Community members reacted angrily to the Park Board’s revised proposal for a new East Phillips community center, presented at a March 23 community meeting. This meeting came after months of wrangling between the Park Board, which hired LHB architects and produced a plan without a gym, and the neighborhood-based East Phillips Community Design Team (EPCDT), which hired another architect in February to provide an alternative to the Park Board proposal.
Commissioner Scott Vreeland introduced the meeting. “We need to build the best building we can with the amount of funds available,” Vreeland said. He said that though there had been some controversy in the past, he hoped that the community could come together and go forward.
Rick Carter and Sarah Philips from LHB, presented their design, which offered more opportunity for expansion, though the first phase would not contain a gym. Their drawings indicated four large meeting rooms, and a “celebration space.”
Commissioner Vreeland requested that the microphone be passed around the room so that every person could give a brief response about what they did and didn’t like about the design. Many of the community members gave impassioned speeches against LHB’s design.
“I cannot begin to express my anger about this alternative design,” said one man. Many community members expressed outrage at the lack of a gym, or a commercial kitchen. The Phillips Soccer team came to the front, as their coach explained that they have no place to practice so they have to drive to another park.
Chiffonne Williams, a mother of 10 children, said the center needed to be more kid friendly. “If we don’t want them on the streets, we gotta find someplace where they can be safe,” she said.
State representative Karen Clark spoke and said she was disappointed by the actions of “certain park board members.” She called the actions by the park board to suppress the opinions of the community “dramatically inappropriate,” and a result of short sighted policy. Clark said “This is a mean spirited attempt to put the community in its place.”
The alternative architecture firm hired by EPCDT also presented its design at the March 23 meeting. Dean Dovolis, of DJR architecture, presented an alternative design that features a gym, and a central office space with many windows to see outside for safety monitoring. DJR’s design has 1600 square feet as opposed to the 7500 square feet of LHB’s design.
While both designs cost slightly more than $3 million dollars, Commissioner Vreeland expressed doubts about DJR’s estimate. “ Those numbers might not be the numbers that the park board would have to pay,” Vreeland said.
“I am very comfortable standing behind our numbers,” said Dovolis, who will be taking his proposal to Keith Ellison and Amy Klobochar to request federal stimulus money.
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.