Groveland Recreation Center Provides Physical Amenities, Lacks Social Participation

[Part of the Saint Paul Field Guide to Public Spaces, put together by a Geography class at Macalester College in fall 2018. See introduction here.]

By Henry Nieberg

Located in the heart of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, the Groveland Recreation Center offers educational programs, family events, athletic facilities and rental space for parties, meetings and events. The west end of the park sits at the intersection of two of the neighborhood’s main streets — Cleveland and St. Clair avenues — both of which provide reliable bus service to the area (local route 87 and express route 134 on Cleveland, and route 70 on St. Clair, which Metro Transit targeted last December for diminished service).

Extending east to Prior Avenue, the park is close to several small, brick-and-mortar stores (including the 60-year-old Widmer’s Super Market, which recently changed hands, and Snuffy’s Malt Shop). The majority of buildings are single-home residential, with some duplexes and student-rental housing (St. Clair Avenue is the southern boundary of the city’s Student Housing Overlay District, which surrounds the University of St. Thomas to the north).

Although Groveland officially is titled a “recreation center,” this public space offers a number of additional outdoor amenities, which include:

  • 2 baseball fields
  • Basketball court
  • Hockey rink
  • Oval rink
  • Playground
  • Pond hockey (during the winter)
  • Skating rink
  • Soccer field
  • 2 tennis courts

 

Figure 1. Site Map

Figure 1. Site Map

Figure 2. E-Scooters in front of Groveland Recreation Center

Figure 2. E-Scooters in front of Groveland Recreation Center

Groveland Recreation Center is attached to Groveland Park Elementary School. Although both the elementary school and the recreation center are considered “public,” use of the indoor amenities (in the recreation center itself) are contingent on school hours; the recreation center is open to the public only when school is not in session.

In addition, both the recreation center and the elementary school use each other’s facilities interchangeably. A line within the building literally demarcates where the recreation center “ends” and the elementary school “begins,” but it appears to be merely symbolic. The basketball court is part of the recreation center, but the elementary school uses it during school times. Likewise, even though the “S’more Fun” room, a year-round recreational program for school-age children, is on the recreation center side, the elementary school mostly appropriates it. Because of the strong relationship between the school and the park, a visitor could easily mistake the playground — a public space — for an elementary school playground.

Figure 3. Inside the recreation center. Note that there is a line that separates two different types of tiles: the closer tiles belong to the recreation center, and the further tiles belong to the school.

Figure 3. Inside the recreation center. Note the line that separates the two structures: the closer tiles belong to the recreation center, and the farther tiles belong to the school.

Children and adults use the outdoor parts of Groveland Recreation Center primarily for casual games and dog-walking. No recreational teams use the baseball or softball fields. The giant green field at the southeast corner of the Groveland property becomes a de facto dog park during the spring, summer and fall and, come winter, is converted into multiple ice skating rinks. On warm days, it is common to see parents bring their kids to the playground. It is most common, however, to see children playing from the local elementary school during their recess time. The park is rarely used during nighttime hours. Not only is the recreation center closed, except for meetings of Macalester-Groveland Community Council committees and similar purposes, but only the playground has lights, leaving the tennis courts, basketball court and baseball fields practically inaccessible.

During the day, almost everyone who uses the public facilities arrives on foot: to walk dogs, get some exercise, let children play. Most activities are optional and social, not organized. During the school day, students at the adjacent elementary school have the option to either socialize in the recreation center (the indoor basketball courts) or the playground outside. When weather permits, students often choose the playgrounds.

Due to Minnesota’s weather, however, the playground is often empty for half the year. Groveland Recreation Center relies on its ice skating rinks and other indoor amenities to attract the public — but it offers relatively few activities compared with other recreation centers in Saint Paul. Besides open gym (for basketball), the recreation center offers activities such as freestyle street soccer, mandala stone painting and ballet lessons. According to the site supervisor, peak times for activities in the recreation center are weeknights from 6 to 8 p.m.

With its flexible spaces, the recreation center is capable of hosting a range of public activities. It is a polling place during elections, for example.

Figure 4. Photo of Groveland Recreation Center on election day, November 6, 2018.

Figure 4. Groveland Recreation Center on election day, November 6, 2018.

The other “indoor” amenity offered at Groveland Recreation Center is the “warming house.” In the summer and fall, the warming house ideally turns into the “icebreaker house,” a space for teens to hang out, watch movies, and play video games, ping pong, air hockey, foosball and board games. Due to a staffing shortage, however, the warming house was closed last fall. During the winter, the warming house functions as a sheltered area where people can lace up their skates and go to the bathroom. Outside of the warming house, the entire baseball field is converted into two 72-by-160-feet hockey rinks (East and West Hockey Rink), a pond hockey rink (Pond Hockey Rink), a large general skating rink (General Rink) and the “Groveland Oval,” a one-sixth-mile natural ice oval. Hockey is forbidden on the general or oval rinks.

