Frogtown Community Center Wins AIA Minneapolis Merit Award

St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood is home to thousands of first- and second-generation Hmong and East African immigrants.

JLG Architects has been awarded the AIA Minneapolis Merit Award for the 2019 design of Frogtown Community Center in St. Paul, MN. The $7.3 million Community Center replaced the prior 1970s Scheffer Recreation Center at the corner of Como Avenue and Marion Street. The new facility gives the neighborhood 24,500 square feet of culturally inclusive community, educational, fitness, sports, and activity space.

St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood is home to thousands of first- and second-generation Hmong and East African immigrants. To create an equitable space that would meet diverse needs, JLG kicked off planning in 2016, engaging members of the Frogtown neighborhood, St. Paul Parks & Recreation, and local artists to advance the design of a multi-generational hub for amenities and wellness-driven recreation.

“Frogtown was such a special project to work on. I grew up playing in St. Paul parks and it was so meaningful to work with St. Paul Parks and Recreation on the improvements to this park and community center. I am so honored that our collective efforts for not only design but also community and cultural inclusiveness are being recognized by AIA Minneapolis.”

Fred Pomroy, JLG Architects

Through a series of workshops and conversations with Frogtown community members, JLG’s design team gathered feedback that relayed the community’s desire for cultural acknowledgment, fairness, and a meaningful place to nurture their families. “In connecting multi-generational needs, we needed to design a highly interactive and visual destination – inclusively welcoming and communicating its role, without language,” explained Linda McCracken-Hunt, FAIA Emeritus, JLG Architects.

Reinforcing the goal of community-wide acceptance, JLG advised all-gender restrooms, designated space for the traditional Hmong game of Kato, and created Wudu facilities within single-user restrooms for washing before prayer. Frogtown further responds with free and low-cost recreation, including indoor health and fitness, outdoor field activities, youth sports and camps, and multi-purpose space with kitchen access for celebrations, meetings, and education.

“Frogtown goes beyond fun and fitness, it’s a collective support system for their community that actively removes societal, generational, and cultural barriers.”

Adam Barnett, AIA, JLG Architects

Frogtown Community Center is approximately four times the size of the prior facility, making it the largest City investment in this neighborhood in the last 50 years. The City’s commitment brings daily access to an indoor basketball court/gym, fitness center, weight rooms, dance classes, a dedicated teen room, and a Rec Check K-5 room. Outside, Frogtown underwent a $2.3 million renovation, offering a new playground with a field for football, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball/softball, in addition to basketball, badminton, and Kato courts.

Within Frogtown Community Center, the City of St. Paul required 1% of the budget be dedicated to public art. This initiative stimulated an artist-designed terrazzo floor, as well as three custom wall murals displayed in the teen room, Rec Check (K-5 afterschool programming), and yoga/dance studio. With local artists Tou Yia Xiong, Myc Dazzle, and Megan Faith, the team recreated storytelling artwork from Frogtown’s youth, delivering culturally-reflective mural imagery and colorful wayfinding that depicts a lotus and central pond – a design that gradually progresses to translate the lifecycle of a frog, from entrance to activity rooms.

“It was a meticulous process with an artist-led design team that prioritized the vision of neighborhood children who will grow up in the new community center,” explained JLG’s Fred Pomroy. “With their creativity empowered, Frogtown’s culture is vibrantly reflected through geography aligned with a spectrum of frogs to emulate the community’s depth of diversity.”

In the east to west hallway, art mirrors function, mapping the journey from eggs and tadpoles near children’s rooms, to larger frogs near teen rooms and adult centers, making a full transition to the front entrance’s overlapped ripples and lotus design – visually communicating the building’s wayfinding and culturally-inclusive intent.

Frogtown Community Center is aligned with the AIA’s FDE-10 measures, leveraging natural light and critical greenspace at the center of St. Paul, including 1.3 acres of new pervious surface, pollinator-friendly plants, permeable fields, and recyclable athletic turf that avoids carbon and irrigation. After demolition of the prior building, JLG also repositioned the new facility to simplify access in proximity to bus stops and the Metro Green Line light rail.

The Frogtown design team was led by JLG’s Linda McCracken-Hunt, FAIA, Adam Barnett, AIA, Fred Pomroy, and the City of St. Paul’s project manager, Chris Stark. Frogtown Community Center broke ground in July of 2018, followed by the facility’s grand opening in September 2019, and its field spaces grand opening in September 2020.

About AIA Minneapolis Merit Award:

JLG Architects will be awarded the AIA Minneapolis Merit Award on July 20, 2023, during the AIA MN’s virtual awards ceremony. The Merit Awards were established to recognize projects by AIA Minneapolis architects that: Tell the story of Excellence beyond design; Emphasize Public Interest Design; and Embrace the varied forces that shape a building. Merit Award jurors evaluated projects based on how well they respond to specific selection criteria, including: Client, Community, Environment, Economics, and Innovation. Jury members were comprised of architects, as well as business, real estate, community, and academic leaders.