Dan Brill has a strange background as a political scientist, a non-profit executive, and currently works as a manager in commercial construction. As a result, he spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about what shapes our democracy; what causes undesired social outcomes like poverty, poor health, and environmental degradation; how what we build shapes the society we get. He and his wife have four children, and they love that they can walk to school.
St. Cloud’s Technical High School has been a fixture in central St. Cloud for nearly a century. Built near Lake George and Eastman Park, the school has served the city admirably, and generations of our citizens left there with great educations and fond memories. But after 100 years, any building needs some help if it is to maintain its utility. The St. Cloud area now faces an important question. Should we move the Tech campus to an undeveloped section of the school district at the southern edge of St. Cloud or in St. Augusta, or should we, through a combination of preservation and new construction, keep the campus in the heart of the city?
I’ll start by telling you that I would hate to see the school move. I live near Lake George, and the high school is a big part of the neighborhood’s identity. But for me, this isn’t about nostalgia. I didn’t go to Tech. In fact, I didn’t move here until 1997, making me a relative newcomer to town. For me, this isn’t a decision about the past, but a decision about the future. Buckminster Fuller said “the best way to predict the future is to design it.” What future will be we choosing with our decision about the school?
As I said, I wasn’t born here. But I did choose St. Cloud. My wife and I, fresh from graduate school, had several options for where we could settle down. We had realistic offers in both Utah and California, and family in New York, Georgia, and Florida. But looking at those choices, we thought St. Cloud was the kind of city we’d want to raise a family in. There were affordable homes, good schools, and neighborhoods, real neighborhoods with trees and sidewalks and a market nearby, and easy access to parks and libraries, all within walking distance. And as I see it, that’s made a huge difference in the quality of our lives.
According to the US Census Bureau, the average American worker commutes over 25.4 minutes to work. In my zip code, 56301, the average is only 17.3 minutes. My own commute is rarely over 10. My kids can walk to school, my wife can walk to work, I can literally run to the store, and we often take family bike rides to the library or the park. We’re able to get out in the community, see our neighbors, and get a little exercise in the process.
Of course I realize that not everyone can live within walking distance of the school. But the problem with what’s being proposed is that if the school is moved, no one will be within walking distance.
A parent of children at an elementary school in a nearby city recently told me that their kids aren’t allowed to walk to school; there simply isn’t a safe, walkable route. Sauk Rapids High School opened in 2003. Yet there still aren’t sidewalks or bike paths that connect the school to the core or Sauk Rapids. Is this the kind of future we want to design?
Let’s do some quick math with round numbers. Let’s say we move Tech five miles away from where it is now. The school has about 1,500 students, and over 100 faculty and staff members. Let’s suppose 10% of them have to drive an additional round trip every day. That’s 1,600 additional miles on the road every day, or about 3 road trips from New York and LA every week.
Of course none of this will be counted into the cost of constructing a new school, but it is a real cost nonetheless. All the extra time behind the wheel steals minutes from our lives, puts carbon into the atmosphere, and adds inches to our waistlines. I think these driving estimates are very conservative, and I haven’t even added in the additional expense of the expanded bus routes that will be needed. Will we have to add roads to a new school? Additional sewer, water, electrical, and internet service? Undoubtedly. Will these costs be fully captured in the cost estimates for a new school? Probably not. Again, we have the power to design our future. Is this the future we want?
If we do choose to move the school, kids without easy access to cars lose easy access to the school. If you don’t have your own car, or your parents are at work, getting to school gets to be a problem, especially at night. Especially in January. Do we really want the students that currently live within a mile or two of the school to be put farther from their center of learning? Will this help to close the achievement gap, or ensure success for all learners?
Finally, if the school isn’t in its current location, it loses the easy access it currently has to two great community partners. Does it make sense to uproot a high school and move it miles away from the Great River Regional Library and SCSU? If you didn’t know anything about St. Cloud and were given a map and told to pick out the best spot for a high school, I think a thoughtful person would end up putting it exactly where it already is.
If we could have a school at the center of the community, if we could have a school that gives easy access to the kids who need it most, if we could have a school that is in close proximity to other library resources, if we could have a school that is near the university, if we could have a school that puts our young people at the center of the city and at the forefront of people’s minds on a daily basis…
Wouldn’t we want that?
Let’s design the future we want.
Get Involved in the Conversation!
