A plan to increase the number of parking spaces at the Sag Harbor School District has been a widely discussed topic amongst parents and community members in recent weeks. The parking project, which will cost around $1,036,000, is necessary, says the long-range planning committee and board of education members. But the cost of the project worries some parents, who believe the school should take a stronger role in encouraging students to walk and bike.
The impetus for the parking project goes back to 2007, when a team of architects and engineers hired by the district released a comprehensive facilities study. Parking was one of many facilities issues the team recommended the board address.
The plan will add 63 spaces in total. The elementary school currently has 54 parking spots with 26 at the front entrance parking lot on Hampton Street and 28 spots near the back of the school on Atlantic Avenue. The state requires the elementary school to have 95 spaces to serve school staff. As part of the proposed project, 26 spots will be added to the Atlantic Avenue lot.
“The section of the asphalt play area will be taken for the parking area but the asphalt play area will be expanded on the opposite side to replace the area taken for parking,” said Larry Salvesen, of BBS Architects and Engineers, of the Atlantic lot. The Hampton Street lot will be realigned to provide 25 new parking stalls.
At Pierson, there are currently 109 spaces. The state mandates 107 spots on the premises. The long-range planning committee, however, suggested repair and addition of 17 new parking spaces to the Jermain Avenue lot near the entrance to the gym. The repairs include adding a lawn area to separate parking from the roadway. An entrance and an exit will be clearly demarcated. Salvesen noted that a drop off area will be added in front of the gym for parents and buses. The Montauk Avenue lot by the playing fields and the Division Street lot by the middle school entrance will remain the same.
The district, said Salvesen, is still making design modifications to the parking plan, which might include a zone for compact cars.
“If a standard parking stall is nine-feet wide and a compact parking stall is seven-feet six-inches wide, and if we provide six compact parking stalls in a section of a row of parking, we will gain one additional parking stall in the overall count,” explained Salvesen.
“Parking is one issue that has continued to challenge and plague the district on many levels,” said school board and long-range planning committee member Mary Anne Miller. One of the chief problems, said Miller, is a lack of on-site staff parking. School employees often park on the street leading to complaints from residential neighbors and the village. Other teachers carpool, said Miller.
Of the Jermain Avenue lot at Pierson, Salvesen said “The fix at the high school is more due to the dysfunctional quality of the current lot. There isn’t a clear ingress and egress … People tend to park any which way they can fit. The pavement needs repair.”
Miller added that the buses don’t have a clear drop off zone for school children or visiting sports teams, which has created a safety issue.
“I know this is something that no one wants to spend this kind of money on … But I don’t feel that this is something that can wait,” remarked Miller.
Parent Bonnie Mahoney is in complete agreement with the district in regards to creating more parking at the elementary school. She said parents constantly attend events at the school but there isn’t adequate parking to accommodate the staff or visitors. But Mahoney said she rarely has trouble finding a space at Pierson.
Other parents are not only bothered by the price tag of the project but feel it encourages car use over bike riding and walking. On Friday, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto, board members Walter Wilcoxen and Miller met with 725 Green Chairwoman Gigi Morris, Spokespeople representative Sinead Fitzgibbon and parent Ken Dorph to discuss the school’s role in promoting environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
“I have enormous admiration for the school board. They have a lot of tough decisions to make,” said Dorph in an interview this week. “At this point in American history to spend a million dollars on parking to me is morally wrong.”
Dorph works extensively in the Middle East and says that he sees the broader and more global implications of providing free parking. In Sag Harbor, Dorph wishes there was a more concentrated effort on the part of the village, school and other powerful local organizations to encourage and subsidize the use of “greener” transportation.
“When you make more parking you get more cars … We aren’t moving towards rethinking how to make it easier for people to get out of their cars. When I look at the schools neither one of them has a continuous sidewalk around them,” said Dorph, adding that he believes Jermain Avenue is a very dangerous intersection for children traveling from one school building to the other. “How can our [local] leadership make it easier and safer for kids to get to school without driving.”
If the district saves money by creating a parking section for compact cars, Dr. Gratto said some of these funds will be redirected towards biking and walking initiatives. Wilcoxen added that several ideas were discussed on Friday including installing covered bike racks on the campus, having older students monitor a crosswalk for community service credits and creating a bike lane from Mount Misery to the school. In addition, Morris floated the idea of a walking bus in which children would form a group that walks to school together.
Several parents who live in North Haven and Noyac don’t want their children biking or walking because of the conditions of the roads, added Miller, pointing out that roads and sidewalks need to be conducive to other modes of transportation.
Miller added the issue of parking and pervasiveness of cars hints at a deeper problem on the East End. There are limited public transportation options, said Miller. She pointed out the parents, village and townships need to make a commitment to walking and bike riding to further these efforts.
The parking project will be up for a vote in December as part of the nearly$6 million bond for facilities improvements. However, Dorph would like to see the parking project as a separate line vote from other bond items to gauge if there is sufficient public support for the project. The board of education will discuss the parking plan at the next board of education meeting on Monday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m.
What About the Auditorium?
In addition to the parking plan, the long-range planning committee proposed a $12,131,263 construction of a new auditorium located in the Pierson courtyard. The pricey project, however, won’t make it onto the ballot this year due to the expense, said school board president Walter Wilcoxen. Instead, the school will spend around $70,000 to update the air conditioning system, install new carpeting and floor lighting. The board is exploring creating a foundation to procure private funds to construct a new auditorium.