Growth of area high schools clogging parking for graduation ceremonies at Reed Arena

From The Eagle

By Caitlin Perrone

Published: May 25, 2014

Eight high schools will hold graduation ceremonies on the Texas A&M campus at Reed Arena in two weeks, and those attending could expect to shell out a few extra dollars in parking fees.

This year's graduation ceremonies are planned for the next weekend and the weekend of June 6. A&M Consolidated High School grads will walk the stage Friday, while Montgomery, Tomball and Tomball Memorial high schools will conduct ceremonies on June 6. Magnolia, Magnolia West, Bryan and Rudder high schools are scheduled for back-to-back ceremonies on June 7.

High school graduation ceremonies have been held at the arena for years, though as school districts have grown, the number of graduating seniors and their attendees have caused the size of the ceremonies to increase drastically, said Debbie Hoffman, the associate director with the Department of Parking and Transportation Services. To handle the increased attendance, the university will staff additional enforcement officers to handle traffic before and after each graduation ceremony, she said.

"As graduations have grown, and the scheduling of them is so tight that one has not left before the next one is arriving, it's required a much more comprehensive staffing and traffic plan," she said.

Reed Arena is surrounded by six parking lots, which hold a total of 1,500 cars, according to the arena's website. Those aiming to attend graduation ceremonies may also have to compete with fans attending the NCAA baseball regionals.

The tight turnaround times between ceremonies and large crowds have put pressure on university parking resources in the past. Consecutive ceremonies left little time to clear traffic before cars for the next ceremony would arrive, which led to unsafe behavior such as curb hopping, attendees attempting to direct traffic, and parking at the end of rows and blocking the aisles, Hoffman said. Two years ago, the university decided to beef up personnel staff for parking starting this year.

Last year, the total for parking for all graduation ceremonies cost $10,146, which was divided between the various schools, Hoffman said. The total cost for this year is $30,440.

The higher bill could either be paid by the schools or by pay-upon-arrival by the attendees.

"Some schools could not afford to pay the additional fees for parking and traffic support ... in response to concerns raised about [the] budget, we offered the option to cashier upon entry to cover the costs," Hoffman said in an email.

A&M Consolidated High School was the only school to foot the bill up front and will pay $7,000 to the parking department. A spokesperson for the College Station school district said on Friday that the school did what was in the best interest of their attendees.

"It's just a different way that they've selected to cover the costs," Hoffman said.

The other seven schools chose the pay-upon-arrival option, though Magnolia, Magnolia West, Bryan and Rudder high schools purchased one parking permit for each graduate. All other attendees can expect to pay $5 per vehicle, which is a common event parking fee at the arena.

Bryan school district Superintendent Tommy Wallis encouraged those attending graduation ceremonies for Bryan and Rudder high schools to carpool in vehicles in order to cut down on parking fees. The district is paying $3,840 in fees for graduates and staff parking.

"Bryan ISD paid for a parking pass for each graduate from Bryan High and Rudder High. Any additional parking fees are imposed and collected by Texas A&M parking officials," spokesperson Brandon Webb said Friday.