L&N Stem Academy students worry that they may not have anywhere to park in the days ahead.
The unusual campus, in the old L&N Station building, sits at the edge of World’s Fair Park and does not have a student parking lot of its own. The school has between 125 and 150 student drivers, according to Knox County Schools.
Students said they had been parking at three nearby lots on World’s Fair Park Drive, Blackstock Avenue and Grand Avenue.
Now two of those once free, public lots have been designated to city parking permit holders.
“There’s always going to be the concern. Am I going to find parking?” L&N senior Hyatt Christenberry said.
The two lots combined offered students around 60 parking spaces and now those drivers have to find parking elsewhere.
“One of our biggest frustrations with the whole situation is we weren’t notified ahead of time the parking lots were going to get closed,” senior Haley Folson said. “I was here for a meeting before school and I already had to pay a parking ticket.”
Alternative options will cost students time, money or safety. Students can pay $50 a month for a city parking permit, but students think that is too high a price for teenagers there to learn.
“Parking $50 a month just to park and attend a public school is extremely high,” Christenberry said.
The second option is to park several blocks down the road for free parking, but doing so would force students to either take the trolley or walk the added distance to get to class.
“It’s really hard to find the trolley schedule and coordinate, and you have to do it all by yourself, which can be scary,” Folsom said.
There remains a closer, free parking option around the corner from the school, but students said it presents a safety risk, because they have to walk under a bridge to get there.
“One thing we have to do with the lot down there is we try to go in pairs if we can just because it’s not really the safety environment,” Folsom said.
Parents agree it raises safety concerns.
“My concern all along has been that the lot itself is secluded from the school,” father David Parker said. “It’s not visible from the school and if you look back here, it’s behind the railroad tracks. It’s a gravel lot and it’s not a student lot. It’s a public lot, so it’s a safety issue.”
Students also pointed out that the lot is not open year round, closing for special events like next week’s boat show taking place at the Knoxville Convention Center.
“I think that for a lot of high school students, the freedom of being able to drive to school is something we look forward to and that shouldn’t be hindered by where we’re going to park,” junior Ansley Parker.
Students are calling for change, so that they can attend the school they love, without having to worry about safety or access to parking.
“The ideal scenario would be: we get the two parking lots reopened to students, potentially had some police surveillance or monitoring under the bridge lot, so that it is safer for students,” Christenberry said.
The city of Knoxville said that the Public Building Authority started issuing parking permits within the last year, and the decision was driven by demand for guaranteed parking. For example, LMU’s Duncan School of Law wanted to lease spaces for students and staff.