Parking woes eased in Townshend
TOWNSHEND -- On a Thursday morning, with the new school year in full swing, there were plenty of empty parking spaces outside Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.
And that is a good thing, both for the town -- where officials have expressed concerns about a lack of available parking -- and for the school, where administrators say they do not have the resources to enforce parking restrictions on students, staff and visitors.
The difference seems to be a town crackdown: Townshend Selectboard recently contracted for additional police patrols and has beefed up town regulations to allow for $25 parking fines.
"I think it's very clear that there's been an increase in the number of spaces available," Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Hege said.
Principal Dorinne Dorfman, gesturing to a number of unoccupied spots outside, expressed a similar sentiment.
"Once we were informed by the town that people would be ticketed -- so that there was enforcement at the town level -- look at it out there," Dorfman said.
There have been some long-term tensions between Leland & Gray and its host town, where residents routinely vote against the regional school's proposed budgets. That was again the case in each of three budget votes this past spring.
Prior to one of those votes, a school board member said a Townshend resident had complained to him about parking and traffic issues, adding that "there is some level of frustration with the fact that the school is physically here."
Part of the problem, officials have said, is that the overflow from school parking lots has spread into public spaces around school property, around the town common and even outside the town office on Route 30.
At times, that has made it "impossible" for residents to find parking spots, Hege said.
"This is an elderly community," she said. "It's difficult for people to get into the town hall. There's not much parking there as it is."
But at Leland & Gray, school administrators couldn't find much time to be traffic cops.
"We were unable to enforce it," Dorfman said. "I didn't have the personnel to be monitoring parking on the street. We have very tight budgets. We want to be mainly investing in teachers."
But with the start of the 2014-15 school year, things have changed for the better. Starting July 1, Townshend officials contracted for 40 hours of weekly coverage from Windham County Sheriff's Department, and one of their primary goals was to address parking problems.
Simultaneously, Hege said, the Selectboard has amended its parking ordinance to allow for issuance of parking tickets. Though there are no metered spots, there are time limits: The ordinance now includes $25 fines for drivers who use public spaces for more than two hours.
"The tickets have been ordered," Hege said. "They're on their way."
School administrators have welcomed the changes. In Leland & Gray's August newsletter, there is a short article headlined, "Avoid fines and be a good citizen: Park on campus."
Administrators issued parking stickers to students and employees at the beginning of the school year. Students are expected to park only in the school's "D level" lot.
"It has really worked," Dorfman said. "Students lined up with their parking-permit forms filled out, and teachers, too. They all have their tags and stickers on their cars."
School leaders also are asking visitors -- including parents -- to take note of parking restrictions.
"All will be encouraged to find parking on the A, C or D levels," officials wrote in the school's newsletter. "If they are parked on any streets, such as on Routes 30 or 35, or on the green, they must obey the time limits posted (currently two hours maximum) or other restrictions in order to avoid fines."
Hege said the changes are a "good step in the right direction." And Dorfman sees it as "part of our goodwill to the town."
"I really appreciate having a school in town," she said. "The services that we can access at Grace Cottage Hospital. Students who volunteer at the elementary school. The increased supervision because of the community."
As long as students, staff and visitors heed regulations and the school's guidance, Dorfman said, "there's enough parking."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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