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Part 3: University has lofty plans for UMore project

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About this series: This is the final installment of a three part series on the UMore Park project the University of Minnesota has started on 5,000 acres. Check out the other two stories online at www.rosemounttownpages.com.

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The development of UMore Park into a sustainable, futuristic community looks good on paper. Leaders at the university are now responsible for making the project a reality.

While lots of little things will go into the historic project, two big objectives lead the whole effort. The university wants to establish a master plan community that will be sustainable. On the other end the university wants to glean every learning opportunity it can from the project.

Development

A master plan developed by the university with the help of a company called DesignWorkshop calls for the university to create a sustainable community on the 5,000 acres the university owns straddling the border of Rosemount and Empire Township.

Everything in the community will be placed with a purpose, said Charles Muscoplat, UMore LLC president.

The sustainable community will integrate environmental, socio-cultural and economic opportunities with a specific focus on innovations in renewable energy, education and lifelong learning, health and wellness, the natural environment and regional economic development.

Every brick and tree on the property will have a purpose. Streets, houses, parks, shops and ponds will be planned out carefully to create what university officials hope will be the most sustainable and energy-efficient community built to date.

"It's a big, ambitious project but it's important," said Muscoplat.

The community will include residential neighborhoods that will accommodate up to 30,000 people. It will also, at least on paper, include an eco-industrial park in which businesses will partner to reduce pollution.

It will take several decades to build and lots of smaller projects will go into making the overall vision a reality. It will also take willing partners. Muscoplat said the university will work with area governments to do what's in the best interest of all.

The university will also partner with private companies to complete the work.

"We're not developers. We are going to have to partner with private developers to build this," said Muscoplat.

The large-scale project is going to take money. To raise that revenue the university plans to mine approximately 1,600 acres of land located in both Rosemount and Empire Township. The mining will occur on the western portion of the property.

The mining will take place in small sections over many years. The university is currently going through the environmental review process necessary for approval of the mining. A draft Environmental Impact Statement has been completed. Mining will not likely begin until late 2011.

As the first phases of mining finish the first homes and business on the property will be constructed.

"It's so monumental. It's hard to imagine all this, especially in this housing market. But as it becomes a reality I think people will find it an attractive place to live," said Muscoplat.

Education

As an institution of higher education the university's biggest mission is to provide learning opportunities through the project. The university has set some lofty goals.

In May 2007, six task forces considered how the university's academic mission could add value to the future community at UMore Park through the interrelated topics of education, energy, the environment, health, transportation and interdisciplinary opportunities.

Coming out of that project the university created the Academic Mission Advisory Board to support the integration of the academic mission into planning and development efforts.

Even in these early stages of development the university has been able to provide opportunities for students. Carla Carlson, the executive director of UMore Park Academic Initiatives, said three undergraduate students did a research project on affordable housing.

"Their research and analysis were valuable to us and they got some really valuable experience," said Carlson.

Another opportunity will be renewable energy technology. Carlson said a wind turbine that will be built on the north part of the property near the Dakota County Technical College campus will provide learning opportunities for several groups. Carlson said the university will research the effectiveness of different materials and designs of wind energy. Additionally, DCTC students will learn how to erect and maintain a wind turbine, which Carlson said will create an experienced workforce. Furthermore, Independent School District 196 also will have chances to teach their students about the rapidly developing technology.

"There's a lot of value to come out of it," said Carlson.

Another opportunity deals with smart grid technology. Four graduate students will research and analyze issues and opportunities for the design and implementation of smart grid technology. A smart grid system combines extensive monitoring, communication and control technologies with power distribution to increase reliability and security and allow users to control their energy intake. The project will take place throughout the school year and the results will provide an analysis of smart grid architectures and innovative technologies, risk and benefits, recommendations and an implementation plan, according to a release from the university.

This is only the beginning of the opportunities said Carlson.

"It's quite extraordinary. I would envision every department at the University of Minnesota could participate," said Carlson

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Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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