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Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as High Schools Pressed for Space In Student Parking Lots

High Schools Pressed for Space In Student Parking Lots

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To get a parking space at Nicolet High School, students must meet three criteria: have a C-plus average, be involved in a school- or community-based activity, and carpool. Those satisfied, the school outside Milwaukee adds another requisite: Each student must pony up $100 a semester for his or her privileged space.

Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wis., is just one of many suburban high schools where students are feeling the pinch when it comes to parking, and where administrators are vexed in their attempts to divvy up the precious commodity. Demand is so high in many places that schools not only are charging parking fees, but in some cases are also adding other requirements for students who wish to drive to school.

Nicolet has 227 parking spaces; 215 are assigned. For $2, a student can get one of the 12 daily spots--no strings attached--if he or she needs to leave early, for example, to go to the doctor.

The added requirements to qualify for an assigned space are an incentive for students to maintain their grades and get involved, said Leigh Wallace, an assistant principal and the reigning "Queen of Parking" at Nicolet High.

Of the school's 1,350 students, 640 are juniors and seniors. Priority is given to those who attend the school's business-internship program and to senior carpools, as long as they meet the grade point average requirements.

"There have been some complaints about the GPA requirements and the costs," Ms. Wallace said. "Kids don't understand sometimes the cost of maintenance." Still, she said, "there would be complaints [even] if the fee were $50. Most people feel pretty good about the policy."

According to guidelines set by facility appraisers, school parking lots should be large enough to accommodate at least 50 percent of a school's 11th and 12th graders, said Debbie Moore, the director of operations for the Council of Education Facility Planners International, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., a membership organization. But with increasing high school enrollments and the popularity of driving to school, especially in more affluent areas, many schools just don't have enough space to go around.

Annoying the Neighbors

Limited parking at Nicolet High has caused problems for the Glendale police, who say some residents and businesses have lodged complaints about students parking on their property without permission.

Community members have also lashed out in Woodinville, a well-to-do suburb of Seattle, where officials say the school parking lot looks like a showroom with new Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars gleaming.

Woodinville High students have parked in neighborhoods several blocks away from the school, prompting residents to complain about congestion. Homeowners in one subdivision asked for and received a ban on off-street parking during school hours.

Priority for the school's 350 parking spaces is given to students enrolled in off-campus classes, seniors and juniors who carpool, and those involved in school sports. Students who carpool and attend classes pay $30 for a permit, while seniors who don't carpool must fork over $60.

"The school has 1,401 students, and to make them all happy, you'd have to give each of them a parking slot," Principal Vicki Puckett said.

On average, it takes nearly half an hour after school to clear out the lot that holds the majority of student vehicles. Ms. Puckett estimates that the lot sees at least one car accident monthly.

She encourages students to ride the school buses, but while they're routinely half empty, there's a waiting list for parking permits. "It's not cool to ride the bus, and that's sad," said Ms. Puckett, who noted that students call it the "loser cruiser."

Off-Site Parking

The problem is not rising enrollment, Ms. Puckett added, but the fact that virtually every student feels the need to have his or her own car--a conviction some parents support.

"I'd like to get back to education," she said. "Parking is the hottest issue, yet lowest priority on my list. It takes up a good amount of our time."

Parking is no longer a problem at Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High School northeast of Gainesville, Fla. But a few years ago, the school had too many students behind the wheel and too few spaces. Keystone Heights residents complained that students parked in their neighborhoods; students complained that there weren't enough spaces.

"We had students parking everywhere," said Kathy Smith, the teacher in charge of student parking at the 1,300-student school.

Last year, officials decided to permit only juniors and seniors to park and added the requirement of a 2.0 GPA. The parking fee is $10 per year.

Today, "anyone who comes to me for a space--and meets the requirements--can get one," Ms. Smith said. The parking lot has 170 spaces that are assigned to seniors, and juniors snag one on a first-come, first-served basis.

In addition, Ms. Smith persuaded a nearby recreation center to open its lot as an alternative site.

Many students who are eligible to park in the school lot actually prefer the recreation center's, and with good reason: It's free and within walking distance of school.

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 7

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