December 2, 2013 04:23PM
By Kimberly Primicerio
MERIDEN — Traffic around Hanover School during dismissal time has gotten so hectic some parents say they fear for their children’s safety.
With more staff on site due to a larger kindergarten class and a special needs program housed at the school, there are fewer parking spaces available, causing cars to line up at the back of the school around dismissal time. Parents say they’re worried a child could be hit by a car after being released from the building’s back door.
Administrators this week said they were aware of the situation and are looking for a solution.
“It’s being worked on,” said Hanover Principal David Mierzejewski.
The school on Main Street in South Meriden expanded kindergarten to a full day last year and added an autism program. The increase in staff puts more pressure on parking while the increase in pupils means more parents coming to pick them up in the afternoon.
While both programs are great for the school, Mierzejewski said, it doesn’t help the parking or traffic situation. Vehicles can’t park on Main Street and there are no spaces available on Evansville Avenue.
Mierzejewski said there’s really no way to increase parking at the school either. There are houses on both sides of the school. There’s an open field on one side of the school, but an underground well prevents it from being used for parking.
“We’re landlocked,” Mierzejewski said.
Typically parents begin to arrive before students are dismissed at 3:20 p.m. Some are able to find parking in the school’s back lot. Others park along May Street, near the fence to the school’s back parking lot, and walk to the back of the school.
Many parents park in another lot next to the school’s sidewalk, which is not allowed. Parent Jen Marturano said she fears one of those cars might hit a student. While cones and barricades have been put up to prevent this, some parents move or knock down the cones and park along the sidewalk anyway, Marturano said. This causes the lot to become congested at a time when students are trying to meet their parents or parents are walking with students to their cars.
Marturano suggestion the city formally designate parking spots along the fence on May Street. Marking the spots would create more room for cars, she said, because some motorists leave a large gap when parking.
Other parents park on the side of May Street farthest from the school, where there are “no parking” signs. That causes more traffic problems and an even narrower path for buses to get through, said Police Officer Fred Rivera, of the Neighborhood Initiative Unit.
When Rivera is available he controls traffic at the school. On a recent school day, he parked his police cruiser near the entrance of the back parking lot to discourage cars from coming in. Cars had to park on the side of the road or a side street. He almost handed out a ticket to someone parked on the wrong side of May Street and he also handled a traffic accident.
Rivera said he doesn’t want to have to hand out tickets to parents who are just trying to pick up their kids from school, but if they’re parking illegally, he has to.
Rivera suggested adding parking if possible or staggering the dismissal time for the children so parents don’t all come to the school at once. Holding a community forum where parents and administration come together to talk about the problem might help as well, Rivera said.
School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni said the central office is aware of the situation and has sent out staff to try to come up with an easy solution. Barriers should be going up soon so cars don’t line up along the sidewalk. Benigni said he’s been in contact with the police chief and parents have been warned not to double park or park in the back lot along the sidewalk.
“We’re going to continue to explore our opportunities to add parking,” Benigni said.
Benigni said the school’s number one priority is safety, but there’s never going to be enough parking for parents. Parents are going to have to park farther away and pick up their children.
“It’s not a simple fix,” Benigni said.
Hanover isn’t the only school that has experienced parking issues, he said.
“There are similar issues at other schools,” Benigni said. “Grounds are limited.”
Benigni said parents who want to pick up their children right outside school can make special arrangements with school administration. Those pupils can wait in the office until traffic lets up.
Mierzejewski said the barricades to block off school sidewalk parking should help and they’re going to try to have a type of safe zone where parents and students can walk.
“We want parents to work with us to come up with a solution,” Mierzejewski said.
He said some parents may be inconvenienced by parking farther away and walking to pick up their children, but it provides a level of safety.
“There’s no great solution,” Mierzejewski said. “We’re asking for everybody’s patience.”