Construction squeezes juniors out of high school parking lots

John Colson
Aspen High juniors will find themselves fenced out of parking spaces this year because of construction at the middle and elementary schools. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

The unfortunate Aspen High School junior class of 2006-07 might be feeling a little cheated by fate, but there’s not much they can do about it.Juniors will not be issued parking permits for the school parking lots this year, missing out on a rite of passage with a long history at AHS – the right of juniors and seniors to drive to school and park in the lots.And although fears of the same fate may already afflict next year’s junior class, school officials are planning for things to return to normal for 2007-08 as far as student parking privileges are concerned.”I’m sympathetic for the juniors, because they’ve waited for years to be able to drive [to school],” said Superintendent Diana Sirko.The Aspen School District administration and board made the decision to limit student parking last spring, during the initial planning stages of the $33 million construction program that now has the public schools campus in its grip. The only students who will be able to park on campus will be seniors.

The problems, the officials realized, was that construction fencing, construction trailers at the northwestern end of the lot and construction traffic associated with building a new, $22.5 million middle school would mean the elimination of some 60 parking spaces from what is known as the lower parking lot, adjacent to the middle and elementary schools.While the district has “tightened things up a bit” and redrawn the lines for the lower lot, Sirko explained, the squeeze has meant fewer parking spaces.Sirko said the district is worried that, even with the elimination of junior-class parking permits, there may not be enough spaces in the lower lot to accommodate teachers. In that case, some of the elementary and middle school teachers might end up parking in the already crowded upper lot, next to the high school, but Sirko is hoping that won’t happen.The squeeze from the construction program also has meant rerouting the traffic pattern of buses carrying kids to and from school, and the path parents will be taking when they drive to the campus to drop off or pick up their children.This year, parents turning onto High School Road must turn right into the first entrance to the lower parking lot and follow signs outlining the “student drop-off lane.” The cars will then continue around the parking lot and drive out High School Road to Maroon Creek Road to exit the campus.Buses, meanwhile, will not use the roundabout between the elementary and high school buildings, which for the past several years has been their route to turn around and head out High School Road in the same traffic line as the cars of parents.

Now, buses will continue on the access road through campus, between the elementary and high school buildings, and out to Maroon Creek Road at the upper exit.Sirko noted that this used to be the traffic pattern for buses, before construction of the high school. And now that the access road has doubled in width to more than 16 feet, this may be a permanent change, she said.She explained that the new pattern is expected to relieve congestion at the High School Road-Maroon Creek Road intersection in the mornings and afternoons because there will be no interruption by buses needing to turn left onto Maroon Creek Road to get to the bus barn.”This is a pilot [program],” she said, “so we’ll be playing with that as the year progresses.”As for the parking situation, she said, the Aspen Police Department’s two school resource officers, Brad Onsgard and Dan Glidden, will help monitor the situation to ensure compliance.

Sirko said there will still be 16 “visitor” spaces at the edge of the lower lot, a few undesignated spaces for parent volunteers, and that’s about it for unassigned spaces.Another effort to relieve parking congestion, Sirko said, is a special bus for teachers living downvalley that will begin operations this fall.”We did it just because of the high cost of gas,” she said of the new teacher bus, explaining that it was not necessarily planned to coincide with the construction project.”But,” she added, “It’s kind of a nice plus at this time.”John Colson’s e-mail address is