By Kimberly Day, Contributing Writer
Parking on campus is always a topic of conversation throughout the year at UMF, especially when classes begin and the parking lots start filling up again. Students have voiced concerns about the safety and convenience of first-year parking in particular, and now the conversation has made it’s way into Master Planning discussions with President Kate Foster and facilities management.
Perhaps the most talked about aspect of this issue is available parking for first-year students. First-year students are able to park in either lot 18 (behind Scott Hall), lots 21 and 22 (on Prescott Street) or lot 26 which is located behind the FRC.
For first-year students and Scott Hall residents Tasha Dube and Destiney Charles, this availability can be problematic. Charles noted that, “Freshman parking lots are far from everything,” and both Charles and Dube stated that neither of them feel safe walking down to lots 21 and 22. Charles agreed after Dube remarked, “Better lighting would help.”
Many other resident students have expressed those feelings in the past. Because of this, President Kate Foster and head of facilities, Jeff McKay, worked to alter that to help students feel safer and more comfortable walking to their vehicles. “If someone came to me and said ‘I’m scared, it’s not well lit enough, I don’t like the path,’” President Foster explained, “then, we had concerns and that’s when we turned to facilities and said, ‘we don’t think the lighting is sufficient in these student parking lots. We don’t think they feel safe enough,’” continued Foster, “that is a concern we heard loud and clear.”
Actions have already been taken to address these concerns since last year, according to McKay. “We revamped the lighting down in Prescott Field,” adding, “we try to stay on that as best as we can as far as lighting.”
The act of providing better lighting comes with the recently developed project of Master Planning on campus. The project was introduced last school year, involving President Foster, McKay, and his facilities team. The reason for the campus Master Planning, according to President Foster, is in part to, “Make sure the campus is functioning, aesthetically pleasing, and encourages a sense of community that you want.”
Some alterations and changes have already been put in place, such as the improvement of lighting in the parking lots, and many are forthcoming.
While students frequently remark that there is not enough parking on campus, “There are 1,300 spaces between all of the lots,” says McKay.
“18 months ago or so we authorized a parking task force to take a look at this,” President Foster added. “One of the findings was that there is enough parking. In fact, there are always more spaces empty at any time.” President Foster recognized that there may not always be a parking spot right next to a student’s residence hall but noted that, just like a mall during holiday season, a space may not always be available right at the front door.
Another concern with parking is a feeling of disconnection from campus with lots 21, 22 and 18. “The house down there makes me feel uncomfortable,” Dube chimed in.
Sophomore Meredith Laliberte reflected on her experience of having to walk down there and agreed, “I didn’t feel connected down in the freshman parking because there’s some houses in between,” which according to Laliberte gives the area an “eerie and vulnerable” feeling.
Understanding this concern, President Foster talked of future plans to purchase the property there. “I’ve got real vision for the areas down there, too. It hasn’t been realized yet because there is private property there,” Foster explained. “We are on that and agree that there is opportunity in time to do that.”
Junior Daniel Picard joined the conversation about the disconnection between campus and lower lot parking by agreeing that purchasing the house next to Alice James Books would help and also, “putting in a sidewalk and lights.” President Foster and McKay both agreed with this.
“There is also a bad path along Front Street,” President Foster concurred. “There is no sidewalk and on part of it you have to cross over. None of us are happy with that. With Alice James Books it’s the same situation. There’s no sidewalk past the brook.”
President Foster and McKay hope to add a stairwell from the back of Scott Hall to lot 18 as well as sidewalks in that area and down to lots 21 and 22 in hopes of providing a better sense of connection.
In reference to possible renovations of parking on campus, sophomore Collin Regan brought up a possible parking garage. “It would be nice to just have one parking garage on campus and everyone parked there,” Regan said, “Then it isn’t really far from anything and there is still proper lighting to get you back and you’re still right on campus.” Regan also added that this could be a good idea next to the Public Safety Building.
President Foster responded positively to idea.“I think a parking garage is a provocative thought,” she added, “That’s a really interesting proposal that might open up other spaces on campus.”
The students did enjoy some aspects about the parking available. Dube added later, “I like that freshman are allowed to have cars on campus.”
Regan added, “What I do like about parking is how cheap it is compared to other schools.” UMF only charges students $20 for a parking pass, a price that is significantly cheaper than the majority of colleges and universities. Many colleges also prohibit first year students from parking on campus.
The parking on campus is a work in progress that coincides with the campus Master Planning. There are ideas and plans to alter the available parking in the future and a continuous effort to provide a better sense of safety and connection to the campus. Students are always encouraged to utilize the campus escort service through Public Safety. In the meantime, keep an eye out for future forums held by President Foster and feel free to share input, opinions, and suggestions when they arise.