Construction for North High’s parking lot will begin by the end of July, according to Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) and Grounds.
The building of the new parking lot, which will add 97 spaces, comes two years after initial plans for its construction were passed in the 2017 GNPS Bond Referendum. Two years later, some residents are still up in arms about the parking lot, contesting that the lot will worsen traffic safety, harm the environment and send the wrong message to students.
“The parking lot is not an educational enhancement and it’s not an infrastructure repair,” Anne Mendelson, Village of Great Neck Trustee, said.
Mendelson, who lives “down the street” from the corner of Beach and Polo Roads, the location of the future parking lot, believes the lot is unnecessary and represents a mishandling of school funds that could be directed elsewhere.
“I stress the words ‘educational enhancements’ and ‘infrastructure repair,’ because those were the words used repeatedly by the school district to win public trust [for the bond] in all the information they sent out,” Mendelson said. “I don’t think a parking lot qualifies as an educational enhancement and, certainly, paving over a viable playing field, because it’s a soccer field, does not qualify as an infrastructure repair.”
The parking lot will cost $591,700, according to the 2017 list of bond items. Adding the 97 parking spaces will create more than 120 student parking spots in total.
Residents also have environmental concerns about the lot, claiming it will increase runoff and destroy precious green space.
Dr. Peter Gruber, an emergency room doctor who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency prior to studying medicine, said the project will have negative impacts on the environment.
“It just creates more and more runoff,” Gruber said. “Less water is going to be percolating down to the groundwater, more water is going to be running off into the sewers. I can’t say by itself this is going to be destructive, but it’s the whole concept of taking down natural areas.”
Though North High administration declined interview requests for this article, saying the issue has already passed, GNPS Superintendent Dr. Teresa Prendergast addressed the community’s concerns about the parking lot in a February 2018 open letter, in which she maintained that the field “is not viable for athletic purposes” and is a current “breeding ground for mosquitoes.”
Prendergast stressed that the current situation poses a safety risk for students, as a recent increase in North High student population has made parking lot spots limited for students.
“The additional on-campus parking that will be created through this initiative will ensure the safety of our students before, during and after the school day,” Prendergast said. “Cars that once parked on local streets will be redirected to the new parking lot. As an open campus, this parking lot will allow the school administration to prevent the unauthorized use of student vehicles throughout the school day.”
Gruber noted, however, that a new parking lot does not stop students from parking on streets like Beach Road.
In a GNPS Board of Education statement, the board stood by Dr. Prendergast’s letter.
“It is clear that the safety of our students is the sole concern for the project,” the statement said.
Yet Molly Racsko, a 2019 graduate of North High who walked to school every day, felt that building the new parking lot will only add to an already dangerous morning drop-off situation.
“I’ve come ridiculously close to being run over more times than I can count, and adding more cars will not help the traffic problem,” Racsko said.
Mendelson also does not think the lot would make students more safe, believing that more students headed toward one parking lot “will increase traffic on Polo Road,” which will create “more danger, not less.”
Prendergast also stated that precautions will be put in place to protect the environment.
“The parking area will maintain a 30-foot wide undisturbed tree-lined area along Beach Road and neighboring residential properties,” Prendergast said. “Additionally, approximately 60 quick-growing Leyland cypress trees will be planted around the perimeter of the parking lot…. A new drainage system will address residents’ concerns about storm runoff and will improve overall drainage in the area.”
Many of the residents and neighbors of the high school see the parking lot as a waste of money, since the Parkwood parking lot already exists.
“There’s another parking lot that the school owns, the Parkwood parking lot, and they just don’t want to use it,” Mendelson said. “They say, ‘Oh, but it’s two blocks, they’ll have to walk.’ You know what? I try to get my 10,000 steps every day.”
Despite the fact that opposition to the parking lot remains, the lot is expected to be completed in time for the 2019–20 school year.
Only then, will residents and parents finally be able to see the parking lot’s true impact on traffic and safety.