By Richard L. Gaw
In response to an article in the March 12 edition of the Chester County Press – and a subsequent editorial that appeared in the same issue – one stating that Avon Grove High School has neglected to address the student overflow parking problem in the nearby Heather Grove development in West Grove – Avon Grove High School Principal Tom Alexander strongly denied those accusations, stating that he has publically addressed students, met personally with a township official and corresponded with Heather Grove residents in order to see what the school can do to help solve the problem.
Alexander’s comments stemmed from a March 5 Board of Supervisors meeting at London Grove Township, when several residents of both Heather Grove and Meadow Woods Lane complained to supervisors about the excessive amount of student parking in the outlying neighborhoods of both the high school and the Avon Grove Charter School.
At the meeting, the supervisors authorized a parking restrictions study that will explore the parking issues that have plagued both areas. The study will be conducted by Gerald Baker, the township's traffic engineer, in order to adopt restrictions and have the state police enforce them.
Primarily, the problem is one of numbers. Alexander said that the school’s parking facility is not built to accommodate 1,800 students and faculty, which is causing several students who have received low parking priority to filter out in neighboring developments and side roads.
With no plans to expand the amount of parking spaces at the high school, Alexander said that student parking at the high school is at a premium, and one based on priority. Students enrolled in various career-to-work programs – or in dual enrollment – are given top student priority. Seniors with cars are then given second priority – particularly those whose job requires them to leave school earlier in the day -- as well as those who are involved in afterschool activities. Junior-year students are given lowest parking priority.
“Avon Grove High School has very limited parking and has had for many years,” Alexander said. “So what happens is that students without parking permits either park illegally on school grounds, or they chose to park in the Heather Grove development. It’s become more of an issue as we’ve gotten bigger.”
He does not think that students are parking there because of not wanting to pay the student parking fee, which is $150 a year.
The recent comments by Heather Grove residents is not the first time their displeasure has become known, not only to Alexander, but to township officials. Several years ago, London Grove Township Manager Steve Brown met with Alexander to discuss the student parking overflow issue. At the meeting, Brown suggested that Alexander address the local homeowners’ association. Alexander denied the invitation.
“I felt that the expectations of the meeting were that the residents would request that I would be the one to discipline the students (for parking violations),” Alexander said. “I will do whatever I need to do, and I can help with getting the message out to students, but I can’t station people down at Heather Grove. It’s completely out of our domain.”
Rather, he suggested to Brown that the township install ‘No Parking’ signs throughout trouble spots in Heather Grove, which the township installed several years ago.
Recently, Alexander said that he received an e-mail by a Heather Grove resident, requesting that the school address the parking problem. Alexander replied that he would make the topic part of his morning announcements to the school, which he did, by discouraging students from parking in the development.
Alexander himself has driven to these troubled spots and seen the problem first hand. Recently, he drove to the Heather Grove development and saw a student-owned Jeep vehicle parked directly beneath a ‘No parking’ sign.
“It’s an enforcement issue,” he said. “We feel the frustration that our neighbors do, but if someone is doing something illegally, it is the resident’s priority to call the police in order to enforce the law. How much more can I do as building principal to work with someone to come up with solutions?”
Although he said he is limited on what he can do to alleviate the overflow student parking in Heather Grove, Alexander said that what works best at the school may also help curb the parking problem. From time to time, Alexander has student vehicles towed from school property for violations of parking policies, and believes doing the same in surrounding areas may be the most effective answer.
“If I don’t enforce parking laws and policies within our lots, then everyone will abuse this parking lot,” he said. “It gets around very quickly if you start towing cars. That will set the tone.”
Enforcement is already being done. In the days after the March 5 meeting, London Grove Township supervisors reached out to the Pennsylvania State Police in Avondale to inform them of the parking problem. Since then, Trooper Corey Monthei said that the Police have issued between ten and a dozen parking citations to students who are parking illegally in the development.
“We want to work in cooperation with Avon Grove High School in a two-prong effect, with the school district advising students and making them aware that we will be out in the area enforcing the laws, as well as stepping up our efforts,” Monthei said. “Hopefully, the message is getting out to the students that it's not to be tolerated.”