Student council fund-raiser turns HNHS parking lot into art canvas

Katie Paolillo, an incoming senior at Huntington North High School, puts the finishing touches on her own personalized parking spot in the HNHS student parking lot Friday, July 28. This is the first year that senior students can reserve a spot and paint it. So far, the student council has sold 69 spaces, raising $1,380.
Katie Paolillo, an incoming senior at Huntington North High School, puts the finishing touches on her own personalized parking spot in the HNHS student parking lot Friday, July 28. This is the first year that senior students can reserve a spot and paint it. So far, the student council has sold 69 spaces, raising $1,380. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published Aug. 3, 2017.

It seems everybody likes the idea that incoming seniors who reserve a parking space at Huntington North High School can paint their space in a creative way. It’s the first year the school has allowed the painting of the reserved spaces, serving as a fund-raiser for student council.

A photo of a painted spot posted on the high school’s Facebook page has already received more than 330 “likes” – from the likes of fellow students, teachers and even Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters.

That is, except those few individuals who have already vandalized some of the freshly-painted parking spots.

“I think (school resource officer) Mr. