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Thursday, April 26, 2012 02:50 pm

Where would Jesus park?

Sacred Heart-Griffin students clog streets

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While cars driven by Sacred Heart-Griffin students jam Park Avenue and other residential streets near campus...
PHOTOS BY BRUCE RUSHTON

Eric Reiss knows the cars by heart, right down to the license plate numbers.

Where, he wonders, is the gold Toyota today?

“A wonderful little girl drives it,” says Reiss, who lives at the intersection of Monroe and Adelia streets, a stone’s throw from Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, which is both a blessing and a curse.

The school grounds are beautiful, and the students, Reiss says, unfailingly polite. He just wishes they wouldn’t use his street for a parking lot. And he isn’t alone.

Residents near the Catholic high school say they’re weary of SHG students parking on streets near campus, taking up spaces and occasionally blocking driveways.

“There are signs that say ‘no parking’ on this side (of the street), but they always do,” says Kristy Neuman, who lives a block away from Reiss on Park Street. “I’ve got the dean from SHG on speed dial.”

Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen also hears about it. He says that the staff in the city’s legal and traffic departments plan to speak with school officials.

“I know it’s an aggravation – I’ve handled many calls about it,” Theilen says. “I’m working on this. I don’t have any solution at this moment.”

Last Friday afternoon, 10 of the 19 cars parked on Park Avenue in the block between Governor and Monroe streets, where Neuman lives, had SHG placards attached to rearview mirrors. The parallel-parked cars effectively turned the street into a one-lane thoroughfare.

Meanwhile, a parking lot at the high school’s west campus, a short walk from classrooms at the main campus, had more than 100 empty spaces, with fencing materials and pallets stacked on some spaces at the perimeter that, judging from dirt and debris on the asphalt, had not been used in some time.

The situation was much the same Monday morning, when 21 cars jammed Park Avenue between Governor and Monroe streets, leaving just two open spaces. Seventy spots were open at the West Campus lot.

That a parking lot owned by SHG has open spaces while residential streets are packed with student cars is always mentioned by constituents who call Theilen, according to the alderman.

...there are plenty of spaces available at the school’s west campus, where seniors, by tradition, do not park.
PHOTOS BY BRUCE RUSHTON


“I can’t get SHG to answer me, definitively, if those spaces are available to students,” Theilen says.

Sister Katherine O’Connor, president of Sacred Heart-Griffin, said that underclassmen are supposed to park on the West Campus lot. Seniors, however, are allowed to park on streets near the school.

“There’s just been a tradition that seniors don’t park down on West Campus,” O’Connor said. “Seniors have had the privilege of parking on the street. I’m sure we will revisit it.”

O’Connor and Theilen both pointed out that students are parking on public streets.

“Just because you live there doesn’t mean you own the street,” Theilen says.

Neuman and Reiss say that student cars block snowplows and sometimes driveways. When police respond, students, not tow trucks, are summoned, they say, and no citations are issued.

Deputy police chief Cliff Buscher says that officers have discretion on whether to have cars towed, and that’s the case throughout the city. It’s often faster to find the owner of a car than a tow truck, Buscher says, and Theilen agrees.

“We may as well try to find the kid,” Theilen says.

Theilen said he’s concerned about parking issues next fall, when SHG’s football team plays its first season at a new stadium at the school’s West Campus. The stadium has 3,900 bleacher seats and room for more fans on berms at the field’s perimeter.

“You’ve just described the nightmare I see coming,” Theilen said.

The city did not require additional parking facilities. Rather, construction permits were issued after Sacred Heart-Griffin submitted a plan that calls for fans to park at nearby lots owned by the Diocese of Springfield and St. Agnes Parish and School.

O’Connor said that SHG has at least 1,000 spaces reserved for the stadium and will hire police to help with parking during games. And there may be relief coming for residents on school days. The school has acquired land just east of the city’s former west branch library, she said.

“We’ve purchased property and, when we can afford it, we hope to build a parking lot,” O’Connor said. “These things cost money.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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