Sibblings Marco Carranza, 5, left, Monica, 11, center, and Kaitlyn, 3, view Project Playground from behind police tape on Tuesday. A fire set by two 13-year-old boys destroyed the playground Monday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sibblings Marco Carranza, 5, left, Monica, 11, center, and Kaitlyn, 3, view Project Playground from behind police tape on Tuesday. A fire set by two 13-year-old boys destroyed the playground Monday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Locals search for ways to rebuild playground after fire

Within minutes of the Twin Lakes playground catching fire Monday night, multiple community members set up fundraising pages on websites such as GoFundMe in an effort to help rebuild the playground.

City officials have asked that people hold on to their money instead of donating to GoFundMe pages, so that all the money is in a central location and so those looking to donate know that their money is going to the rebuilding efforts. The Juneau Community Foundation is currently accepting donations until the city develops a more unified fundraising plan.

For people such as Catherine Pusich, who helped coordinate the fundraising and building of the park before its completion in 2007, the intent behind the GoFundMe pages are commendable, but she urges that community members hold on to their money for now.

“We’re excited about the community wants to come together and start over,” Pusich said, “but we’re not going off on those tangents. I appreciate what people are doing, but on a personal level, that’s just a little risky to be starting that.”

Those at the City and Borough of Juneau are thinking similarly, requesting that those who started those online movements turn their money into the Juneau Community Foundation, which is now accepting donations. For those who wish to donate immediately, checks can be dropped off or mailed to the foundation at 350 N. Franklin St., Suite 4, Juneau, AK 99801.

[Two 13-year-old boys charged with arson]

Suzanne Dutson was one of the people who started a GoFundMe, and it took off in a hurry. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, it had raised $4,725. Dutson, who reminisced as the park went up in flames about the thousands of water balloons she’s thrown with her 8-year-old grandson in that park, promised her grandson that she would do everything that she could to get the playground rebuilt.

On Tuesday evening, Dutson and her grandson planned on heading to the office of Juneau Community Foundation Executive Director Amy Skilbred to transfer the money to the foundation. The GoFundMe has run its course, but Dutson is still determined to help.

“We’re gonna make this happen,” Dutson said. “I’m closing the account tonight, the GoFundMe, but that certainly doesn’t mean that my fundraising efforts are going away. They’re definitely not.”

The city is holding a public meeting Tuesday, May 2, from 5-7 p.m. in the Hickel Room at Centennial Hall in the attempt to inform the public and construct a unified plan. Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said the outpouring of support has been encouraging and that the city is working to put together a plan.

“I’m confident that it’s such a treasured place in people’s hearts and such an asset to our community,” Cosgrove said Tuesday morning, “and I’m confident that we’ll have it rebuilt and back into playing order, so to speak, as soon as possible.”

CBJ Risk Management Officer Jennifer Mannix reached out to the city’s property insurer, and CBJ announced Tuesday that coverage will include expenses for site clean-up and a level of design and future construction.

That cleanup process could take a while, and the details have yet to be smoothed out. For now, CBJ urges the public to stay away from the playground area. There’s a strong odor of burnt rubber and Capital City Fire/Rescue strongly recommends avoiding the area as to not inhale the fumes.

City staffers are investigating the site to determine what kind of contaminants might be present and how safe it is for people to return. City Manager Rorie Watt said Tuesday that the city is getting equipment together to examine the upcoming process, about how to best clean up and dispose of the ruins. Watt expects more information to be available as soon as Wednesday.

The Twin Lakes trail is still open for public use, but the Twin Lakes shelter is unavailable for reservations. Those with further questions about the Twin Lakes area are encouraged to call Parks and Recreation, which has secured the area and is handling the immediate fallout.

The meeting is expected to be well-attended, and the city has secured Girl Scouts to provide free childcare in the Egan Room during the meeting. Members of the public turned immediately to Facebook and their email accounts in search of ways to get involved Monday, and this meeting gives them a chance to learn more.

Cosgrove and Pusich were the recipients of many of those concerned emails. Cosgrove said she was receiving emails throughout Monday’s Assembly meeting, looking for answers. Pusich’s cellphone was buzzing constantly Tuesday with people reminiscing and confidently saying that they’re committed to rebuilding.

The playground initially came together thanks to a community-driven effort, as Pusich and others raised nearly half a million dollars for the project and thousands of volunteers helped construct the park. Pusich is confident that those looking for answers will have them soon, and the community will once again come together.

“If it’s going to be a community-built playground again, they will hear about it,” Pusich said. “Ten years ago, we were in the parade, we were talking about it, we were on the radio, it was in the newspaper. There was no way that you could miss that this was obviously a community come together, unless you were living in a cave.”

 


 

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.

 


 

Two 13-year-old boys are in custody for setting a fire that destroyed Project Playground at Twin Lakes on Monday.

Two 13-year-old boys are in custody for setting a fire that destroyed Project Playground at Twin Lakes on Monday.

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