Spring Grove has many assets to build upon. The town is part of what's known as the Driftless Region - a geographic area untouched by glaciers - which spans portions of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Spring Grove sits in the southwestern corner of Houston County, Minnesota. Settled by Norwegians in 1852, Spring Grove has been called "The most thoroughly Norwegian town in the United States." Norwegian-themed celebrations continue to unite the community while linking to its past and garnering national attention.
Spring Grove's population of approximately 1,500 people is remarkably stable, defying trends of population shrinkage typical to similarly situated communities with agrarian roots across the Midwest. Some of this stability can be attributed to the forward-looking work of Spring Grove Communications, the locally-owned communications infrastructure cooperative which has served the community for a century. Their early investment in a 100% fiber network has fostered economic growth that positions the community well for the post-COVID economy.
Most notable in Spring Grove are the robust school and community partnerships. The CIRD workshop utilized the community's deep support for its education, arts, athletics, and cultural institutions to help initiate the dreaming phase of the design process. While focusing on these established relationships and priorities, the CIRD project generated additional architectural and community preferences that would complement and build on the already distinct and bucolic character of Spring Grove.
Site visit: On June 27th, the CIRD team visited Spring Grove to develop a deeper understanding of the community through direct conversations with local leaders and seeing the area first-hand. Engaging with the residents while walking through the downtown area allowed the design team to identify some of the shared priorities and potential challenges for the upcoming workshop.
Virtual engagement: Leading up to the design workshop, CIRD engaged in several virtual meetings with the Spring Grove 2030 team and Spring Grove Economic Development Authority's Courtney Bergey-Swanson to collect valuable community information, share resident needs, and determine the best place for the CIRD project to focus. During these conversations, reoccurring themes included prioritizing school-community partnerships, the importance of multifunctional spaces, the proximity to key landmarks and existing community spaces, and accessible parking.
CIRD Local Design Workshop – August 3-5: Workshop activities kicked off with a community farmer's market event focused on sparking residential engagement. Alongside local vendors selling artisanal goods, a community fundraiser offering pay-what-you-can "walking tacos," and the town distillery producing delicious cocktails, the CIRD team was able to engage in lively conversations with the invested attendees. Common topics included the quality and character of outdoor spaces, performing arts buildings, public community spaces, architectural styles, and general aesthetics.
Activities were led by CIRD’s design partners at TBD Studio (Omar Hakeem, Candace Maloney-Franklin, and summer fellow Matt Khinda), along with a resource team that included Minnesota-based architects Dan Yudchitz, Joe Bower, and Cindy McCleary from Leo A. Daly to help give a regional perspective, and Sarina Otaibi from the Department of Public Transformation based in Granite Falls, MN, to help develop arts programming ideas. The CIRD team was rounded out with support from HAC’s Lance George, Stephen Sugg, and Manda LaPorte.
The following day, the CIRD team toured Spring Grove's public school, with any eye toward understanding community expansion opportunities. Later in the day, the design team started synthesizing the ideas collected from the previous engagement activities and developed a set of preliminary design drawings. These design concepts were presented to Spring Grove stakeholders on the final day of the workshop, including elected officials, educators, business owners, and community members. The concept drawings reflect the importance of the strong community partnerships and innovative programming that already existed between Spring Grove Public School and the town and can be used to maintain community investment throughout this multi-phase project.
Overall, the workshop activities highlighted that the downtown revitalization process will have to be executed in stages to encapsulate all of the needs and desires of the Spring Grove 2030 initiative and the community as a whole. The first of those stages focuses on the redevelopment of the Trinity Center property, a parcel of land that sits directly across (the street?) from Spring Grove Public School. In the renderings, the design team emphasizes the flexibility of the building, which would provide the community with additional performance spaces, a library, and celebrational and educational spaces for both the school and community.
The design team also presented conceptual images for retrofitting the Fest Building, a nearby community facility that is currently underutilized. The design suggestions showed ways the building could be transformed to incorporate the surrounding landscape and the cultural identity of Spring Grove.
The CIRD team provided the Spring Grove 2030 team, community members, local stakeholders, and partners with a drawing package and design book that will serve as a resource guide for the project's next steps. The design book includes a summary of engagement activities, project and community history, and final design concept drawings that incorporate feedback from the workshop presentation. CIRD's team has also provided recommendations for potential funding opportunities across the multiple project phases.
Spring Grove 2030 and the Spring Grove Economic Development Authority will continue to engage with other communities in the CIRD Design Learning Cohort throughout 2022. The cohort program offers additional access to CIRD's technical assistance and peers learning with other rural community leaders. It also allows the ongoing work in Spring Grove to inform national rural design conversations.
Read more about Spring Grove's story here.