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Penn-Trafford commencement, construction, tourney likely to generate major traffic woes

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 3:00 p.m.

The hunt for a parking solution is on.

Facing a second-straight overlap of Penn-Trafford High School's commencement and the start of a popular three-day softball tournament at the Penn Township Municipal Park on the same Friday night, school district and township officials are brainstorming ideas to ease the expected deluge of traffic in Harrison City.

But one potential alternative — bumping graduation from May 23 — isn't on deck, interim Superintendent Matt Harris said.

“We don't plan on changing the day, but we will do our best to try to accommodate people,” Harris said. “This year, it's too hard when everybody's already made graduation plans.”

Even under ordinary circumstances, the crowd of family and friends attending graduation spills from the high school parking lots into spaces across Route 130 at the municipal park.

This spring, that will be compounded by the 80 softball teams that police Chief John Otto estimates will travel to play in the tournament organized by the Penn Township Athletic Association.

Those teams will use dozens of the 300 spaces at the park.

And then there's the problem created by construction on Harrison City-Export Road, which is just three-tenths of a mile from the high school.

The road was closed on Jan. 20 for a widening project, and it might not reopen in time for graduation.

To relieve some of the congestion, school officials might require more than 300 graduating seniors to park at satellite locations and take buses to the high school, Harris said.

Students will be able to give their input before any decision is finalized, he said.

The same conflict between events arose last year because the district started the school year a few days earlier than Penn-Trafford usually does. The early start date graduation ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Scrambling to find parking spots, visitors left their vehicles in business lots and alleys and on side streets and front yards in their haste to not miss graduation, Otto said.

“Anywhere people could find a piece of real estate, they parked their cars,” he said.

Even after that congestion, school officials didn't alter the 2013-14 calendar, which the board approved in January 2013.

The topic bubbled over again last week, when Penn Township Recreation Commission board members approved the athletic association's request to use the park's fields for the tournament but asked the group's leadership to consider alternative plans such as rescheduling the Friday games or arranging off-site parking.

Through the athletic association's affiliation with the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, the tournament has been advertised online as a three-day event. There has been a softball tournament over the Memorial Day weekend at Municipal Park for several years.

Brad Yamrick, who recently became new president of the athletic association, did not return messages requesting comment for this story. He told the rec board last week that the group officials would appoint a travel coordinator to review the organization's use of the fields throughout the year.

Despite the traffic issues, Otto — who has coached teams in the athletic association — described the tournament as a chance to showcase the township's well-regarded park complex to teams from all over the East Coast.

“We've been talking about promoting Penn Township for years now,” Otto said.

“I just have no interest at all in raining on the softball tournament. I think it's a great event. It's a great opportunity for the kids.”

Meanwhile, school board members Scott Koscho and Phil Kochasic said district officials will consider revising the 2015 graduation date.

The recently adopted 2014-15 calendar lists graduation as May 22, 2015 — the Friday before Memorial Day.

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