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Minnesota AFL-CIO begins construction of new State Fair pavilion

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, June 12, 2008

See accompanying photo essay

By Barb Kucera, editor, www.workdayminnesota.org

ST. PAUL — For more than 50 years, unions have had a presence at the Minnesota State Fair, but a new pavilion currently under construction promises more opportunities to showcase labor unions and their work. It also will be the first building at the fair to meet green building standards.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest and most popular state fairs in the country. Since the 1950s, the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s “House of Labor,” as it has been affectionately called, has occupied a prime spot near the east side of the fairgrounds, at the intersection of Dan Patch and Cooper Avenues.

Unions staffed booths in the U-shaped building to display information about their organizations and sponsor giveaways of union-made products. The open space in the center of the structure housed an area where Carpenters union apprentices constructed small benches that they gave away to fairgoers.

At times, space in the House of Labor also was used to register voters, to demonstrate construction techniques such as bricklaying, and for a variety of other uses. But over time, the building became worn and less useable for interacting with fairgoers. The booths sat high off the ground, creating an obstacle to conversation. It also became a challenge to provide enough volunteers to staff the large booths over the course of the 12-day fair.

The new pavilion will have an updated design, a new plaza to welcome fairgoers and a system of small kiosks that unions can roll in and out for exhibits.

It also will be the first building at the fair to incorporate green building standards to protect the environment and incorporate energy efficiency, the Minnesota AFL-CIO said. Designed by Cuningham Group Architects, the building features include extensive use of natural lighting and prevention of any water runoff. To underscore the pavilion’s green design, work began on April 22 — Earth Day.

“This is a day we have all been waiting for,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Steve Hunter, as a worker in a bobcat lifted a piece of the building’s roof, then sent it crashing to the ground. Demolition was completed within a few days and construction is on track to be finished by the start of the fair on August 21, the AFL-CIO said.

The $1 million project is being funded by contributions from Minnesota unions and union contractors, Hunter said. The labor federation is gathering pledges and hopes to pay off the new building in five years, he said. For more information on the pavilion and how to contribute, call the Minnesota AFL-CIO, 651-227-7647.

Demolition of the current House of Labor at the State Fairgrounds began April 22.

Architect's drawing of the new House of Labor, currently under construction and scheduled for completion by opening day of this year's State Fair.


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