Jerry Davich: Resident complains school parking a public safety hazard
JERRY DAVICH June 1, 2014 9:08PM
A long-time Miller resident is fed up with the parking problems along his street near Wirt/Emerson High School. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2014 6:07AM
Tom Coleman is fed up with motorists parking along his street near Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy in the Miller section of Gary. But he’s learning a hard lesson in finding a solution to the chronic problem in that neighborhood.
“I am very concerned about my fiancee’s health. We are both senior citizens and Carla has suffered one heart attack,” he wrote to Gary Councilwoman Mildred Shannon and Gary Community School Corp. officials.
“There are times when the street is so crowded with vehicles that an ambulance and/or fire truck would not be able to enter the street,” he wrote. “Is the 6500 block of Birch Ave. zoned as a school parking lot?”
I’m very familiar with this problem but from decades ago, when I attended Wirt and parked my 1980 Chevy Chevette or 1978 Honda motorcycle along that dead-end street, just off Grand Boulevard. Yes, it’s that old of a problem, yet I had no idea it still existed until Coleman contacted me.
“The house next door to us had a fire and is being rebuilt,” he told me. “There have been times when equipment needed by the people rebuilding the home could not get through the entrance of the street. And Carla and I ordered new furniture and the truck could not enter the street.”
The day I visited his home, last week, there were just a few vehicles parked along his street and none in front of his home, where a black and white “Do Not Block Drive” sign is posted. But this issue has more gray to it than you might think.
Neighbors want a permanent solution, such as the city posting no-parking signs along that block. The city, however, doesn’t want to get involved unless as a last resort, I’m told. And it may come to that if the Gary Community School Corp.’s response to me is any indication.
“Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy is located in the central part of Miller. It’s wonderfully supported by the community especially during special events. As such, people may use a public street to park,” said Charmella Greer, spokeswoman for the Gary Community School Corp.
In other words, I don’t see any no-parking signs coming to this street anytime soon or stern warnings to faculty and students.
Coleman already fears this, echoed in his terse letter to city and school officials.
“I suggest the Gary Common Council pass an ordinance for prospective buyers and renters that informs them that if you live near a school, the street where you reside is the school parking lot.”
“It is important for the potential residents to know that they will be unable to park on their street, nor will friends, relatives or medical professionals who visit,” he wrote. “And STUDENTS and employees of the school do not have to obey Indiana laws for parking around stop signs. However, if you would like to volunteer to help pick up empty pop cans, McDonald’s coffee cups and bags, candy wrappers and snack bags left by STUDENTS and employees, you are welcome to do so.”
I hear similar complaints from other neighbors of Northwest Indiana schools, and I often see their plight firsthand when I drive by their homes. Additional vehicles, more foot traffic, noise problems before and after school. It’s not for me, that’s for sure.
Coleman, a semi-retired teacher who taught in Chicago for many years, said his former school district became part of its community by working together with city and school leaders. Not so much with Miller and Wirt-Emerson, he contends.
“Community relations with this school is nonexistent,” he told me.
“The principal of Wirt will not return phone calls or letters. I am outraged that all I receive is the finger from the school. I want a meeting with the Wirt principal. And I want action NOW,” he wrote in his letter.
Coleman said the school’s faculty and student parking lots are “at least 55 percent empty,” and on the day I visited there were certainly open parking spaces.
“The school has two parking lots,” he wrote. “Why do students and employees have to park on the street? I have asked Wirt employees why they do not park in the school lots and they told me because the lots are not safe and fear for their lives.”
A petition has been created and signed by residents of his block and the nearby church community. It requests the city place no-parking signs there.
With all the challenges facing Gary these days, I don’t see Coleman’s complaint as very high on its list. But maybe something will be done to at least satisfy his public-safety concerns.
In the meantime, I learned a valuable lesson years ago in my job. Although every problem, complaint or contentious situation can’t be resolved, an old-school, face-to-face conversation and exchange of opinions (civil or heated) can go a long way.
Most people who feel they have a valid complaint often feel voiceless and simply want their voice to be heard, or amplified, which is when I get contacted.
Hopefully, I can write a follow-up column after such a meeting takes place. And I promise to park in the school lot when I do.
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