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Mountain View park transformed

Dozens of volunteers with rollers painted a circumpolar map of the world on the parking lot of William B. Lyons Park on Saturday morning. Other workers -- from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Exxon, the Alaska Native Justice Center and the community at large -- wielded shovels, limb loppers and sledge hammers to trim back shrubs and remove fencing.

The Mountain View park just north of the Boys & Girls Club is getting a major face-lift thanks to a collaboration between the municipality's parks department, the nonprofit Anchorage Park Foundation and middle school students.

Freshening up the space has been a priority for some time, said Municipal parks planner Suzanne Little. It took on momentum last year when architectural design students at Clark Middle School turned it into a class project.

Little said the idea of having kids help redesign the park was originally pitched to the school's administration as a one-week workshop. It quickly grew into a full semester class for seventh- and eighth-graders taught by Heather McIntyre, a first-year teacher who had just received her degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

McIntyre had professional landscape architects Kevin Doniere and Chad Taylor come to the class. The students pored over maps of the layout of the park and visited it in person.

Then they started thinking about how they wanted to change it.

"We had ideas for everything from a skateboard park to fountains to a swimming pool," McIntyre said. "But the theme that everyone agreed on was a global village."

Some of the first drafts looked like a huge globe with slides coming down, each connecting a different part of the world representing the multi-ethnic nature of the community. Constraints of reality and cost eventually transformed that vision into painting the parking lot to show a polar view of the northern hemisphere.

The globe design is now incorporated into shapes that will serve as boundary markers and traffic barricades, replacing the wood fence that previously outlined part of the park.

As part of their plan, students proposed an amphitheater for performances. This has long been a desire of the Mountain View community, said Beth Nordlund, executive director of the Anchorage Park Foundation. She thought it was impressive that the kids came up with the same idea on their own.

McIntyre credited the amphitheater's design to Kong Xiong, an eighth-grader. "What they're going to build is pretty much the same as his original concept," she said.

Little said that the performance space has been needed in the area. The Mountain View Lions Community Park on the east side of the neighborhood -- "the other Lyons park," Little called it -- has space for athletic events, including ballfields. "But this is really Mountain View's central park," she said, "the place where people gather."

The project was a first for the park foundation, said Nordlund. The group often works with service clubs, the Boy Scouts, outdoor groups and other organizations. "But we've never worked with a school class before."

"What's really promising is that the kids will sort of own the outcome," she said. "That means they'll take care of it."

McIntyre expressed a similar hope. "What's great about this is that the kids will get to see their work every day, right across the street from their houses."

Not just kids. Nelson Bruno, an adult volunteer on the project, lives just north of the park. "I'm helping out by trying to fix this park and giving back to the community," he said, sweltering in the sun of a rare cloudless Saturday morning as he dug at a fence post embedded in concrete.

"I pass by this park every day on my way to the bus."

Little called the day's effort the "deconstruction phase." Aside from the parking lot painting, most of the work involved removing unwanted structures, plants and trash.

The construction will start Aug. 3, she said.

Another community parks work project will take place from 9 a.m. to noon next Saturday at Sand Lake. Volunteers can park at Sand Lake Elementary School.