Nunaka Valley neighbors say walking route to new school is dangerous

Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 4:34 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The news that their neighborhood school might be closing prompted some people to get up early Friday morning and gather at Nunaka Valley Elementary for a walk. The Anchorage School District is proposing to repurpose the neighborhood school and send its students to one of two schools — Russian Jack and Chester Valley Elementary — both of which are further away.

At a town hall meeting put on by the district, Nunaka families were told their children would be expected to walk to their new schools. For students headed to Russian Jack, that means walking along a busy stretch of Northern Lights Boulevard.

“As soon as I heard that, that was concerning to me,” Rebekah Potter said, who lives across the street from the elementary school. “Because I drive that stretch of road every day and I thought, that is not good for students.”

Potter walked the route herself and was alarmed enough to organize the neighborhood walk so that others could see where students were expected to go.

“We won’t be able to replicate the traffic conditions on a busy Monday morning because it’s a holiday,” she said. “But I thought it was important to be here at the time of day when kids would be here in the winter, starting their walk to school.”

Potter’s husband Joel said it took him about 35 minutes to complete the walk to Russian Jack. He was particularly concerned about the section of the route along Northern Lights.

“People are driving over 45 miles an hour, it’s a major throughway,” said Joel. “There is no barrier protection between the sidewalk and the road. As we’ve traveled down that, we’ve seen many people crash off into the sidewalk.”

Under the district’s proposal, Nunaka Valley Elementary wouldn’t close entirely— instead it would turn into a hub for preschool programs. The district estimates that change would save it nearly $300,000. But Potter isn’t convinced that savings would continue into the future. He also pointed out that if the district decided to bus Nunaka students to their new school locations, that would also cut into the savings.

“The more you have to bus because of closing down walkable schools, the increased cost and we’ve seen the busing challenges the district had this year so that’s also a concern.”