BY ANDREAS YILMA
BEACON FALLS — Town officials had to restrict the Town Hall parking lot during business hours to Town Hall employees and customers only after too many Laurel Ledge Elementary School parents were taking up spaces before school dismissal time.
The Board of Selectmen on Feb. 6 put out a parking sign at the entrance of Town Hall that reads “Town Hall business and employee parking only” with hours from Monday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All violators will be towed at their expense.” The move comes after a more than decade-long problem where originally teachers and more recently, parents have filled up the parking lot at dismissal time.
The Town Hall parking lot has about 30 spaces including 10 assigned spots for town employees. The elementary school, which has about 300 students dismissed at 3:15 p.m., is just on the other side of Highland Avenue from Town Hall.
First Selectman Gerard Smith said the parking issue has existed since he was elected in 2011. At first, just teachers would park at the lot and town officials were able to resolve the situation.
“As we progressed, the problem still ensued. From quarter to three to 3:30 p.m. parents would would pull into the parking lot and they’d fill all the empty spaces, then they would fill all the employee spaces,” Smith said at the Board of Selectmen’s regular Feb. 13 meeting.
It’s a double problem, with parents not only taking up the entire lot but also parking in front of residents’ driveways on Highland Avenue. Residents have complained to Smith about not being able to park at Town Hall while trying to conduct business, Smith said.
“Employees are telling me ‘I’m late back to work because I couldn’t find a parking space to get back so I had to sit in my car for half an hour before I could come in the building,’” Smith said.
Beacon Falls Police Cpl. Jay Piccirillo offered a suggestion to Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin and Smith made the same suggestion to Laurel Ledge Elementary School Principal Regina Murzak— for teachers to park in back of the school, where there are about 30 parking spaces, in order to free up spaces in front of the school for parents.
In an email to school staff, Murzak said that she spoke with Yamin, who shared the thought that in an attempt to support parents at dismissal time with parking, staff should consider parking in the upper lot.
“This may relieve some tension with parking at Town Hall. This is just something that we wanted to throw out as a consideration and is not directive by any means,” Murzak said in the email to staff.
Smith said he thought it was deplorable that Yamin and Murzak would not tell their employees to park in the rear of the school.
“I certainly would tell my employees of the town and I think it’s a slap in the face to every parent that has to park somewhere,” Smith said.
The school district represents 70% of taxpayers’ money. “The school is a business where parents are the customers and it’s not known of any business letting its employees park in the front and making the customers walk from the other side, Smith said at a special Feb. 15 Board of Education meeting.
“So I would just make a recommendation — have the teachers park in the back and let the parents go pick the children up so they don’t have to walk across the street and overwhelm the parking lot,” Smith told the school board.
Smith and Selectman Michael Krenesky claimed that Yamin told town officials it wasn’t the school district’s problem.
“Not only apparently did he say ‘not my problem’ to the suggestion that teachers park in the back parking lot, but he has no intention of inconveniencing the teachers, Krenesky said. But he added, “I’m getting this second hand.”
Yamin said he’s never made those claims and instead said he understands the concerns but can’t direct teachers where to park.
“We do not have assigned spots. Every year since I’ve been here, I’ve talked to parents and teachers about not blocking driveways on the street,” he said.
Yamin said he has repeatedly sent numerous letters to staff and the community instructing them not to park in assigned spots but hasn’t sent one this year.
“I said to the teachers, this is not a directive. However, there’s a problem with parent pick up at Town Hall,” Yamin said. “If possible, I request that you park up in the back parking lot.”