SARATOGA SPRINGS — New school safety and parking measures were addressed by public officials and constituents at a forum at the Saratoga Springs City Center Monday night.
Hosted by Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin, the panel mainly focused on a newly built fence around the back of Saratoga Springs High School and a potential solution to a "free for all" of parking by the Lake Avenue Elementary School.
Assistant Police Chief Lt. John Catone briefly talked about the role of school resource officers in city schools.
However, when Chris Cook of Joseph Street raised the issue with Catone of school grounds monitors, who are often retired law enforcement officers, carrying firearms, Martin quickly intervened.
"We're not going to get into that," Martin said. "It's a school board issue."
A recent Daily Gazette report revealed that until as recently as the spring of 2018, some of the grounds monitors carried firearms on school grounds, a practice that was stopped after district officials determined the monitors needed official board approval to carry firearms under state law.
Martin and Catone said the new fence behind the high school was built to centralize foot traffic of students coming and going from school grounds and to keep out unauthorized visitors. The fence wraps around the back of the school along Joseph Street and Empire Avenue. From Cook's perspective on Joseph Street, the fence has only inconvenienced residents, and has been applied with a double standard.
Cook recorded videos, which he later shared with The Daily Gazette, of students jumping the fence after being dismissed from school. He also complained about city police enforcing parking violations during peak hours on school days and before football games, but not during home showing events on weekends, where he said scores of cars would double park and line both sides of the street.
“So, showcase of homes, OK, but a football game?" Cook asked. "We need to enforce it.”
Also discussed was parking during pickup hours at the Lake Avenue Elementary School, which Catone described as "an absolute free for all." The main problem, according to Catone, has been double parking and the blocking of residents' driveways along Regent Street.
Regent Street is normally closed for southbound traffic during pickup and drop-off hours, which Catone said has led to a greater willingness for parents to double park.
The solution, which Catone said would need to be approved as a change to city code, would be to ban all parking on the Regent Street side of the school during pickup and drop-off hours. Along with new signs and the existing team of three traffic control workers and one on-duty police officer, the area should be much safer for residents, pedestrians and students, he said.
The overall tenor of the meeting was positive. About two dozen residents were in attendance, with a third of the constituents coming to the meeting to address concerns near the high school.
One resident, Jared DiNismore of Joseph Street said that he is in favor of the new measures, such as the fence and daytime parking enforcement, despite the fact that it prolongs his high school age children's walk to school.
"I have two high school kids," DiNismore said. "They used to have a five-minute walk to school, now it's a ten minute one, but it's safer for the kids."
DiNismore also said that students speeding through the neighborhood has been a problem, which, in addition to double parking, led to he and his wife's cars being struck on two occasions last year.
Martin said it was important to hear feedback on solutions and look at the long term issues of parking and pedestrian safety.
"As ride sharing and self-driving cars become more common — and I think they're coming a lot sooner than people realize — parking becomes less of an issue," Martin said, adding that an increase in customized drop-offs and pickups will eliminate the clutter of present day parking. "You have to weigh how much you invest in the solutions for today with the problems of tomorrow."