'El Patio' transforms a former wasteland

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 17, 2012 - 8:22 PM

A school's stormwater system has become a neighborhood focal point.

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Teacher and project manager Reed Aubins described the system pictured behind him. The project includes a soccer field, garden and outdoor seating area in place of a blighted old grocery store parking lot.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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A new recreation area in south Minneapolis is aiming to enhance culture, education, a neighborhood and the environment.

El Patio, "the back yard" of the El Colegio charter school, has replaced a flood-prone and polluted former parking lot with a small soccer field, a community garden, basketball courts and a general play area built atop a sophisticated stormwater-handling system.

"Finally, our kids have a dignified place where they can play. Finally, the Bancroft neighborhood has a park," said Norma Garces, executive director of El Colegio, a multilingual high school based on Latino culture.

Traditional Mexican and Puerto Rican dancers performed at Friday's ribbon-cutting, causing the area around E. 41st Street and Bloomington Avenue to explode with drumming and color.

The celebration capped a three-year project funded by about $450,000 from Hennepin County's Environmental Response Fund and its Youth Sports Program, which is funded by the same county sales tax that paid for Target Field. Minnehaha Creek Watershed District contributed nearly $125,000.

The project involved first a cleanup of polluted ground, then installation of an underground stormwater system that reduces runoff that might otherwise flow to the creek. The system also filters rainwater and snowmelt into groundwater rather than the sewer system.

The soccer field is made of porous artificial turf atop reused, granulated rubber and a layer of sand, and the play area is paved with bricks that allow rainwater to seep into a system of perforated pipes beneath. The school's rooftop also drains below ground into the field beneath the play area.

The area is a former swamp. Across the street from the school, an entire block of homes was removed after serious flooding in 1987.

Garces said the stormwater project has become part of the school's environmental curriculum. She also said she expects El Patio itself to enhance El Colegio's status as a Latino cultural center.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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  • Nereida Flores of Ketzal Coatlicue Aztec Dance Troupe held up a smoking pot of copal. The traditional incense is used to clear away negative energy and energize those present. El Colegio charter high school dedicated a sophisticated stormwater retention system with other amenities called El Patio.

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