Figure 5. City of St. Paul’s diagram of the ice rinks, open throughout the winter and spring

Figure 5. City of St. Paul’s diagram of the ice rinks, open throughout the winter and spring

Figure 6. Photo of the ice rinks open throughout the winter and spring.

Figure 6. The ice rinks are open throughout the winter and early spring.

During the fall and summer, the two indoor bathrooms are often inaccessible. Bathrooms are accessible only when the indoor facilities are open, which is often only from 4 to 8:30 p.m.

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Are we making inclusive choices in the design and management of public spaces in St. Paul that help promote a democratic society?

Groveland Recreation Center is located in one of the most privileged neighborhoods in the city of St. Paul, with a population that is nearly 90 percent white, highly educated and high income (more than a third of household incomes exceed $100,000 per year).

The area has a lot of foot traffic, along with the recently developed Cleveland Bike Lanes, and many parents clearly feel comfortable taking their kids outdoors, both during the day and early evening. Still, although the built infrastructure (playground, skating rink) is heavily used, the social activities are underutilized. Out of the 25 recreation centers located in the city of St. Paul, Groveland Recreation Center has the second lowest number of activities available during the fall season, with 11 activities offered in fall 2018 compared with an average of 21.5 among recreation centers citywide. The only recreation center that offered fewer activities was Merriam Park, which is 1.5 miles north of Groveland Recreation Center and, similarly, sits in a relatively well-off area.

Given the high median income in Mac-Groveland, many parents and other residents likely spend money on private services. Children may participate in organized sports that practice elsewhere; families likely belong to one of several private health clubs in the area or utilize the athletic facilities open to faculty and staff of nearby St. Thomas and Macalester.

Whatever the reason, indoor activities (sports, arts and crafts) that are offered to the public are being underused. The community is not viewing the recreation center as a place for social gatherings, but rather as an outdoor outlet for neighborhood kids and dogs to “escape.” No organized skating, baseball or soccer teams utilize this space, and while the ice rinks are heavily used during the winter, the outdoor fields are underutilized during warm-weather months.

Recreation center staff and Macalester-Groveland Community Council (MGCC) — an active district council that hosts the popular Mac-Grove Fest each September in the park outdoors — have multiple methods to encourage the community to utilize the space: by attending neighborhood meetings, distributing surveys, reading comments on social apps such as NextDoor.com or local Facebook groups, and listening to recommendations.

Here’s hoping that neighbors and MGCC recognize the potential to make the Groveland park and recreation center more attractive for community residents. Perhaps mini golf, a disc golf course or soccer nets would draw more active users.

M2 M1

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9 Responses to Groveland Recreation Center Provides Physical Amenities, Lacks Social Participation

  1. Hillary January 21, 2019 at 11:27 am #

    I live just a couple of blocks away from Groveland Rec and I appreciated this article and the author’s perspective. One correction: the ball fields are used in the spring, summer and fall for organized softball and soccer games. These games are organized by the Highland Groveland Rec Association – https://www.hgra.org/ . In addition, Saint Paul Urban Tennis offers lessons/camps in the summer. I have also seen organized flag football games in the fall; I believe these are organized by Parks and Rec.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke January 21, 2019 at 1:40 pm #

      Thanks for this feedback. I am sure that Henry appreciates it.

  2. Jeff McMenimen January 21, 2019 at 1:02 pm #

    This is a poorly researched and irresponsible article. It is full of inaccuracies and mistakes. I know, I live adjacent to Groveland Park/Elementary School and have coached soccer and little league baseball teams for Highland Groveland Rec Association that utilized Groveland Park’s fields for practice and games. In addition, I’ve witnessed hundreds of softball practices and games in the past 15 years, youth football practices and games, and organized youth hockey practices and games. I’ve seen numerous summer program tennis clinics at the park. The park is also host to endless pick up ball games and practices.

    In addition to coaching, for several years, I was part of the ice-making crew at the park. The ice skating facilities at Groveland are second to none in the Twin Cities. It is a dedicated crew of volunteers and a Booster Club that augment the Park and Rec staff in keeping this place so wonderful. Just last weekend there were hundreds of ice skaters on the rinks in frigid weather. My kid has been a rink rat there for the past 10 years. He meets up with his buddies there several times a week to play hockey and socialize.

    Spring through autumn, the basketball court is constantly being used. Same can be said of the tennis courts and the playgrounds. In the summer months, the roar of the softball and baseball crowds can be deafening from across the street. Often, during the summer, the park is a place for neighbors to meet and socialize, whether as a place for people to exercise their dogs while chatting with neighbors, or as a community gathering place to witness some of the best fireworks in the City.

