Neighbors push for changes at school playground near downtown

Devin Kelly

Neighbors say Denali Montessori Elementary School's grounds have become a magnet for rowdy older kids and public inebriates, and they are pushing the school to do something about it.

"It's not a kids' playground anymore," said Bonnie Harris, president of the South Addition Community Council.

Harris and others who live near the school want the playground to close at 9 p.m., instead of sticking to the 11 p.m. closing time in place at most Anchorage School District playgrounds. They asked the school to take out the playground's basketball hoops and put in a trash can. The neighbors also wanted the school to remove the five slate-gray benches along 10th Avenue, complaining that the benches had become a stopping point for people who are drunk.

Melanie San Angelo, who lives across the street, said she enjoys living near the elementary school but is fed up with older youths who play basketball on the playground late into the night and yell and swear noisily. She said the court was designed for elementary-aged children and the older youths are pushing them out.

Her husband, Michael San Angelo, said the problem has worsened over the last three years.

"We want to see kids exercising and having fun. That's part of the fabric of this neighborhood," Melanie San Angelo said. "It's just when you get these ne'er-do-wells, they ruin it, and they push young kids away from the area."

Some changes have already happened. On Wednesday, ASD crews took out the benches, which were situated along the sidewalk where parents pick up and drop off their children. A trash can, filled to the brim early Wednesday morning, now sits near the entrance of the playground.

But Principal Ruth Dene turned down the neighbors' requests to take down the basketball hoops, which she said are used extensively by schoolchildren during the day. And she has referred the question of the playground's hours to her superiors, saying administrators have to tread carefully when it comes to restricting a community resource.

"We want to be good neighbors," Dene said. Within the last six months, she said, the school has installed new security cameras that survey school grounds, including the playground and the area along 10th Avenue.

But, she said, "we want to be cautious about this, because we want to be clear on the message we're sending. These are community centers."

With the school's prime location near downtown, its buildings and playground are regularly rented out by sports and enrichment groups, Dene said.

An official with the Anchorage School District's risk management department said Wednesday the department does not plan to recommend that the park close earlier, citing enforcement issues.

David Sharrow, ASD's safety and training specialist, said the Anchorage Police Department told him that complaints about people being in the park after hours would likely not be investigated in a timely manner.

"Functionally, re-setting the hours is not going to have the effect that the persons wishing for that are going to want," Sharrow said. "The enforcement of it is not realistic."

He said the district has changed hours on certain outdoor facilities in the past, but only for facilities that can be secured.

The South Addition Community Council plans to discuss a resolution on the proposals for Denali Elementary at its Thursday night meeting.

Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.