Thursday, March 29, 2012

Park-design potluck is BYOV

The City of Palmer is inviting you to a novel potluck this weekend to help plan a new public park in the Brittany Estates subdivision. It's BYOV - Bring Your Own Vision.
A toddler-age design idea for a new playground in Palmer.
The city hasn't picked any designs yet.
The city hopes to build the new park - they're calling it Wilson Park - on a half acre at South Felicia Street across from Gurn Circle. A new park tracks with the local demographic: Brittany Estates is a dense residential area home to lots of young families. 
But instead of kicking off the planning process with the usual wonky work sessions, Palmer’s community development director Sandra Garley decided to try something new: a community-based brainstorming session at a kid-friendly hour, with home-cooked food. 
Voila! The Wilson Park Design Event was born. The city will host the family-friendly potluck Friday from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m at the First Baptist Church at 1150 E. Helen Dr. Children are welcome. Bring a dish and your ideas for a new park. Garley, working with vendors, will bring posters showing different playground equipment designs to choose from.
Saturday morning, landscape architects from Sustainable Design Group in Wasilla will pore over the comments from Friday night and develop a drawing of what the park might look like. 
Then the community is invited to come back to First Baptist Saturday from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. to see what materializes.
The city needs a new park in the fast-growing neighborhoods on the west side of the Glenn Highway that includes Brittany Estates, but also the Hidden Ranch and Greatland Terrace subdivisions too. Right now, there’s only one little “tot lot” off Arctic.
Another possible design idea,
 for 5-12 year olds.
The last new park built by the city? Garley thought for a minute. The MTA Events Center includes a soccer field that opens for the first time this year. Other city parks have been around for a while. 
Whatever comes out of this weekend’s process will go before the city council, where it will resume a more conventional route to creation that includes the requisite grant proposals. 
Garley said she doesn’t know how many people to expect at the potluck Friday night. The city sent invites to nearly 200 people. 
“Fifty or sixty would be awesome. Ten or twelve would be great,” she said. “We’re going to work with whoever shows up.”
She does know what she’s bringing: salmon. 
For more information, go to and scroll down to the “Wilson Park Design Event” link or call the Community Development Department at 745-3709.

 -- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Poetry month celebrations starting soon in Palmer

Have you ever waxed poetic about a wind turbine? Gotten a thrill from crafting haiku about the smell of rich dirt or the taste of a radish pulled fresh from the field?

Palmer Arts Council wants to encourage the budding poet in all of us and, to do so, is offering an “Earth, Wind and Fire Tour” this month in recognition of Poetry Month in April. The tour is geared toward adults and includes a trip to Gray Owl Farm, the Department of Natural Resources Fire Prevention and Suppression headquarters, the West Coast/Alaskan Tsunami Warning Center and the wind turbine at Sherrod Elementary School. The best part? Participants will be boarding a big ol’ yellow school bus to go to each site.

Bridgette Preston is organizing the tour. Preston has been the mind behind the Palmer Underground walking tours the past two years. Those tours routinely sell out. Preston said this tour was developed in response to surveys turned in by prior participants of Arts Council events.

This tour isn’t just about gawking, however. Participants will be asked to “write down thoughts, phrases, words, concepts using very basic poetry forms,” Preston said. The goal is to make poetry fun, she said. And there’s no judgment.

“We are not looking for people to write polished poetry, and most probably won’t go beyond the basics. But we hope having an assignment will make opportunities for people to engage in a different way with the basic informational tour,” Preston said by e-mail.

The tour is an experiment, Preston said. The Arts Council is unsure if tickets will sell, or if all the logistics will come together. If it works, something like it might happen again.

“We’re just trying to put together something that is interesting, engaging, informative and provides opportunities for civic engagement,” Preston said.

Preston is producing the tour as a volunteer for the Arts Council and all funds raised will go to support the Arts Council summer camps for youth. She hopes to do a “Smell the Lilacs” walking tour in Palmer in mid-June and is considering a “Spiritual Geography of Palmer” biking tour this summer.

The tour is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 31. Only 50 tickets are being sold, so there’s a chance the tour will sell out. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at Fireside Books in Palmer or by visiting Find out more about the tour at the website or by emailing

Poetry workshop coming up this weekend
Beginning March 28, poet Katie Eberhart will be facilitating a three-day poetry workshop at Mat-Su Senior Services in Palmer. Participants are encouraged to bring memories and stories for “fun and even some mental exercise,” according to Palmer Arts Council’s flyer about the event.

The workshops run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. each day, and each day has a different theme. Wednesday will focus on “Poems of a Single Moment,” Thursday’s focus will be “Poems from Memories” and Friday, “Poems of Surprise.” All workshops take place at Room 20 of Mat-Su Senior Services in Palmer. There is no charge and no preregistration is required.