    Yes – the park and recreational center facilities are heavily used by students attending Groveland Elementary, and other park users too. It is a school park and it’s used by people of all ages and backgrounds. Dogs included. The S’More Fun program you mentioned is a before and after school daycare program during the school year and an all-day program during the summer months. It is not just a Rec Center. My son attended Groveland Elementary and S’More Fun through elementary school years. And the S’More Fun program was an extremely valuable public community asset for this full-time single parent.

    What you fail to mention in your article is that the indoor rec center facilities at Groveland are very small in comparison to other rec centers in the City, so yes, there is less programming of indoor uses. But the outdoor facilities seem to make up for that.

    I realize that you’re urban studies students at Macalaster. As an urban designer who has taught graduate level planning/landscape architecture and urban design as an adjunct at the University’s of Minnesota and Colorado, I am disappointed in the level of research and follow through on your work. Groveland Park is a neighborhood park, intended to serve the neighborhood. It is a highly functional park, for recreation and social interaction, and it is an asset to the neighborhood and broader community it serves.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke January 21, 2019 at 1:36 pm #

      It’s one young person’s perspective. I try to appreciate how others view parks and public space, and I reccommend that approach to a conversation about public land. Compared to most undergraduate papers I have seen in my years teaching, this is well researched.

  3. Victoria Wilson January 21, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    I was circling back to this column, after seeing it posted on twitter this morning, to suggest that the author look into informal associational activity in the neighborhood. But here, I see, that the above commentator has beaten me to the punch.

    As a society I don’t believe that we keep very good records of this type of activity. The amount of hours necessary to develop and maintain informal youth sports activities is tremendous and for the most part goes undocumented. In addition to the core activity of practices and games, there are fund raisers, and tournaments, and scheduling time. You can only hope, as an organizer, to be able to persuade enough parents to pitch in as needed.

    Once a neighborhood develops a reputation for sustaining a successful sports climate, we could even say they have institutionalize this completely voluntary activity. New families are attracted to area with the desire for their child to hang out as a rink rat or learn to run the bases on a Little League team. They bring a new zest for watching the children succeed and a new energy for all the work involved.

    I don’t think the author should be criticized for lack of research. I think we all need to do better at acknowledging all the informal and unpaid work needed to sustain our communities.

  4. Patrick Martin January 21, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

    I will second or third the previous commentors that the wonderful HGRA (the “G” stands for Groveland!!) program uses both sets of fields (There are really 4 baseball/softball fields. Two of the west of the school and two on the east).

    In addition, Highland Ball’s Hi Mac program (boys and girls ages 5-7) utilizes the fields extensively. Highland Ball schedules over 80 games and 150 practices at Groveland. I would venture to say that between HGRA and Highland Ball there are more kids playing baseball/softball/t-ball ages 5-8 at Groveland than at any other park in the city.

    Further, Nativity Grade School’s baseball, softball, soccer and football programs practice and play games at Groveland. Nativity has multiple teams for every sport grades 6-8.

    I’m at a loss for what to make of this. The factual inaccuracies are so off base (pun intended) that it diminishes whatever is trying to be accomplished.

  5. Jenny Werness
    Jenny Werness January 21, 2019 at 7:09 pm #

    I appreciate the work of this author, and also of those commenters who added to the conversation. Is there perhaps a disconnect between the “official” city recreation activities vs. the private-sponsored activities? Is that true at other rec centers also?

    The author sites fall 2018 activity numbers, and from that figure it surely looks like this rec center has significantly fewer activities: 11 vs 21.

    “Groveland Recreation Center has the second lowest number of activities available during the fall season, with 11 activities offered in fall 2018 compared with an average of 21.5 among recreation centers citywide”

    • Steve S January 21, 2019 at 9:33 pm #

      I counted activities (by activity number) in the Winter/Spring guide and Groveland had 38 while the average for all was 30.8. I counted all the activities quickly, so I could be off by a couple here and there, but Groveland is definitely above the average number.

      It would have been useful for the author to have done more research around the reason for 11 activities.

  6. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina Scheel January 24, 2019 at 1:18 pm #

    I’m fascinated by the different perspectives people can have on the same park. I’ll confess, that when I lived nearby in St. Paul and frequently used the ice rink at the park in question, I had no idea that it was not solely a school park.

    I agree with others here that we don’t keep a good count of usage statistics on park activities, and our own preconceptions about use can take over. Where I as a nearby resident might see consistently empty ballfields rarely used for their intended purpose, someone who participates in organized practice and play may see fields that are constantly in use and be incredulous to learn that others experience them differently. Even a couple hundred practices and games can be invisible to someone who is there at a different time of day and someone who has different recreation interests. Ball fields can be a huge barrier to other types of recreational activity when they aren’t in use.

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