NORTH OAKS, Minn. -- Groups of students hover over maps, figuring out where to place the homes and businesses that will one day make up the development of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Site, otherwise known as TCAAP.
It's 427 acres, roughly the size of downtown Saint Paul and the Mall of America. It's located just a few miles away from where these students attend school, Chippewa Middle School in the Mounds View Public Schools District.
"We need some really good ideas, so we need some young ideas," explained Jonathan Weinhagen of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. He is used to coaching adult stakeholders through this exercise where they decide the placement of roads, parks, residential and retail space.
"Yeah, we don't want the houses right by the highway," said 7th grader John Hottinger.
Bringing the exercise to middle school students was Weinhagen's idea. "If you look at the Mounds View school district," he said, "TCAAP is the center of the district, so we're about two miles away from all of the buildings within the school district."
That means when the site is built out 10 to 15 years from now, these seventh graders will be adults who may live and work on what is now the TCAAP site.
Chippewa is a natural fit for this designing exercise, because it's a STEAM school: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
"What we want to do is create real world experiences for our students," said STEAM leader Christine Alexander. "They saw a virtual tour of the site, they got history lessons on the site itself, they front loaded vocabulary about the site. Today they're planning the urban development from the site."
Before they're done, students will also tour the site itself as they form teams to address roads, parks and recreation, the watershed and other issues pertaining to development.
Weinhagen sees the involvement of the schools shifting to the high school where students will dig down deeper into the engineering aspects of the development.
As the seventh graders debate how to develop the site, they are very aware of the importance this project plays in their community.
"I think it's pretty cool, actually, because we're going to be developing an actual place in the next few years, and we get to have a part in that, which is really fun, " said 7th grader Emi Endrizzi.