MPRB receives funding for soil clean up; East Phillips Park center project moves ahead


After the discovery of contaminated soil earlier this year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is going forward with the construction of the East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center, thanks to $571, 328 in grants from the state and Hennepin County.

Asbestos, arsenic and lead were found through soil testing during the beginning of the center’s construction, according to Dawn Sommers, public information officer for MPRB.

“The testing done [in years past] was closer to the surface,” Sommers said. “When [workers] had started the construction on the building they had to go deeper to put in the footings and found the contamination.”

The contamination is due to old housing demolition practices prior to MPRB acquisition of the park in 1977, according to Sommers.

“It was common practice [years ago] – before it became East Phillips Park – that a house was torn down on-site and buried,” she said. “This wasn’t some covert operation by the city. This was a very common practice.” 

“Anything that had been done before hadn’t required that we dig down so far,” she added. “Once we dug down and found the contamination we had to take care of it in order to proceed.”

The money received will fund the clean-up efforts to remove and replace soil so that the community project can continue on. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) – an economic development agency – [] provided $300,000 and the Hennepin County Environmental Response Fund (ERF) – an assessment and clean up grant program –  gave the remaining $271,328.

Rep. Karen Clark authored the DEED funding legislation and worked to get it approved.

“We worked very hard in the final days of the legislative session to get funding from the Petroleum Tank Release Cleanup Fund to keep the project moving,” said Rep. Clark. “It’s critically important in this neighborhood where kids have already had exposure to numerous toxic chemicals that they have a safe place to play.”

The Phillips neighborhood has the highest density of children in Minneapolis and is also the “most economically-challenged and ethnically-diverse community,” according to a MPRB press release.  The center has been in the works for three years and was a community-wide effort. The building will include a computer lab, a teen space, a high school size gym, a kitchen to host events and more.

“The bad practices of the past have left us many sites that cannot be reused until they are cleaned up. This is one of them,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who supported the county’s funding of the clean up. “The coordinated clean up funding from the State and Hennepin County ERF have allowed parks and county youth sports funds to be invested in the community center and playing fields. That’s great for the community and its young people.”