Washington Avenue School Neighbors Ask Chatham BOE to Reconsider 'Paving Over Paradise' for New Parking Lot

Lauren Leonard-DiVito speaks to the board during the public portion of the meeting on Monday night, invoking the words from a Joni Mitchell song Credits: TAP Chatham
View from the backyard of a neighbor, where Washington Avenue School will be paving over the grass to put in a 20-space parking lot Credits: Lauren Leonard-DiVito
Orchard Road resident Brian Becker says the parking lot is not needed and talks to Chatham Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa after the BOE meeting on Monday Credits: TAP Chatham
View of the green grass that will be paved over to build  new 20-space parking lot at Washington Avenue Elementary School Credits: Lauren Leonard-Divito

CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham residents in the Washington Avenue School neighborhood came before the School District of the Chathams Board of Education on Monday night to ask the BOE to reconsider its plans to build a new 20-space parking lot at the school.

Invoking the lyrics of Joni Mitchell, who sang "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," a group of residents implored the BOE to delay its plans to build a new parking lot off of Washington Avenue until alternatives can be studied.

Board member Michelle Clark requested more information, such as the number of full-time and part-time employees of Washington Avenue School, so that the board could review the need for the new lot.

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But, unless something really compelling is discovered between now and the next BOE meeting on June 20, it seems certain the construction of the lot will begin July 11. Board president Jill Critchley Weber responded to the residents by explaining that increased enrollment (see video below) has forced the BOE to expand parking at Washington Avenue School.

Chatham Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa wouldn't speculate on whether the public might have persuaded the board to delay the construction of the parking lot.

"I don't know," LaSusa said. "I haven't had a chance to talk to any board member since the meeting ended."

The BOE and the Borough of Chatham have agreed on a shared services agreement in which the BOE will pay $110,000 toward building the lot and the Borough DPW will provide the labor to complete the project. The agreement also allows Chatham Borough to settle a legal issue with a resident by vacating 100 feet of Oliver Street.

Peter Daquila, board administrator/secretary, explains that there are now 72 parking spaces at Washington Avenue School and 82 employees

Part of the project will include shifting the entrance to Washington Avenue School away from the residence located on the corner of Washington Avenue and Oliver Street. Currently, the residents must travel on the one-way portion of Oliver Street through school property to exit their driveway. The change will allow the residents to exit their driveway without driving through school property.

Brian Becker, a longtime resident of Orchard Road, says there is no need for the new parking lot

Board president Jill Critchley Weber cites the fact that the enrollment at Washington Avenue School has doubled and there is a need for more spaces

Robert Steelman, who lives on Chatham Street, volunteered his services as a commercial real estate broker to find a better solution to the parking problem


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