Oakdale, Lake Elmo & Ramsey County: A year in review

file photo • North St. Paul’s famous snowman statue that overlooks Highway 36 received a fresh coat of paint Oct. 9. The sculpture was built between 1972 and 1974 as a symbol of the city.

file photo • Amateur radio volunteers have spent months preparing to make contact with the ISS from John Glenn Middle School. The suspense builds as static and then clear contact is made Feb. 22.

file photo • The Tartan Ice Arena, which has been in use since 1997, is now owned by only School District 622.

file photo • Lake Elmo City Council member Christine Nelson, left center; Mayor Mike Pearson, center; and Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, right center, cut the ribbon for a revitalized downtown area Aug. 21, while John and Chris Schilitz, owners of Lake Elmo Inn & Event Center held the left side of the ribbon and Wayne Sandberg, Washington County engineer and deputy public works director, held the right side.

file photo • Christian Cupboard Community Food Shelf held a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 6 for its new facility being constructed on the property of the Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale.

file photo • Oakdale public works crews, Minnesota Department of Transportation crews and private contractors worked around the clock the week of Dec. 3 in freezing weather to dig up and replace a damaged water main under Interstate 694 near the 15th Street overpass that caused the closure of the highway for a week.

 A journey through 2017

Before we ring in the new year, the Review staff wanted to reflect on the year gone by. From awards to policies to crime, we have reported on it all, and now we have selected a few of the most impactful events that represent our journey together through 2017.


John Glenn Middle School calls astronauts at International Space Station

John Glenn Middle School used an amateur radio to make contact with the International Space Station on Feb. 22, and 14 students were able to ask astronaut Robert Shane Kimbrough questions about his experience in space.

Students learned about an ongoing experiment to grow lettuce in space, how astronauts stay clean in space without a shower by wiping themselves down, how sleeping in space can be a challenge, and that it takes between 15 minutes to an hour for an email to reach the space station.

The conversation with Kimbrough took over a year of planning and involved teamwork from numerous organizations including the Amateur Radio International Space Station program and the Space Radio Club. The school had to overcome numerous technical challenges and even install an antenna on the school’s roof to get about nine minutes and 40 seconds of connection as the space station passed over the United States in its orbit around Earth.


Co-ownership of Tartan Ice Arena dissolved

The week of June 12, both Maplewood and Oakdale city councils unanimously agreed to relinquish the control and responsibility of owning the Tartan Ice Arena, allowing School District 622 to take sole ownership. 

Maplewood, Oakdale and District 622 had shared ownership of the arena, located at 740 Greenway Ave. N. in Oakdale next to Tartan High School, since its construction in 1996, though District 622 owns the property the arena was built on and has been managing the building since construction was completed in 1997.

The three entities used $2 million in general obligation bonds to  pay for the construction of the facility, which has two ice rinks — one that is open all year — and the final payment was made in February, leading to the decisions by Oakdale and Maplewood’s councils to hand off ownership to the school district.


Maplewood hires a new director of

 public safety

After 24 years of police work and almost four years as Maplewood’s police chief, Paul Schnell retired June 9. Lt. Kerry Crotty took over as acting police chief until Scott Nadeau began work as the city’s director of public safety Aug. 7.

Nadeau, who was previously police chief in Colombia Heights, holds a master’s degree in public and nonprofit administration from Metropolitan State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy’s 257th session. He teaches law enforcement leadership in the master’s program at the University of St. Thomas and community policing at Metropolitan State University.

Schnell came out of retirement Dec. 11 when he became Inver Grove Heights’ new police chief, stating, “I really missed law enforcement and working in it.”


Construction completed in downtown Lake Elmo

A ribbon cutting was held in downtown Lake Elmo the morning of Aug. 21 to mark the end of a five-year construction project to revitalize the downtown area and address flooding and pavement conditions.

Improvements made to the downtown area included the removal of more than 100 septic systems from private properties and the addition of a new sanitary sewer system to those properties. Aged water main pipes were also replaced, curb and gutter systems were added and more than 40,000 square feet of new sidewalk was installed.

The improvements were paid for through a partnership between Lake Elmo and Washington County. Lake Elmo’s $10 million portion of the project was paid for with special assessments, general fund taxes, utility fees and a state grant. The county’s $4.5 million investment in the project was funded with County Highway State Aid funds, which are comprised of gas tax revenue and license tab fees.


Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf constructs new building in Oakdale

The Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf — which serves residents of Oakdale, Woodbury, Landfall and the southern leg of Maplewood — broke ground on its new building Sept. 6, and plans to move into its new facility in Oakdale shortly after the new year.

Christian Cupboard, currently located in the lower level of Woodbury Lutheran Church, is expected to move into its own, new building on the property of Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale. The new, 6,000 square-foot space will be a handicap accessible and will include more refrigerators and freezers, which will help the food shelf provide more fruit, vegetable and meat offerings. Also, all of the refrigerators, freezers and shelving units will be set on wheels, so volunteers can reconfigure the space as needed for special events.

Jan. 12 is the last day the organization plans to operate out of its Woodbury location, and Jan. 18 is expected to be the first day operating out of the new building located at 8264 4th St. N., Oakdale.


Rush line route finalized

Since May 2014, the Rush Line Corridor project has been involved in an intensive planning and public engagement process, which culminated Sept. 12 when the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority voted to endorse the route and vehicle type for the Rush Line. Six cities, including Maplewood, passed resolutions of support over the summer.

It was decided that the Rush Line will utilize a bus rapid transit system on a dedicated transit-way from Union Depot in St. Paul to downtown White Bear Lake. Through Maplewood, the route will be primarily alongside the Bruce Vento Trail, though it will also wrap around the St. John’s Hospital and Maplewood Mall area on Beam Avenue, White Bear Avenue and County Road D before making its way to Highway 61.

During 2018 and 2019, the Rush Line project planners will conduct an environmental review, preliminary engineering and station area planning and continue to hold public engagement opportunities. 

The project, which is estimated to cost about $420 million, could begin construction as soon as 2023.


North St. Paul city manager resigns

Jason Ziemer, North St. Paul’s city manager of 4 years, resigned Oct. 6, and a week later the North St. Paul City Council appointed Dr. Craig Waldron as his temporary replacement. Waldron was Oakdale’s city administrator for over 20 years.

According to Mayor Mike Kuehn, it may take until spring 2018 or even later before North St. Paul begins accepting applications for a permanent city manager. He explained that city staff are first going to take some time to better identify the culture within the city and within city hall, which will help narrow down the right candidate once the hiring process does begin.

Waldron voiced his support for this plan in a November interview with Review staff, and he added that he plans to stick around until a permanent city manager is found.


Maplewood police body camera 

lawsuit ends

After almost a full year, a lawsuit regarding Maplewood’s police body-worn camera policy ended Oct. 28 when an arbitrator ruled in favor of the city, meaning that Maplewood will continue using their body camera policy as it was updated on Nov. 15, 2016.

Three days after the 2016 update, the union for Maplewood police officers had filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court about the way the policy was drawn up.

The goal of the lawsuit was to require Maplewood to formally bargain over two specific provisions in the new body-camera policy: general surveillance of officers by their supervisors, and the right of officers to review body-camera videos prior to giving statements when critical incidents occur. Isaac Kaufman, who serves as general counsel for the police union, Law Enforcement Labor Services, said in November 2017 that the union will not be appealing the arbitrator’s decision.


Voters approve building bond for District 623 schools

Voters in the Roseville Area School District, which includes part of Maplewood, approved a $144 million building bond in the Nov. 7 election. Over 6,800 people voted in favor of the building bond, representing a 74 percent voter approval. 

The building bond will be used to pay for expanded classroom and science facilities, gym improvements and additional storage space in the district’s 10 school buildings and the Fairview Community Center.

Almost all of the district buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, and it had been 25 years since District 623 asked for a building bond, which at the time was the biggest approved bond in Minnesota history.


I-694 washout left highway closed for a week

A roughly five-mile section of Interstate 694 was closed the week of Dec. 3 due to a cracked Oakdale water main. The damaged water main caused many Oakdale residents to lose water pressure in their homes Dec. 3 and about 35 residents to lose water service altogether. Additionally, the 87,000 vehicles that use I-694 daily were unable to travel between Interstate 94 and Highway 36, and were forced to navigate alternative routes just as winter weather set in.

As public works crews, private contractors and MnDOT staff worked to unearth the damaged pipe, water was rerouted through the city to reach homes that were still without service. Some five hours after the city found out about the problem, all but 10 homes had regained water service, and those remaining homes received bottled water from the city until their service was restored later in the week.

Due to the nature of the damage, the cracked section of water main pipe required full replacement, which was completed Dec. 6, followed by MnDOT road repairs. I-694 reopened to drivers the morning of Dec. 9. 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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