Tuesday, September 30, 2014 (7PM): There will be a community information and action session at Lake George Community Center. This is a great chance to get caught up on this fast moving issue.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 (7:30PM): The League of Women Voters is hosting a candidate forum in the City Council Chambers at St. Cloud City Hall. This is a good time to find out what the candidates think and let them know the value of keeping schools in the heart of the city.
Stay Engaged in the Conversation!
Over the past two weeks 20 students from Pleasantview Elementary in Sauk Rapids, MN have attended the Legionville Crossing Guard Camp near Brainerd, MN as part of a Safe Routes to School Grant, BLEND and the CentraCare Health Foundation. This fall, Pleasantview will have new sidewalks surrounding it as part of a MnDOT infrastructure grant and with it will come a new student run Safety Patrol! We are proud of these students for leading this important safety effort in Sauk Rapids. Way to go!
Below is Caleb Euteneuer and he share’s his experience from Legionville. Caleb is a 5th grader at Pleasantview Elementary.
“I had a fun time at Legionville! Each day we had classes about pedestrian safety, first aid, canoeing, and swimming. I enjoyed learning about pedestrian safety and first aid. Now I know how to use a flag to help other students cross the street safely.”
“If someone gets hurt I know first aid so that I can help them. We also had time to play with friends and go to the canteen. Some other recreational activities that we played were softball, soccer, and kickball.”
“It was fun to have my friends staying in my cabin but it was good to make new friends from other cities. I am looking forward to becoming part of the Safety Patrol at Pleasantview Elementary this fall.”
Thanks for reading! Be sure to visit the Safe Routes to School page on the BLEND website to learn more about my work to grow the Safe Routes to School initiative within Central Minnesota communities.
BLEND Program Specialist
A bipartisan Minnesota Legislature working group dedicated to reducing childhood obesity has given efforts to provide infrastructure funding for the Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) a significant boost.
The Childhood Obesity Legislative Working Group (COLWG) endorsed legislation that will provide infrastructure funding for SRTS as an important tool that will help to reduce childhood obesity. The legislation, introduced by State Senator Melisa Franzen and State Representative Melissa Hortman, would support SRTS with $6 million in bonding for infrastructure, including sidewalks and improved pedestrian crossings. Governor Mark Dayton has included infrastructure funding for the Minnesota SRTS program in his proposed bonding package.
“We know that exercise and diet are key factors that will determine whether a child will be obese or not. Therefore, it’s critically important that we make tools available to positively impact those factors in Minnesota,” said Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake), co-chair of the Working Group.
SRTS is designed to make it easier and safer for students to walk and bike to school. Walking one mile to and from school each day equals two‐thirds of the recommended level of physical activity per day. In addition, studies have found a strong correlation between physical activity and students’ academic performance.
“The endorsement by the Childhood Obesity Legislative Working Group is a huge boost for efforts to provide infrastructure funding for the Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program. It demonstrates bipartisan support for the measure and it directly links Safe Routes as one of the means to reduce childhood obesity,” said Rachel Callanan, regional vice president of advocacy for the American Heart Association
Not only does the existing Federal Safe Routes to School Program inadequately fund the infrastructure safety needs of Minnesota’s school students, the current program is being phased out. In the last federal funding cycle, the Minnesota Department of Transportation received 63 applications from localities requesting $15 million for SRTS infrastructure but only $6.7 million was available through the federal program.
Recognizing these shortfalls, as well as the important safety, health and educational benefits of SRTS, in 2012 the Minnesota Legislature established a state-based SRTS program, and in 2013 provided $500,000 in funding for non-infrastructure needs such as planning, mapping and training. However, there is still a need to fund the infrastructure grants portion of Minnesota’s SRTS program—grants that will be used to help fund sidewalks, improved road crossings and other needed infrastructure.
Providing funding for infrastructure grants under the Minnesota SRTS program is strongly supported by a broad coalition of health, education and parent organizations. The organizations include the American Heart Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota School Boards Association, Allina Hospitals & Clinics, American Cancer Society, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, Minnesota PTA, BLEND, Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota, and dozens of others.
Here are a few ways YOU can help…
- Share this SRTS Article with your networks and on your social media sites. Spread the word about the bill and the great work happening at the Capitol to address childhood obesity!
- Lobby legislators for SRTS funding in the bonding bill on April 2nd. American Heart Association volunteers will be meeting in the morning at the Kelly Inn (just a block from the Capitol building) to be trained in on the issue and tips on “how to lobby”. We schedule meetings with your legislators for the afternoon and you’ll visit with legislators along with others in your Senate/House district. This is a great opportunity to get over to the capitol to lobby on something you are passionate about—keeping kids safe and healthy! Register here for this free event.
