The Red Spring parking lot on a snowy afternoon. There are 74 total spots in this lot. (Photo by Anneliese Ziegenbein)

By Anneliese Ziegenbein

You pull out of your driveway and start on your way to school. Maybe you stop for coffee on the way or maybe you pick up a friend. Whatever it may be, there is a new sense of freedom granted by the privilege of traveling on your own route to school and on your own time. No more waking up extra early to catch a bus or leaving the house on a parent’s schedule.

Driving oneself to school is a milestone that many students look forward to in high school. At Andover High School, it is especially exciting senior year when students can finally park in the glorified senior lot, highly sought after for its convenient proximity to the school. Most expect to be placed in the senior lot because they are in fact seniors, but in reality not everyone lucks out. Some students score big with a painless two-minute walk from a close parking spot. At the short end of the stick is an unlucky bunch greeted with 180 days of unfortunate ten-minute treks from the infamous Red Spring parking lot.

I spent two school years walking from the Red Spring lot through harsh winters that froze me from head to toe and heavy rain that soaked through my shoes and backpack. With my unfortunate experience, I can assume that those parking there now are not very pleased with their circumstances, especially if they’re seniors. However, as with any situation, it is important to learn background before forming conclusions, and who better to learn from than the parking lottery expert himself, Assistant Principal Norton.

Those who park at Red Spring must then endure a 10-minute walk to school. (Photo by Anneliese Ziegenbien)

At the end of their junior year students submit parking applications, providing a copy of their license and a check for two-hundred dollars. “All seniors are guaranteed a spot. That’s our first priority,” said Norton. However, with a limited 140 senior lot spots and a large class of 447 seniors, it is impossible for all seniors to receive one of these coveted spots. To combat this predicament, which arises every year, the school created a lottery to make parking distribution “fair.”

Norton broke down this process: “What we do is enter all the data into an Excel spreadsheet… There’s a way to randomize it so it’s a lottery… and all of a sudden it spits it out.” The result is a randomized list numbering the spots each senior will get. Spots one to one-hundred forty are in the senior lot. Norton remarked, “I think the next level is trails and then those numbers would be filled out, and then the spots we have at West Middle.” With one-hundred forty assigned to the senior lot, thirty-four to trails, and forty-seven to West Middle, only around half of the grade has been placed. While a number of seniors do not apply for parking, there is still bound to be a large number left over. “Then usually after that we have about… anywhere from as low as in the teens to like this year I think it was in the thirties that ended up in Red Spring,” said Norton.

This system seems fair in theory, but it has its flaws. Norton admits, “The kids who are out in Red Spring are not too happy.” Seniors Emily Nason and Olivia Gillman share similar sentiments on the conversation of randomized selection. Nason said, “They shouldn’t assign parking randomly; they should at least take into account what direction a student is coming from.” Gillman agrees, and likened her own experience to this issue. “I don’t like parking in Red Spring. It adds almost 10 minutes to my commute because I live on the opposite side of town, so I have to drive past the school then walk back after parking,” she said.

While a randomized system does not address student’s routes to school, seniors do have another chance to make it into the senior lot during the school year. Norton explained, “We have a tardy policy and if kids start violating the tardy policy… they could potentially lose their spot or we’ll swap them out… It happened a couple times last year, maybe two or three times.” All of the seniors parking at Red Spring that I spoke with are counting on this policy. Due to confidentiality, however, Norton could not say if anyone is close to losing their spot this year. Senior Andrew Nelson commented, “I am hoping to get a senior lot spot when some seniors graduate early or someone loses their spot.”

Even with this opportunity implemented, seniors are still upset and reasonably so. When they submit their parking form, they blindly hand over $200. No matter where they end up, they pay this amount. Norton said, “We set a base rate that’s affordable to most people.” When asked if Red Spring parkers will ever be refunded a portion of their money to make it fair, Norton remarked, “No, because it states up front that it’s one cost for all parking, so it’s pretty clear.”

This amount seems especially unfair because it remains the same across the board, whether you are parking right next to the school or a quarter mile away. Senior Mia Wood parked at Red Spring as a junior, and said, in regards to now parking in the senior lot, “I very much prefer it to parking in Red Spring like I did last year. The walk is much less painful and cold as the winter weather begins.”

On parking at Red Spring, Nason expressed the contrary: “It makes me dread going to school a lot more, and my day is bookended by a walk that I hate… walking is already terrible now so the winter will be even worse.” Gillman agreed, “We’ve already had some cold days this year, and even that has been trying so far. I also don’t appreciate being soaking wet if it is raining.”

On top of the hefty price and unbearable ten-minute walks lies the threat of parking spot theft. Nelson commented, “Juniors often park in my spot, because a lot of them don’t pay for a spot and just park at Red Spring.” Now, the seniors who already hate parking at Red Spring enough face the possibility of losing their $200 spot to a student who paid nothing.

And don’t even get me started on athletic parking. These spots allow juniors and sophomores on Andover High School athletic teams to park at Red Spring for only $75. This is a pretty good deal compared to the $200 paid by seniors in the same lot. The differentiation between pricing is simply unjust. If the primary aim of Andover High School’s parking system is to make the distribution of spots as fair as possible, they should start by making the price of all spots in Red Spring the same.

The senior parking lottery is an expensive, high stakes system. Clearly there are some aspects that should still be examined by the school. There are nowhere near the same amount of senior lot spots as there are seniors, and students are quite literally paying the price. Ultimately, Mr. Norton confirmed the status of this issue: “For now, I’d say it’s pretty static. I would say that there really is no space to create more spots. I mean we think about it, but some of the priorities have been the traffic flow in the morning.” Hopefully things will be different in the future, but it seems we’ll be stuck in this same spot for quite some time.