City Council, EDA Board and PUC members gathered to hear a presentation from Elia Bruggeman.

In late November, Elia Bruggeman met informally with Mayor Wayne Pelzel, City Manager Mark Kober and EDA Coordinator Kurk Kramer, to introduce a proposal to create a learning center in the Orchid Inn. On Wednesday, Jan. 26, the City Council, EDA Board and members of the PUC, gathered in the Event Center to hear a more in-depth presentation from Bruggeman and some advisors she is working with.

Bruggeman said she has filed with the Secretary of State to create a non-profit organization, called AGlobal, that would provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning experiences—with a focus on agriculture—for students and teachers in Southern Minnesota. She thinks Sleepy Eye, and specifically the Orchid Inn, is the best place to locate AGlobal.

With Bruggeman was Dana Mortenson, CEO of World Savvy, a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis, which focuses on global education. Mortenson spoke to the group about the importance of global competence for today’s young people. She said global competence refers to the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to navigate and succeed in today’s interconnected world.

Mortenson is an advisor to AGlobal and it's program development. She said World Savvy has agreed to support the development of future programming—primarily focused on teacher training—at AGlobal, should the project move forward.

Mortenson told the Herald-Dispatch, “After operating primarily in and around the Twin Cities for the last 10 years, World Savvy is eager to partner with communities in greater Minnesota to ensure the same opportunities can be offered locally.”

In addition to AGlobal, Bruggeman’s proposal includes use of the Orchid motel (and an addition to the motel) as a dormitory for the Elite Language Immersion Institute, an established 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.

Architect Mathias Mortenson of HMM Architects, was also at the meeting. He has been working with Bruggeman to design how the Orchid Inn facility could be made to work for AGlobal and the Elite Language Immersion Institute. Their plan calls for removal of the center portion—current kitchen and dining rooms, adding to the motel portion for the dormitory, renovating the Minnesota Room for the AGlobal STEM labs, and connecting the two spaces with new construction of a couple classrooms, kitchen, gathering space and outdoor courtyard. He estimates the cost of the project at upwards of three million dollars.

Bruggeman explained AGlobal will seek funding for the project through state and federal grants, and corporate grants from companies with an interest in agriculture and STEM careers. John Goeppinger, of Ecotone Partners, was also at the meeting. His firm assists organizations, such as AGlobal, that are seeking funding. He and Bruggeman said that there are grants that should be applied for soon.

So, what is Aglobal asking the city for? In the long term, they want to purchase the Orchid Inn for a nominal amount, have the center portion demolished, and receive a five (or more) year tax abatement on the property.

In the short term, they just need a letter of support for the project so they can apply for funding. “If you don’t want this in Sleepy Eye, we won’t apply for funding for this project,” explained Bruggeman. Any possible funders want assurance the project is a go, she said.

The EDA Board convened in a separate room and made a decision to provide a letter of support for the project. The support offered is not financial, just an assurance that they want the project to proceed.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Wayne Pelzel called for a special City Council meeting on Feb. 1 at noon, for “consideration of a letter of support for the fund raising efforts of AGlobal and their plan for use of the former Orchid Inn building.”

Bruggeman and her colleagues said the fundraising cycle could be somewhere from nine months to a year, and at some point during their efforts they would know if the project could move forward.