Improvements turn Lyndales building into model of sustainability

For years, every time it rained, water would pour down the stairs and into the basement of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association’s (LNA) headquarters at 35th & Nicollet.

Instead of serving as a valuable community gathering space, the water damage made the basement largely useless. Now, following $120,000 worth of improvements, LNA can begin to dream about putting the basement to good use.

LNA Executive Director Mark Hinds said the neighborhood association will “catch our breath” before finishing the un-done basement, but envisions the space “as a great place for kids when other activities are going on” upstairs.

LNA’s building was originally constructed about a century ago and served a number of commercial uses before the neighborhood association purchased it in the ’90s. Landscapers who worked on the improvements said the long and mysterious history of the building quickly became apparent after ground was broken.

Jason Rathe, co-owner of Field Outdoor Spaces, said the LNA building “is unique because of its age and layers of history.”

“Excavating around the building, we dug up five different layers of concrete extending 32 inches deep,” he said.

Past “improvements” to the building apparently weren’t done with the same degree of rigor that Field Outdoor Spaces brought to their work. On the basement level, excavation revealed five holes between the inside and outside of the building that were patched with nothing more than plywood and dirt.

“Over the last 80 years, what people tried to do was add more concrete to keep the water out,” Hinds said. “You can imagine why we couldn’t keep water out.”

Another aspect of the improvements was the installation of a 40-inch-deep rain garden in the back of the building. Rainwater on the site used to drain into the city’s sanitary sewer;  now almost all of it will drain into the paver-covered rain garden.

Rathe said “the biggest thing is to get water away from the foundation, but also the rain garden is just an environmentally good thing to do.”

As part of the improvement work, LNA created a landscaped, outdoor gathering space on top of the rain garden, and converted one area of the building into an informal gathering space that can host art shows and other community events.

But beyond that, Hinds said it’s also valuable for neighborhood associations like LNA to serve as a best-practice model for renovations geared toward sustainability, especially since many buildings near 35th & Nicollet are of the same vintage.

“It’s a really good thing for us as a neighborhood association to promote sustainability and use what we’re doing as a model,” he said. “It’s about leading by example, but also figuring out what steps you have to go through so when you talk with property owners, you have actually experience with what works and what doesn’t.”

Reach Aaron Rupar at mnpubs.com. On Twitter @atruparJournals.