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Transforming Central

Transforming Central

Transforming Central: students+environment+community 

Transforming Central is a community effort to reshape the urban landscape of Central High School in order to improve the students’ daily experience, address the environmental impacts of our campus, and connect with the vibrant community that embraces the school. Our funds support exterior improvements to Saint Paul Central High School.

TC Members: Deb Ahlquist, Beth Black, Amber Buckner, Patricia Eaves, Craig Davies, Sally Gagne, Kris Hageman, Gale Hedstrom, Lisa Heyman, Ann Hobbie, Margaret Jones, Julie Marckel, Dana Murdoch, Maggie O'Reilly, Jeff Risberg, Nina Tuttle, Steve Vadnais

Central Sign 2017
new landscaping
new gardens 2017
tiered beds
peace pole

2018- 2019

A new set of banners were installed on May 24, 2019. The photos were taken by Central alum, Mon Non (2017) during the 2018 school year. Skyler Rosendale (Central 2012) designed them. 

Mrs Mackbee
2019 banners
2019 banner installation


2011 – 2012: Identifying and Defining Vision

The Transforming Central (TC) project started with discussion at a Parent Advisory Council meeting regarding the condition of the grounds around the school.  A dedicated group of parents, students, administrators and community members formed in the fall of 2011 to identify and address the issue. In the fall of 2011, TC  partnered with student groups Root and Shoots and the National Honor Society to plant over 500 bulbs on the school grounds. A survey was conducted of students, faculty, administrators, parents and community members to gather input on desirable exterior improvements.

The Metropolitan Design Center from the College of Art Design at the University of Minnesota analyzed Central’s site and looked at the functionality of the grounds, student use and perceptions as well as overall environmental concerns and the survey results.   At the completion of the year, the Metropolitan Design Council created the following document: Central High School: Transforming the Character of Place. This document raised awareness of significant issues and possible solutions and gave new focus and vision to move the project forward with a clear focus and mission statement: 

2012 – 2013: Landscaping projects, Environmental Impact Study, Community Connections

During the summer of 2012 students and parent volunteers planted the three large tiers that frame the front exterior stairway with native perennials and grasses thanks to private donations and school support.

In November of 2012, Central was awarded $10,323 ($12,075 w/ Survey) in services from the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) to analyze storm water runoff. This resulted in a conceptual design for solving environmental issues that included improvements to aesthetics. 

A new fence was installed in August, 2013 along Lexington Parkway and Concordia Avenue thanks to the efforts of the Lex-Ham Community Council's Margaret Jones and TC member Patricia Eaves who secured a STAR grant from the City of Saint Paul. The STAR grant funds were matched by an anonymous donor from the neighborhood as well as contributions from Central students.

In September of 2013 The Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) awarded $50,000 to Central High School for the storm-water retrofit project.

2014 - 2015 Grant Seeking

Transforming Central received grants from the Saint Paul Sunrise Rotary Club, Pheasants Forever and the Gordon and Jeanne Shepard Foundation. In September 2015, we applied and were awarded grants from the Mardag, Bigelow and Saint Paul Foundations. 

Sharing the historic nature of the school is one of the ways the Transforming Central project hoped to build connections and pride in the community, but a complete historic narrative was needed. A History Project subcommittee was formed and with the help of a Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, Bluestem Heritage Group was hired to write a narrative of the school. Finding an abundance of historical documents and sources, the booklet a full and rich document filled with surprises and insight.  No other high school in the state of Minnesota has the comprehensive, documented and successful 150 year history of St. Paul Central High School. A PDF of the report can be found on the school website

Over half of the $862,000 project budget was raised through grants from the Capitol Region Watershed District ($150,000) and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources ($175,000). These grants allowed Capitol Region Watershed District to partner with St. Paul Public Schools to implement a variety of “best management practices” at Central that will improve the quality of the storm water discharged to the Mississippi River. This will reduce sediment by 86% and total phosphorus by 90% over the target area annually. Additionally, 95% of the storm water volume generated in the project area during a one-inch storm will be treated through infiltration.

On October 27, 2014, the Lex-Ham Community Council awarded Transforming Central “The Good Neighbor Award” for its role in supporting the neighborhood as a great place to live. 

2015-2016 Community Fundraising

The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation awarded Transforming Central a $25,000 matching grant in October, 2015.  We were successful through direct donations and grants at achieving our match! Mr. Schulze is a Central High alum as well as the founder and chairman emeritus of Best Buy Co. Inc. 

Transforming Central hosted a benefit concert and silent auction in October, 2015 featuring current and former Central High musicians. Over $9,000 was raised that night! Local musicians and Central Alums Sean McPherson and DeVon Gray were joined by Linnea Mohn to headline the evening's entertainment. The student musicians and spoken word artists that wowed the audience included: The Cymbalix, The Loose Ends, Amani Ward and Gabby Z, as well as Kaaha Nasteexo and Armand McCoy.

The Villager Newspaper helped us get the word out about our project to the larger Saint Paul Community. 40,000 copies of the Villager were distributed throughout the city with our informational insert. Amidon Graphics donated the printed flyers and the Villager Newspaper inserted them for free. We received over $5,000 in donations from Villager readers. 

At the same time, an online crowd source funding campaign was launched through that included a video directed and produced by Central Alum Paul Tushaus of Creative Images highlighting the project and funding needs.  $26,000 was raised directly through this website which was shared throughout the Central community around the world via social media. 

The annual spring clean up was held in May. Many thanks to the garden and tiered bed clean up crew that included Mr. Modelli's first and second hour Environmental Science classes.  The tiered beds were weeded and mulched and the Central sign got a few petunias in preparation for summer. Thank you Nina Tuttle for leading these garden efforts.

