Residents of Fleet Court in the Village have taken this week to patrolling their own street.
The small private way hasn’t incurred a wave of crime or some other rash of misdeeds, but rather it has been inundated with desperate parents trying to navigate the narrow paths of the Village to the new Pioneer Charter School, which last week debuted with its full contingent of 600-plus students in grades K-8.
“We have a couple of people on the street who have posted themselves on the corner to try to keep people from coming down our street,” said Kathy Prizzio. “The huge increase in traffic is a huge nightmare and inconvenience to the people here. Our street abuts the parking lot of the school, but there is a chain link fence to keep it closed. People are driving down the street frantically and realizing they can’t get through and so then they try to do a U-turn. That’s not easy on these narrow streets…I’m angry at the City for allowing the school to come here, but I’ve heard they didn’t really have a choice.”
And that’s just one street.
Callers from all over the Village told the Independent that traffic at pick up and drop off has been horrible since the school started full operations last Tuesday, Aug. 14. There are reports of impatient parents driving on sidewalks, going the wrong direction on streets and simply gridlocking the neighborhood.
The Pioneer Charter School already has a long-standing location for its high school on Summer Street, but last year they consolidated several locations into the building in the Village near Santilli Circle. Last spring, they opened the new consolidated location for K-4, and then last week, the full K-8 contingent reported to the new school in the Village.
Rosanna Corrado, director of communications from the school, said they understand the concerns and hope to implement a new policy to help with pick-ups in the afternoon. Part of the problem, she said, was that with the expanded student population, they did not let parents drive into the parking lot at dismissal due to safety concerns. That led to mayhem on the surrounding streets.
Now, she said, they will implement a policy where parents can come at dismissal and circulate through the parking lot as they do during morning drop-offs.
“We definitely heard about the problems and acknowledge the neighborhood’s concerns,” she said. “We understand there were a lot of frustrations. For the first week, we were not allowing parents to come into the parking lot to pick up the children because there were so many kids there. It was for safety, but because we heard the concerns of neighbors, we are going to put in a new pattern.”
She said the new “rolling dismissal” should stop the problems at dismissal. She said most of the problems they were aware of were at dismissal.
“We’re really just trying to address the problems that we saw,” she said. “We have been going back and forth with elected officials about their input to make sure everyone is all set.”
She said part of the problem is simply the large amounts of new students with parents who are coming to the Village for the first time. Many of them are unfamiliar with the traffic patterns and the streets, so the first week partly had some learning curve to overcome, she said.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he got several calls on Friday from residents who described a very chaotic scene with traffic violations and safety issues.
“I immediately called and spoke with Chief Mazzie regarding the matter,” he said. “I am very concerned and seeing it’s still very early in the school year, I have great hope that these issues can be resolved, but they absolutely need to collaborate immediately with the School, Police Department and Neighborhood and City Officials…On Sunday, I heard from over 20 residents about ongoing issues regarding parking, pick-up and drop-off times and cars driving out of control through the small streets of the Village. I heard of cars coming down Fleet Court, which is a very narrow dead end street. Also, I heard about cars dangerously crossing the Northern Strand bike path through a private property.”
He said he is calling on the school to have a neighborhood meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“I am calling on the school to hold a get to know your school night and inviting the Police Department and City officials to discuss with the parents of the students the do’s and do not’s and the concerns of the area residents,” he said.
For some of the residents, Pioneer has never really extended the hand of neighborliness.
“When they opened last spring, the gas company was doing a major project, and we parked our cars in their parking lot,” said Prizzio. “They left a nasty note on all of our cars saying they would tow us if we did it again. As far as being a good neighbor, they started off on the wrong foot and they haven’t tried to meet anyone half way.”