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PRAC approves Caouette warming house idea

Posted: April 3, 2012 - 11:12pm

Friends and family of the late John Caouette — a lover of outdoor skating and recreation — have made progress in getting a warming house out at Twin Lakes Park.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee unanimously approved the concept of an outdoor warming house at Twin Lakes.

Caouette died in 2010 in a running accident in Minnesota when he was visiting extended family.

Rebecca Braun, who was married to Caouette for 11 years when he passed away, shared background on Caouette for the committee and explained a little about how his friends and family have come to support a warming house.

“Shortly after he died, this idea came up rather quickly,” Braun said. “Everyone who knew John knew his love of the outdoors and the love of playing. He was the one who would drag crates out to Twin Lakes and help parents get skates on their kids.”

Braun said he did it to help others enjoy outdoor hockey and recreation, and getting the community together to play.

A memorial fund was established in Caouette’s name with the Juneau Community Foundation when he died. Braun said they have about half of the funds needed to build the structure, and she’s certain it wouldn’t take much to raise the remainder.

Rorie Watt, the city Engineering Department director, came as a private citizen. He explained more of the details of the design.

He said the shelter would be log-cabin style, with a lumber package similar to the pavilion that the 4th of July Committee built at Savikko Park. It would be entirely enclosed and feature at least one window facing the lake.

“In summer it would be used as a picnic shelter,” Watt said.

The cost of labor and materials would be covered by the group, and after completion the facility would be the responsibility of the city, as projects like this commonly are.

Watt said they have been researching issues with vandalism at other Parks and Recreation facilities and have considered that in their preliminary designing of the warming shelter. The window will be Plexiglas, not glass. It also will either be barred or have a way of being shuttered when not in use to stave off break-ins. Watt said heating will likely be via propane and the user group will likely provide their own — unlike Savikko Park, Skater’s Cabin and Auke Rec, which have fire places or pits either in or near the facilities.

Watt said those considerations will make it more vandal resistant, plus the site is highly visible. He said there are a lot of people invested in this functional memoriam for Caouette, which would be visible from Glacier Highway and Egan Drive.

Watt addressed concerns the committee had previously about the idea regarding the safety of the ice at Twin Lakes.

He said they envision a large bulletin board where people can post ice thicknesses and options for providing more information. There also could be safety ladders and other equipment available.

“Since the Treadwell opened outdoor skating has actually increased,” Watt said. “The structure could be good for the users of skating, but we think it could make their outdoor skating safer.”

Watt said the facility could also be convenient for non-skating parents and those with mobility concerns who just want to watch families skating.

The committee had concerns about who would monitor the ice and how the facility would be managed. Braun and Watt clarified that they are not proposing programming with the facility. Much of the content that would be available for those using Twin Lakes to skate would be provided by the dedicated user group. Braun suggested that the city could even put up a warning saying the city suggests never skating on Twin Lakes. She said that if the city got into determining when it was safe or unsafe to skate on the lake, it would probably be a huge liability issue.

Another committee member asked if they had plans for lighting. Committee member Tom Rutecki said that many years ago his hockey team had to use Twin Lakes as its place to play.

He said at that time Parks and Rec went back and forth with them, telling them they shouldn’t be on the ice and eventually pulled the lights from the park.

Rutecki said that the park nearby has held up fairly well against vandalism, but wanted to see more graffiti-proofing in the design.

While several committee members either gave suggestions about the design or raised concerns, none opposed the project itself.

Committee member Gerry Landry asked if there would be some recognition of Caouette in the design. Braun said there will be, but the exact detail and design hasn’t been worked out yet. She said an idea would be to have a plaque and photo of Caoette, and also explain a why the facility is built in his honor.

Watt told the committee that the group knows they haven’t resolved all of the design or safety issues, but it needed approval before it could make a promotion for more fund-raising for the facility and to work on the design further.

In other business, the committee unanimously approved transferring a small portion of Jackie Renniger Park to Juneau Youth Services. JYS is replacing its Cornerstone Facility and the designs call for a little more land — an 85-foot by 150-foot section.

This project expands the living quarters for youth ages 16 and 17 and makes it a two-story building, according to supplemental documents.

Ron King, board director of JYS, said they have tweaked their design a bit so that all the extra they would need is this small section of land.

Board member Dixie Hood asked for reassurances that none of the large trees would be demolished. King said that they will not be clear-cutting the lot and while a few trees will need to be removed, they will be very careful about the ones that are. They also will work with Parks and Rec in making those determinations.

Parks and Rec Director Brent Fischer recommended the transfer because JYS “provides a valuable and needed service for our community and I support their mission and this project.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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