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OUR OPINION: Central High’s parking deserves priority

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opinion Grand Forks, 58203

Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Parking at Red River High School in Grand Forks isn’t a problem. True, students sometimes have to walk the length of a football field or two; the parking spaces close to the school fill up fast.

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But on balance, students can drive to Red River at any time of the day and be assured of a parking place. They can park there all day long, too.

Grand Forks Central High School students deserve the same ease and convenience. And as the new Downtown Parking Study Review Committee gets under way, committee members should keep that priority in mind.

We’re thrilled to see city and school-district officials and others sitting together on the committee and working things out. Indeed, if we have any criticism of the school district on this matter, it’s that the district didn’t insist on such get-togethers earlier.

As evidence, consider this quote from a Herald story in April:

“But City Planner Brad Gengler said he first heard about the School District’s parking lot project after residents contacted him in either February or March.

“‘To date, the School District has not yet contacted me or my department,’ he said Monday. ‘I’m kind of in the dark on the whole project.’”

To repeat: “I’m kind of in the dark on the whole project.”

Those are words that school-district officials in every district in America should take pains never to hear coming from their local city planner.

But that oversight aside, the district now is being flexible, accepting temporary fixes and holding off on parking-lot-construction plans until after the committee does its work.

Good. Now, the challenge will be for city leaders, Downtown Development Association officials and others on the committee to share the district’s desire to provide reliable and convenient day-long parking for Central students.

Central’s presence is a gigantic asset for downtown Grand Forks. What energy and life the hundreds of high-school students infuse into the area. What a blow the downtown — the heart of Grand Forks — would suffer if a new Central ever got built somewhere else.

And to the school district’s everlasting credit, administrators have long made parity between Red River and Central high schools a top priority. To the best of our knowledge, the schools offer the same classes and boast the same extracurriculars. Officials took pains to upgrade Central’s theater at the same time as Red River’s new theater got built, and so on.

But one big inconsistency remains, and that’s in the important area of parking. It’s spacious, predictable and available for extended periods at Red River, while at Central — not so much.

That should change, and parity — or at least, as close to parity as possible, given Central’s setting in a busy downtown — is an achievement that would benefit not just Central students but all of Grand Forks.

Put bluntly, it’s in Grand Forks’ supreme good interest to boast two respected, well-cared-for and comparable general high schools, rather than two schools whose quality drifts apart.

Making parking easy will help Central retain those students who have a choice in the matter, and many of them are very good students indeed. In other words, convenient parking can help keep Central vibrant and healthy; and a vibrant and healthy Central is THE foundation of a successful downtown.

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