Groveland Recreation Center

Groveland Recreation Center Provides Physical Amenities, Lacks Social Participation

by Henry Nieberg

Located in the heart of the Mac-Groveland Neighborhood of St. Paul, the Groveland Recreation Center offers educational programs, family events, athletic facilities, and rental space for parties, meetings, and events.  The park is at the intersection of two of the neighborhood’s main streets, Cleveland Ave. and St. Clair Ave., which provide city buses (87 and 134, and 70 respectively) to constantly provide service to the area.  There are a fair amount of small brick and mortar stores (e.g. Widmer’s Super Market, Snuffy’s Malt Shop), but the majority of buildings are single-home residential.  While the official site name is titled a “recreation center”, this public space offers a plethora of additional outdoor activities, which include:

  • 2 Baseball Fields
  • Basketball Court
  • Hockey Rink
  • Oval Rink
  • Playground
  • Pond Hockey (during the winter)
  • Skating Rink
  • Soccer Field
  • 2 Tennis Courts
Figure 1. Site Map
Figure 2. E-Scooters in front of Groveland Recreation Center

Groveland Recreation Center is attached to the local elementary school, Groveland Park Elementary School. Although both the elementary school and the recreation center are both considered “public”, the use of the indoor amenities (in the recreation center itself) are contingent on school hours; the recreation center is only open to the public when school is not in session. In addition, both the recreation center and the elementary school use each other’s facilities interchangeably. There is technically a literal line within the building where the recreation center “ends” and the elementary school “begins”, but if this has any function at all, it is merely a symbolic line. The basketball court is part of the recreation center, but during school times is often used by the elementary school. Likewise, even though the “S’more Fun” room, a recreational childcare program is on the recreation center side, it is mostly appropriated by the elementary school. Because of the relationship between the school and the park, the playground, which is technically public space, can easily be mistaken for an elementary school playground.

Figure 3. Inside the recreation center. Note that there is a line that separates two different types of tiles: the closer tiles belong to the recreation center, and the further tiles belong to the school.

The outdoor parts of Groveland Recreation Center are primarily used for two purposes: outdoor play (playgrounds, tag, etc.) and dog-walking. Unlike other recreation centers in St. Paul, the Macalester-Groveland area has a deep history of its community and has organizations that pre-exist Groveland Recreation Center. While the outdoor amenities are not covered in snow, there are various organizations that use, rent, and claim the space, such as Highland Ball, Highland Groveland Recreation Association (HGRA), and Nativity-Groveland Area Football Association. There are no recreational teams supervised under the recreation center’s direct control that use the baseball or softball fields. In the winter and spring, this field is converted into multiple ice skating rinks. On warm days, it is common to see parents bring their kids to the playground. However, it is most common to see children playing from the local elementary school during their recess time. The park usage is very limited during the nighttime hours. Not only is all of the recreation center closed, but there are lights only over the playground, making the tennis courts, basketball court, and baseball fields practically inaccessible.

During the day, almost all of the users of the public facilities arrive on foot.  For those who enter the park without children, the park is often used as a site for exercise or walking their dog.  For those who do have kids, the park is often used by local parents walking to the park to play with their children at the playground.  Most of the activities that occur are optional and social activities.  Adults often come to this park optionally to be present in a space that seems open for them, but especially their dogs.  During the school day, students at the adjacent elementary school have the option to either socialize in the recreation center (the indoor basketball courts) or the playground outside.  When the weather permits, the elementary school students often choose the playgrounds.

Due to Minnesota’s weather, however, the playground is often avoided for half of the year.  Groveland Recreation Center therefore relies on its ice skating rinks and its indoor amenities as the only publicly open facilities.  Besides open gym (for basketball), the recreation center offers activities such as freestyle street soccer, mandala stone painting, and ballet lessons.  According to the site supervisor, peak times for activities in the recreation center revolve around the hours of 6 to 8 pm.  However, even with its peak use, Groveland Recreation Center offers relatively low amounts of activities compared to other recreation centers in the city of Saint Paul.  The recreation center is flexible and can host a range of public activities.  For example, the recreation center is used as a voting place during elections.

Figure 4. Photo of Groveland Recreation Center on election day, November 6, 2018.

The other “indoor” facility offered at the Groveland Recreation Center is the “warming house”.  In the summer and fall, the warming house ideally turns into the “icebreaker house”, a space for teens to hang out, watch movies, play video games, ping pong, air hockey, foosball, and board games.  However, due to a lack of staff, the warming house was closed for the Fall of 2018.  During the winter, the warming house operates as a sheltered area where the public can put on their skates and go to the bathroom.  Outside of the warming house, the whole baseball field is converted into two 72×160 ft hockey rinks (East and West Hockey Rink), a pond hockey rink (Pond Hockey Rink), a large general skating rink (General Rink), and the “Groveland Oval”, a 1/6th-mile natural ice oval.  Hockey is not permitted on the general rink or oval rinks.

Figure 5. City of St. Paul’s diagram of the ice rinks, open throughout the winter and spring
Figure 6. Photo of the ice rinks open throughout the winter and spring. 

During the fall and summer, the two bathrooms are often inaccessible, due to the fact that they are present in the indoor facilities – the recreation center and the warming house.  Bathrooms are only accessible when the indoor facilities are open, which is often only open for no more than 5 hours, from 4:00pm – 8:30pm.

NiebergStarStar Model

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Are we making inclusive choices in the design and management of formal public spaces in St. Paul that help promote a democratic society?

The Groveland Recreation Center is located in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city of St. Paul. While there is a lot of foot traffic in the region, it is important to note that this park is located in an area where many parents feel comfortable taking their kids out, both during the day and the night. While the built infrastructure (e.g. playground, skating rink) is heavily used, the social activities can not share the same status. Out of the 25 recreation centers located in the city of St. Paul, Groveland Recreation Center has the second to the lowest amount of activities offered during the Fall season. While the average amount of activities offered in the Fall 2018 schedule was 21.5, Groveland only offers 11. The only recreation center that offered fewer activities was Merriam Park, which is directly 1.5 miles north of Groveland Recreation Center. While there seem to be a lot of parents using the outdoor space for their free time, it is clear that indoor activities (sports, arts and crafts, socializing) that are offered to the public are being utilized elsewhere. The recreation center, therefore, is not seen as a place for social recreation within the community, but rather an outlet for kids and dogs in the neighborhood to “escape”. Because of the high median income in the neighborhood, many parents most likely spend money on private services and do not utilize the recreation center as much.

While the built environment of Groveland Recreation Center is constructed in a manner to be inclusive, there is little demand within the community to utilize the space for social activities, therefore making the public park a refuge for private use. The recreation center has multiple methods to engage the community to utilize the space for social activities, by attending neighborhood meetings, distributing surveys, reading comments on housing apps such as NextDoor or local FaceBook neighborhood groups, and listening to recommendations. However, due to a lack of staffing and neighborhood interest, the park is ultimately used by private individuals not looking to participate in a larger social activity. There are no organized skating, baseball, or soccer teams that utilize this space, and the park is often used by individuals who are interested in the space. That being said, while during the winter the ice rinks are considerably used, during the summer and fall the space is heavily underutilized.

There is potential for a repurposing of the space to make the space more attractive for community residents. For example, perhaps there could be a mini golf or disc golf course, or soccer nets.


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