2016 - 2017 Fundraising, Project Design and Construction

On October 11, 2016, Transforming Central was awarded a $5,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for an outdoor historical photography exhibit. Award winning photographer and former Central parent, Chris Faust  took photographs throughout the school year of students, faculty and members from the Central community. These images showcasing Central’s historic past and vibrant present were used to create banners that hung on the building from 2017-2019.

Environmental Science teacher Ms. Houdek and Biology teacher Mr. Skinner applied for and received an educator's grant from Capitol Region Watershed District! They received a $42,000 grant that allowed them to purchase curriculum and measurement tools and add measuring access and features into the project design. Environmental Science and Statistics students use these tools to conduct experiments on water quality among other topics.

On August 3, 2016 the Saint Paul City Council passed a resolution recommending a Saint Paul Neighborhood STAR grant up to $100K for the Transforming Central project if all STAR dollars are not used for other projects or they come under budget. (Resolution #16-1299). The St. Paul School District contracted Emmons & Olivier Resources (EOR) as project designers.  Transforming Central members worked alongside the school district, CRWD and EOR to finalize construction designs. The school district awarded the construction project to LS Black and construction was completed during the summer months of 2017.  

The first day of school on September 6, 2017 was a dual celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Central High School and a ribbon cutting of the final project during a schoolwide assembly.  The date was declared "Saint Paul Central Day" by both Governor Dayton and Mayor Coleman. Lieutenant Governor Smith, Mayor Coleman, Council Member Tolbert , Principal Mackbee, and Interim Superintendent Thein spoke about Central's impact on Saint Paul history. Capitol Region Watershed District's Mark Doneux explained the environmental benefits of Central's new water filtration system. The assembly was held inside in the Central gymnasium because of torrential rain coming down outside.  When the group moved outside for the ribbon cutting under umbrellas, the improved water drainage systems were at work and apparent to all!

Transforming Central was awarded the 2017 Capitol Region Watershed District’s Sustainable Saint Paul Water Quality and Conservation Award in April.

Grease 2016
award close up

Concrete and pavers
permeable pavers coming soon!
Tree Trench sign
photo credit:Helios Photography
photo: Helios Photography


$763,354 was secured through grants and individual donations since the start of this project in 2011!  

Grants and Foundation Support:

  • Capital Region Watershed District 
  • MN Board of Water and Soil Resources 
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 
  • R.F.  Bigelow Foundation 
  • Mardag Foundation 
  • Saint Paul Foundation 
  • Minnesota Historical Society 
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church 
  • Saint Paul Public Schools 
  • Macalester College 
  • Ruth and John Huss 
  • Pheasants Forever 
  • Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation 
  • Jeanne and Gordon Shepard Family Foundation 
  • Lex Ham Community Council 
  • T. Denny Sanford (Central Alumnus) 
  • Saint Paul Neighborhood STAR Program
  • Bayer Bee Care
  • Cabela's Outdoor Fund
  • DuPont Pioneer
  • Saint Paul Sunrise Rotary Club 
  • Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund
  • University of Minnesota Monarch Lab and US Forest Service: 
  • Whole Foods


1.Better Student Experiences Through Campus Improvements

  • The Central sign was moved to a more prominent spot in the front plaza and incorporated into a structure with seating, lighting and perennial plants.
  • A new paved pathway with lighting was constructed across campus to Lexington Parkway. This was the most requested feature of the project by the students themselves.  It is plowed in the winter and is no longer a slippery, muddy mess in the spring.
  • A new outdoor classroom resulting from direct input from the teachers was constructed, offering space for both formal and informal gatherings of students.
  • Thanks to the leadership of Central’s student environmental awareness group, Roots and Shoots, there are now covered bike racks in the unused alcoves in front of the building!
  • The number of places for students to sit outside has increased 1000%

2. Improved Environmental Impact Thanks to Significant Grants from the Capitol Region Watershed District and the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources 

  • Improved landscaping and storm water management resulted in removal of the berm areas in front of the school along Marshall Avenue and installation of a large tubing system underneath the grass in the front lawn.  Now 1,434,000 gallons of runoff each year will filter through the ground instead of flowing untreated to the Mississippi River and 1,367 pounds of sediment will no longer erode. Additionally, 4.23 pounds of phosphorous will no longer  enter the Mississippi River watershed.
  • Dead and diseased trees in these areas were removed, as well as a few other trees.  Care was taken to preserve every healthy tree possible and although some of the trees are now smaller, there was a net gain of trees on the site.  The existing memorial trees were preserved and relocated and new dedication plaques were installed. All of the new plantings are native and hardy perennials, trees and shrubs and include many pollinators.
  • Permeable pavers were installed on the front plaza and new planters with seating were also built.
  • A large rain garden was installed at the corner of Lexington and Marshall.
  • Measuring equipment such as an in-situ level logger, access ports and pump for the subsurface rainwater basin, and interpretive signage was installed so students can learn and use the site for science and math applications.  

3. Building Community Connections

  • Banners celebrating Central’s 150th anniversary were installed on the light posts in front of the school on Marshall Avenue in August, 2016 allowing our community to share the pride and celebration of this milestone.  
  • Thousands of Central alumni and community members supported this project through financial and in kind donations.
  • The Pioneer Press and Star Tribune have published positive articles about the Transforming Central Project. 
  • The finished plaza has served as a community gathering place for both large and small as well as informal and formal celebrations.
  • The updated site improvements serve as a reminder of the strong support and collective efforts of the Central community.

Onward, Central! 

The Transforming Central Team wishes to thank each and every person who has donated their time or funding to the project.

Environmental Science teacher Mr Modelli and his students helped get the tiered beds ready for summer


construction begins


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