More than a decade later, Highwood Hills rec reopens


Marjorie Otto/Review After more than 10 years of being closed, the Highwood Hills Recreation Center reopened April 1.

The Highwood Hills Recreation Center reopened on April 1, no fool’s joke after more than 10 years of being closed.

The reopening was celebrated with a small event that day, which included remarks from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard and other East Side public officials. 

“I grew up in a rec center,” Carter said. “The rec center is a part of my life and I wouldn’t be who I am without the rec center, and ... more specifically without the incredible rec leaders, in those spaces.”

Reopening the center happened through a partnership between Horn of Africa, East African Link, St. Paul Public Schools and St. Paul Parks and Recreation. The center is located in the Highwood Hills neighborhood at 2192 Londin Lane in the southeastern corner of the city, home to more than 280 families of East African immigrants.

The center’s reopening coincided with the start of St. Paul Public School’s spring break, offering programs for students off of school for the week. 

 

Bringing back community spaces

The small center in the lower level of Highwood Hills Elementary school was among a group of East Side recreation centers that were closed more than 10 years ago because of city budget cuts. 

Other centers that were closed or threatened with closure included the Eastview Recreation Center, Conway Recreation Center, and the now-demolished Margaret Recreation Center, which came down in 2012.

Conway remained opened to the public due to a partnership with the Sanneh Foundation, which manages, maintains and creates programming at the center. Eastview was closed to the public for a number years while it was rented to a private boxing gym. It reopened to the public in 2017 through a partnership with St. Paul Urban Tennis. Similar to the Sanneh Foundation, the tennis nonprofit manages and provides programming at the center.

Highwood Hills was included in the 2019 city budget to receive $200,000, restoring the center’s hours, staffing and programming. 

Reopening the recreation centers has been a top priority for the communities around them. Neighbor and parent Amin Omar was instrumental in pushing for the reopening of Highwood Hills. 

“This was 10 years coming. My heart is in palpitations today,” said Omar, a leader in the East Side East African community, during the reopening ceremony.

St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince said reopening the center was a top priority when she was elected to represent Ward 7 back in 2015.

“I want to thank the people of this community who kept hope alive for 10 years,” Prince said. “And the lesson we all learned was never ever, ever, ever take no for an answer.”

 

Open for business

Highwood Hills Recreation Center is open Monday through Thursday from 3 to 9 p.m., and Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m.

Programming will include typical recreation activities like crafts, athletic leagues and summertime field trips. Programming will also be adjusted according to community needs, and parents and community members are encouraged to reach out to staff with ideas. 

For comments or questions about the center, contact Guled Hassan at Guled.Hassan@ci.stpaul.mn.us. Other information about the center can be found at www.stpaul.gov/facilities/highwood-hills-park. 

For questions or suggestions about programming, contact Bonnie Stokes at Bonnie.Stokes@ci.stpaul.mn.us, or 651-248-0713.

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com

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