A building project and an enrollment boom have created a bit of a parking crunch at Howard Community College this year.
The Columbia school lost 180 parking spaces when it broke ground in June on its $20 million Instructional Laboratory Building.
Then, as the fall semester began late last month, a record 5,768 students showed up on the first day of classes, 7 percent more than last year. HCC had projected a 5 percent increase. Enrollment last year was 4 percent higher than the previous year.
The result has been a lot of drivers circling the lots.
"It takes almost 30 minutes to find a spot," Ellen B. Dankwa, 21, a sophomore from Owen Brown, said Friday morning. "Yesterday, I spent more time in the parking lot than in class."
Since early summer, HCC planned to compensate for the 180 lost spaces by building three temporary gravel lots, said Randy Bengfort, an HCC spokesman. Two of those lots were ready for the first day of classes, Aug. 27, but the third wasn't ready until the next day.
Then the bigger-than-expected student body rolled onto campus.
HCC has responded by posting extra security personnel to help drivers find open spaces and to make sure solo drivers aren't parking in a new carpool lot. It posted a map of the temporary parking areas on its Web site, www.howardcc.edu/work-in-pro gress.
"It seems to have leveled out now," Bengfort said. "It is working. We knew that the first three days would be the critical time period."
Students, faculty and staff might have to walk a little more than they're used to, Bengfort said, but the farthest parking spot is still less than a five-minute hike.
HCC President Mary Ellen Duncan has been trying to set an example by parking in the farthest reaches of the parking lot, he said.
Freshman Nick Kovacic, 18, of Highland said it was a struggle at first to find a place to park his 1999 Jeep.
"First couple days it was kind of hard," he said. "It's not that bad now."
But freshman Jacki Poulette of Kings Contrivance says parking is still a struggle. She said she squeezed her Plymouth Voyager minivan into what looked like a tight, but legitimate, parking spot in a gravel lot Thursday and returned from English 102 to find a $20 citation on the windshield.
"I got a parking ticket yesterday," she said. "You can't even tell [where the spaces are] because it's all gravel. But I had nowhere to go. It looked like a parking space because people could get around."
Adam Estes, editor of the campus newspaper HCC Times, said the first few days of school were the worst because there was a lot of confusion about who was allowed in which lots. "The first day was gridlock," said Estes, 22.
Parking has gotten a little easier since then, as people have become more familiar with the temporary lots, Estes said. But even so, he said, "it's definitely a more intense parking situation than it has been in the past."
The college Web site acknowledges that the campus has become "a work in progress" since construction began on the 95,000- square-foot building. The structure will house courses that incorporate computer technology, from reading and writing labs to business and language classes. It is scheduled to open in fall 2003.
"That's why this is an exciting time as we work to provide better facilities and greater service to students and the community," the Web site says. "Of course, progress always has its price - dust, noise, displaced parking, and round-about distances to walk."