Area school parking lots: a slippery situation

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— Excessive amounts of snow and ice have turned the high-traffic parking lot between Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School into a potentially dangerous area, school bus drivers and district officials say.

Ed Dingledine, director of transportation for the Steamboat Springs School District, said a number of factors -- including packed snow that covers parking spot lines and driving lanes, tall snow banks that limit visibility, and a steep, icy hill leading into and out of the parking lot -- create difficult driving conditions.

"There's a lot of small issues that kind of add up, and when you put them all together it creates a little chaos," Dingledine said Thursday.

That chaos led to an after-school incident Feb. 3, when a car got stuck on the steep exit road out of the parking lot for the two schools. Bus driver Bethany Aurin said middle school administrators, school staff and bus drivers worked together to free the car and handle the built-up traffic, resolving the incident with no accidents.

Dingledine said that although scoria was placed at the entrances and exits to the parking lot at 1 p.m. that afternoon, snowfall covered the crushed rocks, resulting in a slick, icy surface.

"We put down scoria on a regular basis," he said. "In the three years I've been here, this is the first time we've had that kind of problem."

The school district pays Johnson Excavation of Steam--boat to clear its parking lots, a daunting task especially at the Strawberry Park complex, which has an upper and lower lot. Dingledine praised the company's work and said that so far a site at nearby Butcher Knife Creek has provided room to pile snow removed from Strawberry Park.

"They're very good about clearing those lots out," Dingledine said about Johnson Excavating.

Packed snow that obscures parking and lane lines has led to some drivers making up their own parking rules between the schools.

"I'd encourage parents, unless they have a specific meeting at the school, to use the drive-through upper lot at the school to pick up their kids, and of course to also observe the 'No Parking' signs and not double-park," he said, clarifying that the upper lot is for quick pick-ups while the lower lot is for parents who need to enter the schools.

Bus driver Betsy Zimmerman expressed concerns this week about children running between buses that have to change their driving patterns because of icy conditions or cars parked haphazardly.

"(The parking area) is not inherently poorly designed. When it's used properly it can be very efficient," Dingledine said.

The only accident in the parking lots occurred Feb. 4, when one of the district's multi-passenger vans brushed against a car in the parking lot, causing minor damage to the car's bumper.

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