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El Colegio Charter School

4137 Bloomington Ave. South
Project Status: 
Year Completed: 
About this project: 

Students standing on cisternsThe MCWD's Low Impact Development fund helped the El Colegio Charter School in South Minneapolis convert a vacant lot behind the building into a soccer field, basketball court, garden and patio/outdoor classroom that produces almost no stormwater runoff.

The new outdoor facility is a testament to the power of partnership and innovative thinking. The Latino culture-focused charter school had lacked adequate space for outdoor recreation, with its only current option across the street at the flood-prone Bancroft Meadows.

In 2012 El Colegio received $118,500 in funding from the Hennepin County Youth Sports program, which awards capital grants to build, repair, renovate or expand youth sports facilities in Hennepin County. The proposed soccer field was of special interest to the county, because of growing interest in the sport. "There's a huge demand for soccer fields because of changing demographics," said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. "There's a crying need for facilities like this."

But the school had to clear some environmental hurdles before it could build the space. Contaminated soils were discovered underneath the site and the city's storm sewer system couldn't handle the extra stormwater runoff the new facilities would produce.

"There were times we didn't think this project would happen because of lack of money to deal with the environmental factors, but we received crucial grant support from two agencies: First, Hennepin County Environmental Response Fund provided a $345,023 grant for soil remediation and some of the storm water challenges, and then the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) came through with a $124,362 Low Impact Development (LID) grant to help us fully manage our storm water," said Reed Aubin, El Colegio's Multidisciplinary Educator and project manager.

"We are most pleased with the success of this project and know this was a win-win solution for everyone," said Gil Gabanski, a geoscientist with the Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services. "This is a terrific new look and a great addition for El Colegio and for the neighborhood. We look forward to seeing kids kicking a soccer ball and using this environmental friendly and clean space."

The patio is constructed with "pervious pavers," allowing rain water to infiltrate into underground storage chambers that also capture rainfall that drains from the soccer field and basketball court. The new design prevents nearly all runoff from leaving the school's site.

The project has turned a vacant, blighted lot into a publicly-available recreation and community space. It protects the nearby Minnehaha Creek from polluted runoff and helps teach students the relationship between land use and nearby water resources. Students are producing a documentary about the project and will present a trailer of the documentary at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

"This project's aggressive handling of stormwater management is to be applauded," said Commissioner McLaughlin, whose district includes El Colegio. "This approach should be incorporated in all development."

Video put together by El Colegio students about the project

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