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Parents say parking at Century Elementary is ‘a nightmare'

Some parents describe parking at Century Elementary School in Grand Forks as "crazy," "horrible" and "a nightmare." With only one outlet for the parking lot, the traffic gets so clogged between 17th Avenue South and 34th Street that parents make ...

Vehicles line up outside of Century Elementary for parents to pick up their children after school recently. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald


Some parents describe parking at Century Elementary School in Grand Forks as “crazy,” “horrible” and “a nightmare.”

With only one outlet for the parking lot, the traffic gets so clogged between 17th Avenue South and 34th Street that parents make U-turns, kids dash between cars, parents “flip the bird” more often, and some just stop their car in the middle of the street, parents said. The traffic is so bad that law enforcement has become involved, they said.

By 2:40 p.m. Wednesday, Jeanine Delorme was among eight cars parked in a loading zone, waiting for students to spill out of the building. She usually arrives by 2 p.m. just to find a parking spot.

“It’s really ridiculous,” she said.


With 660 students in attendance this year, and enrollment increasing at a faster pace there than most elementary schools, Century’s parking situation is “unique,” said school officials. However, they don’t anticipate much of a problem next year, with 250 students attending the new south-end elementary school, said Principal Cindy Cochran.

But school officials said they’ve developed a set of driving regulations for parents and have added more crossing guards, among other changes. LaVonne Nelson, school liaison officer, said it’s made a difference - one recent afternoon, the parking lot was empty by 3:10 p.m., she said.

“We’re getting 600-some kids in and out of the parking lot in 10 minutes, which in my opinion is unbelievable,” she said.


Eight parents on Wednesday said they typically arrive between 2:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to pick up students and can wait for up to an hour to leave.

Jennifer Dame, who lives near the school, stopped dropping her own children off, in part because of the traffic, but also because they’re old enough to walk across the street with a crossing guard, she said.

“I went there (once) at 2:30 p.m. and couldn’t find a place to park,” she said. “It’s cutthroat.”

Although two or three police officers are on duty at a time - directing traffic, handing out tickets and making sure students are safely crossing the intersection - parents aren’t usually held accountable for illegal parking, parents said.  


Nelson said officers can’t be out there on a daily basis because there aren’t enough assigned to watch over the school, she said.

School officials said they’re doing everything they can to improve the situation. Administrators, the police department, Safe Kids Grand Forks and other groups have developed nine guidelines for parents to follow. Each month, parents receive a letter that advises them to park a block away, cross only at the crosswalks, use certain lanes to drop off children and other suggestions.

On Wednesday, some parents parked illegally anyway, but the parking lot was empty by 3:10 p.m. Several said they were concerned about what will happen in the winter when the parking situation will grow even more difficult. 

“No one wants their child to walk two blocks away to a vehicle,” said parent Taunya Varnson. 

Nelson said construction last year added a new turning lane, which removed the parking lane. In the winter, families will just have to arrange a central pickup point, she said.

“Nothing will change (in terms of parking),” she said. “That’s how the street is designed now.”

School effort

Recognition of the situation, and the school’s effort to address it, has been going on for several years, said Cochran.


The school has redirected traffic around the building, added more signs and completed several traffic studies to help reduce the problem, she said. This year, the school hired eight more crossing guards and started a new morning reading program. Students can also eat breakfast earlier, which offsets morning traffic, she said.

A dozen people watch intersections each day, while teachers and other staff members also supervise traffic to make sure kids are safe, she said.

Patty Olsen, a Safe Kids Grand Forks program employee, said parking can be a hassle when parents can’t leave young children alone in the car. But, “it takes parents doing the right thing, and there are challenges at every school,” she said.

Nelson acknowledged the situation can be a “nightmare,” but they’ve done all of the safety protocols possible.

“We just ask for the cooperation and patience of the people involved,” she said.



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