Students help make St. Louis Park condominiums eco-friendly
By Paige Kieffer
Minnetonka’s Clear Springs Elementary fifth-graders learned about the environment and water conservation June 6 when they lent a hand and helped build a rain garden and pollinator beds for the Greensboro Condominiums in St. Louis Park.
Clear Springs teacher David Olson’s homeroom class of fifth-graders participated in the event. The students learned about the environment, watersheds and raised trout in their classroom this school year.
“Our goal was to create a network of knowledge on the environment,” Olson said. “These kids will all take knowledge with them that hopefully they will carry back to their own communities.”
Last year, Janine Kohn, approached Olson and suggested that the Clear Springs Elementary students should get involved. Kohn is a master water steward, Department of Natural Resources WET Program coordinator and a frog and toad survey program coordinator who was assisting with creating eco-friendly landscape for the condominiums.
“They’re the decision makers for the future,” Kohn said. “That was my goal to get the target audience a little bit younger and teach them the importance of why we were trying to slow down the water runoff so it doesn’t end up in the storm drains. For them to know, even though they are kids, they can make a difference and they have here.”
Two years ago, the condominium officials approached Dorothy Pedersen, a landscape designer and master water steward with Nature’s Garden LLC., about upgrading their landscaping.
Pedersen proposed creating an eco-friendly and low-maintenance design by constructing a cistern and a rain garden to treat runoff from approximately 8,500 square feet of roof, for reuse in irrigation.
She also suggested creating a rain garden that will capture runoff from the building’s sidewalks. Pedersen estimated that the project would remove about 0.2 pounds of phosphorus per year.
“Our landscaping didn’t look so great so we hired Dorothy and she has put together a five-year plan and she has gone way beyond what we were thinking,” said Daniela Hofer, condominium resident and association board member. “We’re very appreciative of her vision and where she wants us to go.”
Pedersen partnered with Kohn and Glenn O’Meara, another master water steward, to help upgrade the facility and make it more sustainable.
Pedersen said her plan switched the facility’s grass to low mow-no mow, which requires mowing every six months and doesn’t need supplemental water. The rain garden and the pollinator beds both have native Minnesota plants and also plants native to St. Louis Park. The plants require very little water or maintenance.
Pedersen, Kohn and O’Meara all thought this was a good opportunity to get the community involved and educate local students.
“When I saw this site I knew it would be a good opportunity to get everyone involved and see how we can impact water as a community,” Pedersen said. “Being an older person it’s tough to change older opinions, but teaching when you’re young means that you’ve made a change for many more years beyond your life. I know in the future these kids will help bring about change.”
O’Meara added, “We’re planting the seed early for these kids.”
Olson applied and was awarded a Cynthia Krieg Watershed Stewardship Fund grant from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to help fund the service project and develop a clean water curriculum at the elementary school.
Last September, the class started their project by partnering with Minnesota Trout Unlimited and raising trout eggs in their classroom for a few months. They later released the trout into Courthouse Lake in Chaska.
In October, the fifth graders went to the condominiums to study the runoff.
Fifth grader Charlotte Roehl said she was very surprised to learn that runoff existed and how it effected our environment.
Next, the students learned about watersheds, water conservation and the ecology of a waterbed in their classrooms. They did multiple assignments including making a pamphlet on what a watershed is.
Fifth grader Tejas Jayashankar said, “I loved raising the trout in our classroom and learning about watersheds and coming to St. Louis Park and planting.”
The students returned to the condominiums to build pollinator beds and the rain garden.
Fifth grader Nina Fedje said, “I loved planting today and learning about something outside the classroom.”
“I think that every kid should get his or her hands dirty,” said Curt Carpenter, Clear Springs Elementary principal. “I think it’s good for the soul to get into the Earth and feel like you’re giving back to the world and planting and making the world better and greener. That’s the number one thing. It’s also important that every kid appreciates the outdoors and the conservation of our resources.”