The school year at opened and closed with a host of parking and traffic challenges. Last September, after a weeklong delayed start to thanks to tropical storm Irene, and a closed rear lot that left seniors unable to drive to school for several weeks, the final insult was .
Last Wednesday, with a , a total of 637 graduating seniors and approximately 4,000 guests funneling into Cardinal Stadium, GHS graduation faced its own set of parking and traffic challenges.
In a letter sent to Patch and GHS Headmaster Chris Winters, Greenwich resident Helena Martin described attending her brother's GHS graduation June 20 along with parents and sister, a GHS rising junior who has cerebral palsy and uses a scooter to travel distances.
Unfortunately for Martin, after the pleasure of watching her brother receive his diploma, "The event was eclipsed by the borderline disaster parking situation that evening."
Reached by phone, Martin said her family arrived at 6 pm to find the designated handicap parking (south lot) full. Her father left the family at the drop-off area and parked at . After the ceremony, she and her father went to get the car and planned to meet mother, sister on scooter, and newly-graduated brother back at the handicap lot. According to Martin, this is where the ordeal started.
"They did a good job of moving traffic along quickly after graduation, but we couldn't get back to pick my sister up. Her scooter couldn't get up the steep hill toward Christ Church, so the plan was to pick her up by the handicap parking lot. But we couldn't turn into Hillside from Post Road. The police waved us on and we drove all the way around campus to the north end of Hillside and they still wouldn't let us through. They just didn't believe us," said Martin. "Finally a sceptical police officer approached our car and leaned in the window and demanded, 'What kind of handicap?'"
"Showing our state-issued handicap pass did nothing to change the minds of the officers, who kept waving us in the wrong direction and, several times, even refused to come to the window to speak to us."
"Finally, a police officer let us through to Hillside, but then we were stopped three additional checkpoints. The police just didn't believe us or seem to care."
Insensitivity on Part of Greenwich Police?
"This displays incredible insensitivity on the part of police," said Martin. "Going back, I'm not sure we would have done anything differently."
Referring to some of the suggestions in Martin's letter as reasonable and sensible, GHS Headmaster Winters replied in an email, "To the extent that her experience can help us learn some additional ways to accommodate all the accessibility issues we have with Graduation, I welcome the input."
According Winters, "Overall, we graduated 637 seniors in 95-degree heat in front of nearly 4,000 guests and had very few incidents this year. We are committed to doing an even better job in the future."
Megan Sweeney, whose son Christopher graduated GHS last Wednesday agreed that drop-off went smoothly. "I got there at 6:25 p.m. and was directed immediately to a space in the high school parking lot. I saw the police accommodating drop-offs for elderly or those who couldn’t walk far at various spots on Hillside Road in front of the school, and even giving some “escorts” to drivers to the few available spaces left in the lot."
Carline Martin who arrived just 45 minutes before the ceremony started to watch her son Conner graduate, said, "I was expecting a nightmarish situation but, overall, I felt that the entire graduation was well run."
Greenwich Police Traffic Sgt. Drenth, who counts this as his sixth year overseeing police activity at graduation, said there were 27 officers assigned to the GHS campus and two captains. “We tweak it and have it down to a science."
According to Drenth, Greenwich police assisted inside the stadium, directed traffic on Hillside and the Post Road, and worked with GHS security. Traffic on Hillside was shut down once the lot filled and there was a one-way traffic pattern. There was also a shuttle bus to satellite parking at Central Middle School. Many people parked at Christ Church and the YWCA and walked.
This year there were two triage tents in ancticipation of the heat. The school and GEMS both supplied water. There was an extra ambulance and crew.
As for parking, according to Drenth, “It was first come, first served. When the lot was full we had to shut it down. We try the best we can and I think we did a good job. It’s unfortunate that one or two were overlooked or feel they didn’t get the service they deserved.”
Anyone with a state issued handicapped license had three drop-off options, including one at Cardinal stadium entrance (behind the home bleachers) in the service driveway. There were 75 spots in the south lot, of which 30 spots were reserved for dignitaries, leaving 45 handicapped spots. Drenth said unclaimed spots for dignitaries were yielded to families with handicapped permits.
Additionally, the police intended to allocated an additional 30 spots for handicapped parking by the science wing along Hillside. Unfortunately, according to Drenth, before they police turned up at 2:15 to reserve the spots, they had been taken by people dropping off cars in anticipation of the parking situation hours later.
Two of the four golf carts owned by GHS were out of service, so there were just two remaining to assist with shuttling handicapped people. Drenth agreed that next year it would be ideal to have all four in service if not more, possibly borrowed from local clubs.
Drenth explained that police went out of their way, even offering elderly and handicapped attendees the chance to hop in a squad cars for a ride up to Cardinal Stadium.
Still, Drenth said he felt badly to hear over his radio that people were waiting an hour or longer for assistance.
Everyone involved in planning agreed that there is always room for improvement. As for Helena Martin, she hopes Headmaster Winters and Greenwich Police prevent a situation similar to her family's ordeal from repeating in the future.