesn't come by Monday, when construction is scheduled to start, the owners get up to a two-week extension, but the March 31 deadline doesn't change.

If Lake and Knox misses that deadline, it faces a $5,000 daily penalty while it keeps pumping. But that penalty is cut to $1,000 daily if it's because HUD and its lender didn't act in time.

The agreement levies a total of $205,710 in penalties against Lake and Knox, with another estimated $78,000 to come. That represents city costs for extending piping onto Lake Calhoun to minimize unsafe ice in the lagoon between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, the extra cost of cleaning a sewer grit-collecting chamber, and a fee for using city sewers. The Park Board separately is claiming about $32,000 for its costs.

Lake and Knox LLC consists of developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, along with other unnamed investors. It still has financial claims pending against engineering firms that provided soil and engineering studies for the project.

The issue began when the city and state approved temporary permits for pumping away groundwater during construction, and grew into a public controversy when that continued after the project was finished to keep the lower garage from flooding. That led the city to take the rare step of filing its lawsuit in December, 2013..

(Above: A pipe, later extended farther, carried pumped groundwater from the apartment building onto the lagoon.)


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