What an exciting concept for Sleepy Eye!

On Saturday, Nov. 18, a crowd of bidders, along with the merely curious, gathered at the Orchid Inn for the City of Sleepy Eye’s auction of the Orchid’s contents. With the monetary results still being tabulated by Krenz Auctioneering—all the checks have to clear before a final figure will be reported to the city—EDA Coordinator Kurk Kramer and council member Doug Pelzel, who both assisted with the auction, thought the sale went well, while acknowledging that some buyers got bargains. The Herald-Dispatch will report the auction results when the city makes the figures available.

Just a few days after the auction was over, Kramer invited the Herald-Dispatch to the city office to hear about a proposal for use of the Orchid Inn. On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 22, Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman met informally with Mayor Wayne Pelzel, City Manager Mark Kober and Kramer, to introduce a proposal to create a learning center in the Orchid Inn, providing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) experiences for students and teachers in southern Minnesota.

Bruggeman, and a few colleagues, have formed a non-profit organization—AGlobal Education—that is seeking funding for such an educational center and have chosen Sleepy Eye, and the Orchid Inn, as their first choice as a location.

AGlobal Education will feature project based learning within STEM Labs, with a focus on agriculture—a major area of interest and career opportunity for students. Their vision for the Orchid Inn involves demolition of the center section—the dining rooms and kitchen; renovation of the Minnesota Room for flexible learning spaces; renovation and expansion of the motel for dormitory rooms; and a new connection between the two for classrooms, cafeteria and gathering space.

The dormitory is a key feature, as Bruggeman explained the learning center will also serve international students who come for another opportunity: the Elite Language Immersion Institute, a program in Minnesota designed for high school international students to attend local high schools and immerse in the school setting, take rigorous classes, design a service learning project and volunteer in community service.

Bruggeman said groups of students attend the Elite Language Immersion Institute for varying time frames from a week or two to perhaps a couple months. She hosted a group of such students in Sleepy Eye for a couple of days last summer. They experienced tent camping in her yard (the campground was full) and enjoyed time kayaking on the lake and seeing the rural area.

Bruggeman envisions the site as a resource for southern Minnesota schools, with science labs to support students and educators. In her position as Special Assistant to the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, Bruggeman sees the possibilities and need for programs such as the one she proposes for Sleepy Eye. However, her involvement with AGlobal Education is completely separate from her position with the Department of Education.

AGlobal Education will seek funding through state and federal grants and corporations with an interest in agriculture and STEM careers. They will ask the City of Sleepy Eye to provide the necessary demolition at the Orchid Inn and a five-year tax abatement for the facility.

Last week’s meeting with city officials came after several months of discussion between the entities. AGlobal Education will present the proposal for consideration to a joint meeting of the City Council and EDA Board in mid-January.