Crowded Bryant feels parking pinch

As parents and volunteers scramble for spaces and deputies hand out tickets, a principal searches for solutions.

Published November 6, 2005

WESTCHASE - Ask around Bryant Elementary School, the county's most crowded school, and folks will tell you the campus feels most cramped in the parking lot.

Many parents park on the road out front, often on the sidewalk, rather than gamble on whether there's an open space out back. On award days it's a madhouse, with cars blocking in others, grabbing any patch of available grass, leaving little space for a bus - much less an emergency vehicle - to access the school.

People who visit Bryant aren't the only ones to complain. Neighbors in nearby subdivisions have griped to county officials that they can't navigate Nine Eagles Drive or its sidewalks, especially in the hour before classes begin.

Sheriff's deputies ticketed illegally parked cars for three days in late October, to send a message to their drivers.

But what's a parent to do? Not get involved in his child's education?

"I think there are reasonable solutions to this," Bryant principal Karen Bass said. "We've just got to find out what they might be."

One plan already in the works is additional "no parking" signs on both sides of Nine Eagles Drive, directly in front of the school. Once those go in the ground, probably in early 2006, the Sheriff's Office will write tickets even more aggressively to anyone parking on the road.

"If they park there still, there's really no excuse," said Deputy Dale Russell, the area's community resource officer.

That still does not solve the problem of where to park.

The county might add more sidewalks just north of the school, to encourage more families to walk. Officials had considered a crosswalk across Nine Eagles Drive, but they did not want to encourage parents to park in privately owned land across the street.

School buses are available to transport all Bryant students except those on special assignment. More than 800 of the school's 1,316 students ride consistently.

To encourage more, Bryant administrators might throw a pizza party to the class with the most bus riders. Or, if a child rides the bus enough times, his parents might get a parking spot for a week. The school will also ask parents to car pool, car pool, car pool.

Transporting children to and from school is not the biggest problem. Rather, the crunch comes when large numbers of visitors come to campus when class is in session. Volunteers also scramble for scarce visitor spaces, and some are now threatening to stay home. Nobody wants to work for free and then have to pay for a parking ticket. The same holds true for special events.

"Parents are coming to cheer on their children for really good grades, and they're getting parking tickets, which is really unfair," PTA president Michelle Mayfield said.

Bass said she sympathizes and will do what she can.

For starters, she will allow parents to park in the drop-off lanes in the front lot between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. They'll be able to park behind teachers' cars once school is in session. And she will investigate whether Bryant parents can have partial use of the driveway after classes begin next door at Farnell Middle School.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or solochek@sptimes.com