Parking is an old problem at Lawrence High School, but it is an especially aggravating one this school year.
"In 1977 when I graduated, there were 1,976 students," said Tom Bracciano, division director of operations and facilities planning for the Lawrence school district. "Now there are 1,300, and they have more parking than they did when I was a student."
Still, he admits, the situation today is not good. More students have cars now than ever before and they all want to drive them to school.
LHS, 1901 La., has 360 parking places for its 1,311 students and 173 spaces for faculty, staff and district vehicles. Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive, was unable to provide the number of parking spots it has, but a site plan filed with the city's planning department shows that 1,034 spots were proposed for the school when it was built.
This year, the parking problem at LHS is exacerbated by the fact that part of its parking lot has been blocked off because of construction at the school.
A $3.6 million improvement project to build science labs and an entrance to the east gym and renovate the school's locker rooms is under way. Students and staff members are no longer able to access the main parking lot from Louisiana Street, one of three parking lot exits the school used to have, because it's blocked by construction.
"That's definitely a pain," said Lisa Lord, a senior at LHS.
"It makes it hard to get out of here," said Jake Lorenzo, also a senior at the school. "If you're trying to get out on that side (Louisiana Street), you have to drive all the way around the school."
Also, 60 precious parking spaces are gone due to the construction.
"It's been a bit of a challenge," said LHS principal Steve Nilhas.
Nilhas said he wants to use this chance to look at what can be done to ease the school's parking problems.
"We know we need to expand parking," he said. "That's been an issue for a long time, and so I think this maybe forces the issue a little bit."
Bracciano said addressing parking at LHS is part of the district's five-year facility improvement plan, but it's one of many items on that list.
"We have talked in the past about doing more parking in the south," Bracciano said. "Really, it involves getting an engineer in there to say, 'What can we reconfigure? What can we do to solve this problem?' You just don't have a lot of land to work with. I don't know what the answer is."
The parking problem is not just abuzz at the administrative level, though. Students are discussing the issue among themselves and in class.
"We were talking about it and saying the park by Centennial (School), maybe paving that over, and I think that's a good idea," said Lauren Ollila, a junior at LHS. "I don't know who uses that park, but what about the practice fields? The band practice field or the football practice field?
"They have a lot of options. They just need to take it into action."
The school district owns vacant land south of Centennial, 2145 La., and the building now houses Lawrence Virtual School. The band and football practice fields are on the west edge of the LHS campus.
Nilhas said he'd like to see a plan that takes into consideration the traffic flow on connecting streets, including congestion problems at 19th and Louisiana streets.
"It all needs to work together," he said. "It's my hope over the next couple of years we can not only improve parking we have in terms of lighting and safety but also expand what we have."