Eberhart is a former Palmer resident who coordinated a similar poetry workshop at the Senior Center for Palmer Arts Council last year. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and her poems have appeared in “Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim” and have been recognized by the Fairbanks Arts Association and Palmer Arts Council. She blogs about poetry, writing and nature at and is working on a collection of poems about the Arctic.

OneTree project aims to demonstrate value of woodlands
If words aren’t your thing, how about woodwork? All Valley artists are invited to participate in OneTree, a project that intends to “show the unique value of woodlands by demonstrating the volume and quality of work that can be made from just one tree,” according to information from Valley Arts Alliance.

The project is a cooperative effort between the Arts Alliance, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

To complete the project, a birch tree will be cut down in April and the wood dried. Wood will be distributed by the UAF Palmer Center for Sustainable Living at the Matanuska Experiment Farm on Trunk Road. Artists are welcomed to create anything from furniture to abstract pieces. The completed work will be displayed at the Alaska State Fair from Aug. 20 to Sept. 3. Artists will be able to keep their work.

Artists interested in participating should contact Valley Arts Alliance. More information is at their website,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Academy Charter School looks to expand its expansion

Academy Charter School in Palmer
Thanks to a $1.5 million appropriation from the Alaska Legislature, Academy Charter School will add at least five classrooms next fall to its main building.

 The Valley's oldest charter school is currently housed in six portables - some of which were originally slated to be burned by the Palmer Fire Dept. fifteen years ago - and two buildings that serve as the home of its middle school. From frequently frozen bathroom pipes to ceilings that snow dust whenever the wind blows, Academy's students and staff deal daily with the challenge of making do.

Now, should the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly approve, the entire school has the chance to be housed entirely under one roof. As bids have rolled in for the five-classroom expansion, it's become clear that the classroom count could double for approximately $229,000 on top of the legislative money.

"This is a huge opportunity to get the best value for the dollar," principal Barbara Gerard wrote to Academy families and staff. "If we can convince the Assembly to allow us this money - whether as a one-time grant or as a loan the school would pay back over the next ten years - we can solve our school housing problem."

According to the borough public works dept.,  the total cost of the project equals $141 per square foot if alternates are allowed. Gerard said that, if the borough denies the extra funding request, the expansion will include five completed classrooms with three unfinished, stubbed-in classrooms and an elevator-lift.
The appropriation money comes the year after the Matanuska-Susitna Borough purchased several acres of land adjoining Academy Charter, City of Palmer soccer fields and the school district headquarters using school site selection dollars. Until the land was purchased, Academy Charter could not renovate due to inadequate parking from the small size of its lot. 
The new land purchase, combined with the funding to build, is good news for the school. The question is: will the Assembly go the extra mile so the expansion can do the same?

--Melodie Wright, a teacher at Academy Charter School

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Airport issues extend to golf course

Remember last year’s flap at the Palmer Municipal Airport? Back in 2009, the city learned the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the city’s use of federal funding at the airport. A whistleblower case brought by the feds and former airport manager Jane Dale claimed the city fraudulently received federal Airport Improvement Program money between 2002 and 2007 by promising to spend any airport revenues at the airport, and charge any non-aviation tenant fair-market value. Last year, Palmer paid out $857,000 to settle the case, though the city maintained nobody did anything wrong. 
Well, the settlement didn’t clear everything up. The original investigation into airport operations revealed that, among other things, the feds believe the Palmer Golf Course fence is too close to the airport’s main north-south 6,000-foot runway. It wasn’t too close in 1989 when the course opened, but then the Federal Aviation Administration standards changed. Now the FAA wants the city to move the fence 125 feet to the east, or downgrade the aviation rating of the runway so the fence can stay. Moving the fence would destroy four holes and change three more.
“This would effectively close the golf course,” according to a January report to the city council on the airport correctional plan from interim airport manager Jonathan Owen. 
Downgrading the runway could jeopardize the state Department of Forestry’s firefighting operations at the airport, the report says. The city isn’t going to do the downgrade. 
So municipal officials plan to seek an FAA grant “in the $300,000 range” to prepare a Phase 2 Airport Master Plan, Owen said in an e-mail this week. The plan will recommend how the city should resolve “a host of issues” including the golf course fence but also the city’s long-term plans and goals for its airport, he said. 
The city is also trying to work out long-term arrangements for other airport users. Among them: New Horizons Telecom, the Mat-Su Borough School District Nutrition Center and a city water well and snow storage site. 
Stay tuned for more updates about the airport situation. 
 -- Zaz Hollander