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Germantown High School parking lot is 'organized chaos'

April 13, 2010

Germantown — Watching high school students leaving on any given day, outside observers might wonder: How is it that the snarl of pedestrians, cars and buses doesn't result in accidents and bottlenecks?

The parking lots have too few spaces for the roughly 700 juniors and seniors who are allowed to use the lots. There are 388 spots for the students and 136 spaces for staff parking.

"There is congestion … The design is terrible," school resource officer Tim Miller said, adding, however, that the lots are safe even though it needs improvements.

The lots also are in poor condition, with potholes and crumbling curbs. Miller said he is more worried about someone tripping in the lots than he is about a car accident.

"We've outgrown it (the parking lots)," said interim Principal Joel Farren.

And that doesn't include the visitors' lot in front of the building and the bus loading area. Students in the co-operative education program who leave early park in the bus loading zone, as do any visitors who can't find space in the visitors' lot, which is filled with staffers, Miller said.

Despite the problems, it doesn't appear as though the parking situation will improve anytime soon. The district is facing a $475,000 deficit next school year, and officials are considering eliminating 2.5 full-time equivalent teachers and making other cuts.

Because of the district's budget woes, "the parking lot becomes a secondary issue," Miller said.

Orchestrating the exodus

Miller compares the release of students to the closing of a factory at the end of the day, when everyone is trying to leave the building at the same time.

The scene on a recent Tuesday illustrates the challenges posed by the parking situation.

The coordination of transportation begins a little after 2 p.m., when administrators close two gates to control traffic and give students a safe way to walk to their cars.

At 2:07 p.m., about 15 minutes before the final bell rings, about four cars line up in the circle drive, and buses enter a separate drive into the bus loading zone. At 2:15 p.m., there are about 10 cars lined up - including one that backed into the exit of the bus loading zone. Miller isn't concerned; he says he expects the car to leave before the buses have to leave.

But he notices a car that hasn't moved yet. Using a walkie-talkie, he determines whom the car belongs to - a visitor who couldn't fit in the visitors lot - and arranges to have it moved.

By 2:20 p.m., the circle drive is full with about 20 cars.

After the bell rings at 2:22, students begin trickling out of the school in three different directions and the wheels are in motion. Some students walk in the safe zones. Others cut through parked cars. Cars begin pulling out of the circle drive in front of the school. Student drivers begin exiting the property from the southeast lot near the front of the school. Students in the lots to the southwest, or back of the school, exit through the industrial park.

By 2:30 p.m. the buses begin pulling out. A sensor keeps the light at River Lane green as the buses pull through. Any remaining cars in the queue file through until the area is clear.

A few minutes later, administrators open the gates, and student drivers exit. By 2:33 p.m., about 20 buses are gone, the circle drive in front of the school where nearly 20 cars picked up students is clear and students are exiting the school grounds.

Students: Waiting is inconvenient

School officials installed the gates about four years ago. Prior to doing so, a student had been hit by a car every year or every other year, Miller said. Since the gates were installed, no students have been struck.

"We have very few, if any, problems in our parking lot," he said.

Students walking out of the school said they aren't concerned about the safety of the lot, but are bothered by the time it takes to wait for the buses to leave.

"I think it is organized," said senior Jayne Magill. "I think they (administrators) have it under control with the gates."

Her only complaint: waiting for the buses to clear out so the students can leave.

Senior Austin Pethan agreed he doesn't like the wait, but doesn't have any concerns about the safety. His concern is with the configuration in the morning. Because the gates are closed, students who park in the southeast lot have to enter from River Lane and students in the lots to the southwest have to enter through the industrial park west of the school.

Pethan said coming through the industrial park adds five minutes to his drive to school.

Parent Billie Jo Mohn had said at a February School Board meeting there are safety concerns in the lots with student drivers not stopping at signs, cars creating visibility problems and students scrambling in front of vehicles

"That parking lot is not safe," Mohn said at a School Board meeting earlier this year.

Groups trying for a fix

But without funding, students and parents may have to continue to deal with the inconvenience.

"If we had unlimited revenue and more space, we believe we could improve pickup and drop-off," Superintendent Kenneth Rogers said. "For now, we will continue to analyze and see if there are hazards we can avoid or fix."

Leadership Germantown, a yearlong leadership training group that focuses on making connections in the community, is working on trying to get additional signs near and around school to remind people of safety issues and school zones, he said. Kiwanis and other groups are making contributions to help the group with its goal.

"We've got to make do with what we have," Miller said. "There's not a whole lot we can do right now. There is no space and no money."

He said if the parking lot was a dangerous place, he would go before the School Board immediately. But for now it's just an inconvenience

"It is organized chaos," Miller said.

By the numbers

1,432

students at Germantown High School

716 (est.)

allowed to use lots (juniors and seniors)

388

student spots

136

staff spaces

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