Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Poolesville High students will feel parking squeeze

Construction cuts available spaces from 155 to 90

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It's going to be a little harder for students at Poolesville High School to find a place to park at school this year.

Parking will be drastically reduced during the construction of a science wing, which is expected to open for the start of the next academic year, school representatives told Poolesville's commissioners Monday night. Poolesville High will gain 60 parking spaces when the $7.3 million addition is completed.

The school will continue to issue 30 permits for staff but will only issue 90 permits to students, said Benie King, Poolesville High's business manager. Last year, 155 spots were available to students, she said, though 24 permits went unsold.

The school will send an automated telephone message to students asking them not to drive to school until permit applications are processed, which usually takes about two weeks, King said

About 60 percent of Poolesville High's student body, numbering just over 1,000 this year, is from outside of the cluster, she said. Billie Bradshaw, the school's magnet program coordinator, said that many out-of-area students take the bus and many youths in the far-flung Poolesville cluster drive.

The number of out-of-area students is expected to increase next year as Poolesville's whole-school magnet program, which is in its third year, continues to grow.

Seniors and students who leave during school hours to work at a job or internship will get first priority with parking spaces, King said. Poolesville also devised a system last year where students are credited for good grades and participating in extracurricular activities.

No more spaces can be created on school property, Cross said. There are 26 spaces for construction workers, King said.

King, along with Dennis Cross, senior facilities manager for Montgomery County Public Schools, and other school representatives, has been working with Poolesville to minimize the impact on town during construction. Residents on Spurrier Avenue have long complained about students parking along the street, likely by youths who did not want to pay $37.50 per semester for a parking permit, King and some commissioners said. The fee was raised last year from $25 a semester.

"There's more drivers and less parking spaces. It's going to be tough," said Poolesville Cluster Coordinator Sarah Defnet, adding that the school needed to be more proactive about alerting parents and students to the situation. "It's a hardship, even if you live in town."

Associate Pastor Ken Fitzwater of Poolesville Baptist Church, across the street on West Willard Road, said the church considered allowing student parking in its lot, but decided against it because of liability issues.

Using a town-owned lot behind Selby's Market on Wootton Avenue for temporary parking raises the same questions, Commission President Eddie Kuhlman said.

Ultimately, the commissioners decided to wait and see if there is a problem with parking.

"As long as there's not an outcry from residents about kids parking on their property or outside their property, I'm willing to try a couple weeks and see how things go," Kuhlman said.

The commissioners also voted unanimously to connect a sidewalk on West Willard Avenue to the school's parking lot in response to concerns about student safety. Commissioner Link Hoewing was absent. Developer Winchester Homes has agreed to construct a sidewalk there when it builds its 98-home Stoney Springs subdivision and will be charged to have the connection constructed as part of a current sidewalk project in town.