A week before the first day of school, Jefferson High School administrators and parents received the news that students could no longer park their vehicles at the Jefferson City Volunteer Fire Department to catch the school bus, leaving administrators scrambling for another solution and parents confused.
Fire Chief Keith Wear credited upcoming construction and the increasing number of students parking in the limited space as the reason for making the decision.
“My understanding as to the issue with the [bus] stop now, is that there is such a severe number of cars parking at the fire station now that it is causing an issue with deployment of emergency services, which puts a severe amount of liability on the fire hall,” Harlow’s Transportation Manager Joe Canzona Jr. told The Monitor.
As of Aug. 18, the bus stop has not been changed; however, Canzona confirmed that Harlow’s and Jefferson High administrators have pursued other options, such as parking in the empty lot north of T’ings Happen Bar or moving the stop to Corbin.
“As Harlow’s is a transportation solutions company, I’ve been providing my knowledge of on-the-ground resources available to help where I can,” Canzona said.
Jefferson High Superintendent Erik Wilkerson said the school has arranged for a short-term, no-cost lease with Angel Molyneaux – the new owner of T’ings – allowing students to park in the now vacant lot north of the building.
Wilkerson added that students will have to walk from the parking lot to the fire hall for pick-up; however, he said the school would speak with Harlow’s about potentially relocating the bus stop.
“It’s a short-term solution that we hope works out,” Wilkerson said. “We appreciate the new owners of T’ings for giving us this opportunity.”
Despite the change in parking venue, Canzona said Harlow’s will continue to pick up and drop off students at the fire hall until told otherwise. “Harlow’s does not determine the pick-up and drop-off locations for students. That is done by school boards and administrators. We simply go where we’re told and load/unload students when we’re told to,” he said.
The parking shift has left Jefferson City parents unsettled, stressed and confused by the decision.
On Aug. 15, shocked parents took to Facebook seeking answers.
“My daughter got a note on her car that students aren’t allowed to park at the firehall in Jefferson City anymore. So, I’m just wondering if student parking will be allowed anywhere in Jefferson City or if the bus stop is moving,” wrote Becca Averill in a post on the Jefferson County Montana Classifieds Facebook page.
“The fact that a community center and the local volunteer fire department could exile our youth from a safe and reasonable route to get on and off the bus is crazy to me,” Jake Zitnik, another Jefferson City parent, told The Monitor.
Zitnik voiced concern about students walking to and from the bus stop in colder weather, in addition to dealing with drivers who drive too fast down Spring Street.
“This is a dastardly mistake that is for fronted and against our youth,” he said. “What a shame to abuse our children.”
Wilkerson said the school will evaluate how the arrangement with T’ings plays out before asking the school board to change the stop location, adding that he needed to discuss with Harlow’s the safety and feasibility of a pick-up, drop-off location at the lot.
“This solution appears to be the best solution for all parties involved, and Harlow’s will continue to ensure that safety is our top priority while adjusting to the change,” Canzona said in response to Wilkerson’s comments.
Canzona said he hopes the students are respectful when parking at and walking from the new location, adding that “it would be very unfortunate to lose this option due to poor behavior at the lot.”
Molyneaux told The Monitor that she has asked the school to continue pursuing other options, adding that students parking at a bar isn’t the ideal situation.
“We want to help the community as much as we can,” she said.
The solution comes just in time for Jefferson High’s first day of school on Monday, however, the school will continue to monitor the Jefferson City bus stop situation and make changes as necessary.
“Whatever the school ends up deciding, Harlow’s will execute the plan to the best of our capabilities,” Canzona said.
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