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Crowd reviews amended plans for South High football stadium

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 30, 2014

The Anchorage School School District made another push Tuesday toward building a controversial state-funded stadium at South High School, calling on neighbors, students and parents to give input on amended design plans.

Nearly 250 people crowded into the school commons to hear the latest on the long-proposed project that has pitted the district against residents of a nearby subdivision who worry about increased traffic, noise and bright lights they say will come with the stadium.

In February, the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the district's proposal for a stadium that would have added bleacher seating, lighting and a sound system to the existing practice field. With two commissioners absent from the meeting, the proposal failed in a 4-3 vote, short the five votes required for approval.

Now the district is preparing to resubmit a stadium plan to the commission, though it comes with changes to ease some of the homeowners' qualms, said South High principal Kersten Johnson.

"We're basically repeating the process that we failed at last year," she said.

Dwayne Adams, public involvement specialist with the landscape architecture firm Earthscape, listed the possible new stadium amenities at the Tuesday meeting, including an 8-foot fence on the southwest side to provide an additional buffer between the field and the neighborhood, as well an option to switch the location of the away bleachers with the larger home bleachers so a smaller crowd will abut the neighborhood and the larger group will sit closer to the school.

The district has proposed coating the bleachers with a material used to dampen noise and limiting the number of games permissible at the stadium to 10 a year, Johnson said.

It remains unclear if the $2.2 million grant that a group of South High parents and students lobbied the Legislature for in 2012 will be enough to pay for the stadium with the fence added and bleachers swapped.

"That's to be determined," Johnson said, adding that cost estimates will come forth once the district gets approval to move forward.

The focus of Tuesday's meeting was to gather public suggestions and opinions on the amended proposal. At round tables, small groups of attendees examined maps of the plans for about an hour as a designated moderator wrote down comments on large yellow pieces of paper. The comments will be compiled and submitted in the proposal to the planning commission, in line with city code, Adams said.

Residents' suggestions were mixed. Some people had no problems with the stadium, some needed clarifications and others outright opposed the development.

Kathi Gallagher was one neighbor who supported the football stadium. She has lived in her home on Eastwind Drive, right on the school property line, for 17 years. Gallagher said her backyard faces the football field, which was originally a practice field.

"I'm pro-stadium," she said. "I think it's a community meeting center."

Alex Slivka leads Turnagain View Estates Homeowners Association, a neighborhood group comprising residents who live around the high school After Tuesday's meeting, Slivka said he is still concerned about the noise from the crowds and mostly from the loudspeakers. He said there was "no way" the speaker system would comply with the city's noise ordinance.

The association has spent more than $70,000 in legal fees to battle the stadium proposal, he said. Slivka has hinted at the possibility of a lawsuit over the stadium.

"People love sports, they love schools, they love their kids, but there's nothing that says they have to play (the sports) here," Slivka said.

A group of high school football players piled into the meeting Tuesday, all firmly vouching for the necessity of the stadium and talking over one another when asked why it was needed. Their reasons ranged from fairness -- most of the other high schools have home stadiums -- to the fact that it would be used only about three months a year, from August to October.

"I think more people would go to the games," said Cody Leslie, a 16-year-old on the junior varsity team. "It's not fun playing right now without a stadium."

Currently, South High varsity and junior varsity teams play their home games at the Anchorage Football Stadium near Sullivan Arena.

Living on the other side of the high school, Andy Wilcox said he has concerns about traffic. Under the proposal, the new bleachers include seating for some 1,600 spectators. Wilcox said he already observes a lot of vehicles traveling at high speed to and from the school's one access road twice a day.

"I'm actually against the whole thing," he said. "But if it's going to go through, let's work together."

Adams of Earthscape said he expected the proposal to be wrapped up by Monday, with the possibility of a public hearing as early as December.