Proponents tout covered playground

Juneau voters to decide whether to pay for part of $1.7 million project

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2008

Next week, voters will be asked whether they want to pay for part of a $1.7 million covered playground at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"It would be awesome," Eli Kesten, an eighth grader who was one of the first students outside during a lunch break at the school Wednesday, said of the proposed playground.

Kesten said rain-free lunch breaks like Wednesday's, when he and his friends played soccer and ran around outside, were rare. Most of the time, he said, he and his friends have to play in the gym.

"They keep us in there like gerbils," Kesten said.

School counselor Christine Walker, who was watching Kesten and his friends play, said a covered playground would give kids more of a chance to blow off steam by playing outside, which would help them be "more focused" in the classroom.

Dzantik'i Heeni Principal Barb Mecum said the covered playground wounldn't just be used for breaks, but for outdoor art, science and writing classes as well.

Tracy Kubley, a member of the Friends of DZ Middle School group that's advocated for the new playground, said the covered playground would be a boon for the school and the surrounding Lemon Creek community by giving kids a place to play basketball and other games when school is out.

She said the Lemon Creek neighborhood has been neglected in terms of providing activities for children that are in walking distance to where they live, and pointed out that every other school in the district has some sort of athletic facility or covered playground for kids to use.

"That neighborhood has nothing," Kubley said.

Kubley and other proponents cite the fact the state would likely pick up 70 percent of the cost for the project, leaving the city's property owners to pay an additional $2 for every $100,000 of assessed value for the next 10 years.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bruce Botelho and Juneau Assembly members told school district officials that voters were likely to vote down any major school construction projects in this election after recently approving a few multimillion-dollar projects, including the construction of a new high school.

But Botelho said in a recent interview that he considers the playground a minor project with a relatively small price tag compared to major school renovation projects. The Assembly voted unanimously to put the playground on the ballot.

City engineers Rorie Watt and Michele Elfers said the $1.7 million price tag is a conservative estimate that includes contingency costs and accounts for the rapidly rising costs of materials, particularly steel.

Elfers said the playground, which will include lighting, a camera security system and have a translucent roof, would be usable for at least the next 50 years.

"It's a quality durable, long-term structure," she said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail

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