Bellefonte Area High School students won’t have to pay $20 this school year for a student parking pass.
District administration lowered the cost to $5.
And it came as a way to help with what they called a parking problem that trickled into the community last school year.
The student lot at Bellefonte Area High School wasn’t always full.
Board members and district administrators said that was because many students parked in the lots of nearby businesses, and on borough streets.
It was a way to avoid paying the parking fee, Assistant Principal Mike Fedisson said.
But with the complaint of increased traffic congestion at the East Bishop and School streets intersection leading to the middle school, and limited parking spots for business patrons, school board members and district administrators came up with potential solutions to the issue: Encourage students to ride the school bus, and lower the cost of parking.
“We can’t ask all kids just to ride the bus,” Fedisson said. “Many kids need to get to work after school or participate in extracurriculars so they drive, but we hope the $5 is a little more palatable for the students and more efficient for us in the long run.”
Student parking fees collected go toward “parking tags and the administration of those tags for the high school,” district Director of Fiscal Affairs Ken Bean said.
Revenue from the tags last school year was $2,500, but Bean said he anticipates this year’s numbers “to be drastically reduced, but hopefully have more students using the parking lot.”
Some students would forgo getting a pass, and park on borough streets, and in the lot where the old Weis Markets was located across from the high school.
Fedisson said the situation then led to students sometimes parking at the M&T Bank lot in that same plaza. Weis Markets reportedly still owns land there.
A store manager at the current Weis Markets store on Buckaroo Lane said he is aware of the situation, but could not comment further.
The spokesman for the store at its headquarters in Sunbury did not reply to a request for a comment.
Student parking at the Bellefonte Area High School campus is along East Bishop Street near the baseball fields.
Fedisson said it includes 207 spaces, of which he estimates up to 187 students could occupy annually. The remainder of the spaces are used for visitors and substitutes.
“We have space available for them, but a number of students would park elsewhere and it caused congested traffic near the school, and some businesses, like the bank, were concerned with the parking,” Fedisson said. “Those businesses asked us to encourage students to park on campus so they would have the parking availability.”
Fedisson said administrators spoke with students and sent out a mass message encouraging students to only park at the high school. They also reviewed the school’s handbook, which reportedly doesn’t urge students to park anywhere but the school’s campus.
“There are peak times of parking,” Fedisson said.
It gets busiest in the spring — the same time the parking concern was at its height, Fedisson said.
“Some parents don’t want their child to drive in the winter for safety reasons so we see a decline in parking then, but it spikes after that,” he said. “There are also a lot of birthdays and their eligibility to drive often comes in the spring. This is also a time I don’t think they feel like paying the full price for parking for the short amount of time.”
When Fedisson presented the parking situation to the nine-member school board in May, the board and district teamed up to help fix the issue.
“We’re not saying this is the ultimate solution, but think it’s a good incentive,” Fedisson said about the parking price decrease.
Students and their families have not yet been notified by the district about the price changes, but Fedisson said administration plans to use an alert system called Student Messenger to tell students and their families.
To obtain a pass, a student must go to the high school office with a copy of their license, registration and insurance, and then fill out an application. Upon payment and approval, the student will then get an assigned parking spot in the student lot.