- Stay Connected! For updates on the Minnesota Safe Routes to School Campaign, stay connected on Facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/SafeRoutesToSchoolMinnesota.
Many of us have heard the famous quote from the Field of Dreams movie “If you build it, he will come.” Yes, the movie is based on a baseball diamond and personal dreams rather than active living – but, the message is very intriguing…masses of people drawn to a recreational venue for the purpose of play….hmmm.
The BLEND mission supports efforts and programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS) to help create more walkable, healthy and active communities. We know if communities build sidewalks, children and families are more likely to walk and bicycle on them and be more active on a regular basis. It’s unfair to expect and encourage children to be more physically active without providing them opportunities and safe ‘built’ environments to incorporate exercise into their daily routines.
Help us build our “Field of Dreams”
A new calendar year brings another legislative session in Minnesota. Lawmakers are already hard at work gearing up for the 2014 session and Governor Dayton is in the midst of putting the finishing touches on his bonding bill.
Today, advocates around Minnesota are coming together to show their support for active living and Minnesota’s Safe Routes to School program. Advocates will be asking Governor Dayton to include $6 million in state bonding dollars to be used for infrastructure such as sidewalks and improved crossings. YOU can influence what Governor Dayton includes in his bonding bill. Yes, YOU can! It’s easy – just click on the link below and follow the simple steps!
Please take a minute and send a message to Governor Dayton. Ask him to include Safe Routes to School infrastructure funding in his bonding bill. Funding a Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) will increase the safety and health of Minnesota children who walk and bike to school. The federally funded program, established in 2005, has funded just 1 in 5 of the grant requests in Minnesota. There is still a need to fund the infrastructure grants portion in Central Minnesota’s SRTS program for sidewalks, improved road crossings, and other needed infrastructure.
Share, Ask, and Learn…
Please share this blog post with your family, friends and neighbors and ask them to send a message to Governor Dayton! Simply email, Tweet, Facebook, or make a phone call.
Read this flyer to learn more about Safe Routes to School in Minnesota. And, follow the BLEND blogs and read the new 3-2-B blog series by Dawn Moen, BLEND Safe Routes to School Program Specialist. Dawn shares information about BLEND’s SRTS initiative and will include THREE easy actions you can take TO BE healthier and more active as a family.
Do you remember walking to and from school, uphill, both ways in the snow? We sure do! Unfortunately, most of today’s children won’t be able to pass on this memory to their children because they aren’t walking to or from school. 43% of kids who live less than a mile from their school are driven to and from school each day.
Safe Routes to School in MN
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a national and international movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools. The goal of the program is to get more kids walking and biking to school, which can play a critical role in reversing the alarming nationwide trend toward childhood obesity and inactivity.
State legislation, SF 1439/HF 1429, would help Minnesota build the infrastructure needed to give more children the choice to bike or walk to school. Watch the video to learn more.
Studies show that children who walk and bicycle to school are more physically active, have lower body mass index scores, lower obesity levels and are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than students who are driven or bused to school.
It’s unfair to expect and encourage children to be more physically active without providing them an opportunity and safe environment to incorporate exercise into their daily routines. Read more about Safe Routes to School.
The Safe Routes to School bills (SF 1439/HF 1429) would allow for the sale and issuing of $3 million in bonds for capital investment towards walking/biking infrastructure improvements. In the last federal funding cycle MNDOT received 82 applications from local schools requesting $23 million but only $3.8 million was available and awarded to 16 applicants through the federal program.
Get Connected – Join the You’re the Cure network to get connected with your legislators and ask them to support active children with Safe Routes to School.
Voice Your Concern – Join other advocates speak with MN legislators in a strong, unified voice about the importance of fighting heart disease and stroke. On Tuesday, February 12, 2013 (8 a.m. – 4 p.m.) – the American Heart Association is hosting their 2013 Minnesota Heart on the Hill event at the State Capitol. Attend workshops and training and then put your skills to the test when you meet with your state legislators. Breakfast and lunch included. No cost to attend but advance registration is required.
Advocate for AHA’s Policy Agenda, which includes:
- Screening newborns for critical congenital heart defects
- Promoting physical activity and better nutrition to reduce heart disease across MN.
This includes supporting active children through Safe Routes to School.
Register online for the 2013 Heart on the Hill!! Register by phone at: 952-278-7934 by Friday, February 1, 2013.
The content of this blog has been adapted from the AHA – Advocacy in MN website.