County earns national awards

Contributing Writer

Anoka County’s partnership with the University of Minnesota School of Architecture to build learning kiosks at the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve has earned two national awards as well as a statewide honor.

A partnership between the Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department and the University of Minnesota School of Architecture through which graduate students designed and built learning kiosks at the county’s Heritage Lab in the Rice Creek Chain of Lake Park Reserve has earned the county two national awards plus a statewide honor. Photo courtesy of Anoka County
A partnership between the Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department and the University of Minnesota School of Architecture through which graduate students designed and built learning kiosks at the county’s Heritage Lab in the Rice Creek Chain of Lake Park Reserve has earned the county two national awards plus a statewide honor. Photo courtesy of Anoka County

The National Association of Counties presented the county with an achievement award for innovation at its annual conference and exposition in Columbus, Ohio, July 21-24, while the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officers recognized the county with an award of excellence at its summer meeting in Canton, Ohio, in June.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association presented an award of excellence to the county in the sponsorship and partnerships category for the collaboration between the county’s parks and recreation department and the university school of architecture.

“These are fantastic honors,” said John VonDeLinde, county parks and community services division manager. “We are very pleased.”

This has been an outstanding partnership with the university, he said.

The impetus for the project came from a casual conversation VonDeLinde had with professor John Comazzi of the University of Minnesota School of Architecture at a function both were attending, resulting in the Anoka County Board entering into a domestic research agreement in January 2016 with the university for the project.

Through the agreement, graduate students in the school of architecture designed the kiosks, fabricated the materials and built them in sections at the university before assembling them at the Heritage Lab in the park reserve in the summer of 2016.

“This project has provided the university students with a hands-on learning opportunity,” VonDeLinde said.

Four learning kiosks were completed last year, but the project did not end there. According to VonDeLinde, money was left over, allowing another set of graduate students to design and build three more learning kiosks, which are now being installed at the Heritage Lab.

“The students have shown a great deal of creativity and innovative ideas in their design work,” VonDeLinde said.

And the three new learning kiosks are different from the kiosk built last year in that they are mobile rather than permanent structures he said.

They can be transported a short distance, for example, across Main Street to Wargo Nature Center to be used in programs, VonDeLinde said.

“This gives us more flexibility,” he said.

The kiosks constructed last year have been used as a teaching station for students attending the county’s Heritage Lab program, a full-day outdoor historical program that takes place each fall and has been in existence for some 25 years thanks to annual financial support from Connexus Energy, as well as kids attending the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities’ annual summer day camp program at the park reserve, according to Jeff Perry, county parks planning and resources manager.

“They are benefiting more than 3,000 students annually and are working very well,” Perry said. “Staff and students like them.”

The collaboration with the university has been a cost savings to the county, according to VonDeLinde.

Funding for the project has come from donations of $25,000 from Connexus Energy and $20,000 from the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities plus an $80,000 regional park legacy grant from the state and contributions by alumni of the university program, VonDeLinde said.

According to information provided to the county by the university for what it calls its “Learning Through Making” design-build program, the course “helps establish a model for future design-build projects by faculty and students that expands the core missions of the School of Architecture and College of Design in advancing design education through making.”