ERHS facility expansion debated

Commission votes in favor of project


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More than 20 Eagle River residents sat through a lengthy Urban Design Commission meeting Jan. 22 to offer testimony concerning the proposed Eagle River High School Athletic Facility Improvements.

The majority testified in favor of the improvements.

The site plan includes new bleachers adding approximately 1,500 seats to the home team side of the stadium, a PA system, lighting along the existing skiing and running trails and tennis courts.

The tennis courts weren’t included in the submittal and will need commission approval prior to construction.

Eagle River High Principal Marty Lang said approximately half of the school’s population is comprised of military dependents, many of whom have moved up to six times. And one of the keys to supporting this population is by helping them find a place to belong, a quick community.

“The elements outlined (in the proposal) serve to enhance our ability to forge immediate and lasting bonds between students and the school,” he said.

Not everyone agreed.

Karl Von Luhrte, board supervisor of the South Fork Community Council, testified that while he strongly supports athletics and outdoor activities, the council can only support the updated plans if additional parking were developed.

Currently, there are 380 parking spots.

“It’s simply unrealistic,” he said.

This was the crux of the evening’s arguments: Would expanding the stadium lead to increased game attendance? And if so, could the current parking lot handle the additional traffic?

According to information submitted by Jose Vicente, manger of LBJ Limited Liability Company in Eagle River, ERHS is the only high school in the Municipality where traffic doesn’t disperse in at least two different directions soon after exiting the school parking lots.

This concerns him.

He isn’t opposed to the sports facility additions, he said. Yet, he doesn’t believe that school conditions offer adequate parking space or road patterns to handle the traffic demands generated by the additions.

At the Sept. 21, 2013, homecoming football game between Eagle River and rival Chugiak, he observed more than 100 vehicles than available parking spaces.

The narrow streets within the school were packed and there was no room for vehicles to move, he said.

Also, three mailboxes on Yellowstone Drive were damaged.

Lang said that additional bleacher seating wouldn’t necessarily mean additional traffic.

“It really only means we’ll be able to provide adequate seating instead of lawn chairs,” he said.

Less than 60 percent of parking is used during most games, he said.

The only game that packs the lot to and/or over capacity is the Chugiak/Eagle River game, and that’s held on home turf every other year.

This past year, Lang spent time monitoring the parking lot during the Chugiak/Eagle River game.

“We didn’t turn anyone away for lack of parking,” he said.

The school also purchased additional signage and hired two Anchorage Police Department officers to help manage the traffic flow.

Dwayne Adams, who represented ASD at the commission meeting, said that since Eagle River has just three to four home games a year, he doesn’t see any traffic or parking problems arising from the stadium additions. It will simply accommodate those who presently have to stand.

However, if the school hits capacity in the future, it would probably require extra parking.

“It’s purely conjecture at this time that anything will be added to this building,” he said.

And if anything were added, he said, it wouldn’t be in the foreseeable future.

Bobby Stone, the Eagle River High School Stadium Committee chair, was surprised to hear that the South Fork Community Council no longer supports the expansion.

“I drove around after the (homecoming) game and I did not find a parking problem,” he said. “There was plenty of parking. It was capacity but there was parking.”

Eagle River resident Oscar Hall testified that the stadium upgrades are long overdue.

“We’re finally on the cusp of having a facility that we’re worthy of,” he said.

Eagle Point subdivision homeowner Mary St. John said that she was in and out of the area around the high school frequently during the Sept. 21 game and didn’t notice extra traffic in the neighborhood.

“I’m very much for the stadium,” she said.

Valerie Hall, whose two sons previous played sports at ERHS, is tired of Eagle River not having the facilities found at other schools.

“As far as community spirit goes, we’re at a determent by not having this stadium,” she said.

Matt Turner, who coaches a variety of Wolves’ teams, remarked that cross-country skiing athletes are currently bussed to Chugiak for practice since their home trails are unlit

“As a coach and supporter of the school, I feel like it’s time we take this one step,” he said.

Senior Ed Hall testified in support of the stadium expansions.

“A lot of students go to Chugiak (instead of Eagle River) because they have the better sports programs and facilities,” he said. “I think having the new upgrades will bring in a lot more people and more athletes.”

After more than an hour and a half of testimony, the commission voted 7-1 in favor of the facility improvements.

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