The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission meetings will be busier in the months to come, as residents seeks answers about the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Plan, as well as the recent shooting of a high school student at the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center and Oxford Community Center.
Both topics drew visitors and impassioned dialogue to the commission’s monthly meeting at Frogtown Community Center on Thursday, February 9 (four days before the fatal student stabbing at Harding High School).
Two members of the SARPA (Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association) board asked for permission to present at a future meeting about the “history and beauty” of Summit Avenue. The 90% version of the regional trail plan — which advocates say will improve the safety and accessibility of cycling on Summit and opponents say will threaten both trees and the character of the city’s most historic avenue — is available for public comment through February.
Andy Rodriguez, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the Summit-Hill Association had reached out to him about scheduling a public meeting to discuss proposed changes to Summit Avenue, a contentious topic that has drawn both praise and ire. The next scheduled Parks and Recs Commission meeting will be on Thursday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Hills Community Center on Payne Avenue.
Recreation center reopening
A prominent array of women administrators and activists in St. Paul — led by civil rights advocate Debbie Montgomery, the city’s first Black policewoman and a former City Councilmember; and Brooke Blakey, director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety — pressed Rodriguez to communicate more broadly with the community about a recent shooting at the Oxford Community Center, which has been closed since the incident on January 18, and asked community members to step in and help.
A former staff member at the rec center has been charged with the crime.
“What kind of people are you hiring?” asked a neighbor of the center, who described herself as a former parole officer. “Staff are supposed to de-escalate.”
Montgomery decried the practice of giving nearby Central High School students Metro Transit bus passes to get home, rather than having familiar yellow school buses take them home directly. “Until those students get home, where the bus would have dropped them off, it’s the school’s responsibility,” she said.
Blakey called on neighbors and others to volunteer — especially in the afternoon, after school has let out — at the Oxford/Jimmy Lee Rec Center once it reopens on Saturday, February 18. “We need the community to come and work in that space,” she said.
Rodriguez said the incident has “rocked our staff,” and their “mental health and well-being” have been his priority. He wants to launch a community advisory committee once the rec center reopens and said that more collaboration needs to happen between Saint Paul Public Schools and Parks and Recreation staff, in particular about young people who are facing challenges or just having a bad day.
“There’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck approach when we reopen,” Rodriguez said.