Parking lot expansion adds spaces, threatens environment


Homewood High School’s back parking lot gate opens up to the wetlands where additional parking spots will be added. (Photo by Mary Clare Ingram)

Mary Clare Ingram, Staff Writer

The campus student parking lots are filled to the brim and are only getting worse. After school, students are bumper-to-bumper trying to get out of the lots, each hurrying out of the school doors to beat the inevitable rush.

The school system is eager to address this parking issue, but given the school’s flood plain location, the project proposes some environmental challenges.

Homewood’s Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Kevin Maddox, says that teachers and classrooms have been added to the high school to accommodate the growing community; now, the need for more parking spaces must be tackled. 

The North Parking expansion will extend parking behind the school and may connect it to the front parking lot.

The current 9th, 10th, and 11th-grade classes are more populous than ever in Homewood, and the upcoming classes are expected to continue this growing trend.

“When your school district is landlocked and they’re not really building new houses and your school district is growing, that’s a great problem to have,” Maddox said.

The percentage of students buying parking spaces is trending up, and space is running out. Maddox said Homewood City Schools conducted a traffic study in 2020 to examine the need for a parking lot expansion. Even with many students having school virtually, the study concluded that additional parking space is needed.

The approximately 140 to 160 parking spaces being added are called North and South parking. North parking is an addition to the current gym parking lot and will extend into the wetlands of Shades Creek. South parking will extend the blue and gray tiered parking lots into the mountainous forest area near the campus entrance.

“I don’t know if it will ever be enough, but it’s the best we can do at this point,” Maddox said. 

He says the North parking is expected to begin construction in October and finish over winter break. South parking is set to begin in March and will finish over the summer to be ready for the following school year. 

Students will be glad to have additional parking; however, considering the school’s proximity to Shades Creek and the wetlands, members of the community, as well as organizations such as the Homewood Environmental Commission and the Friends of Shades Creek, have concerns about the sustainability of the project. 

A Google Earth image highlights the area for the South Parking expansion.

Both groups have major worries about the well-being of the salamander population that lives in the wetlands. The salamanders are a celebrated part of Homewood’s biodiversity, and the concern over their safety involving the North parking lot expansion is daunting to these organizations.

Melonie McBrayer, HHS AP Environmental Science teacher and board member of Friends of Shades Creek, says she is worried about the water runoff that may be an issue with an asphalt parking lot. She says that when it rains, the wetlands and the trees catch and absorb water, preventing it from overwhelming Shades Creek. McBrayer fears that with those natural elements being replaced with asphalt, the flooding seen at Shades Creek will only worsen.

The Homewood Environmental Commission and the Homewood arborist, Bram Odrezin, share McBrayer’s environmental concerns with the project. Upon finding out more, they expressed similar concerns about water runoff and the protection of trees pertaining to the Homewood Tree Ordinance. 

The HEC and Odrezin discussed the idea of permeable parking lot material being used in future projects to allow for water to soak back into the ground rather than into Shades Creek. 

The most significant issue for the HEC is that the public is informed and has a voice. They urge citizens to express their concerns about the environmental impacts of the parking construction to preserve the ecosystems being encroached on and protect the wildlife in them.

McBrayer said she understands the addition of parking at HHS is necessary but simply wants the construction project to consider whether the environmental costs are worth it.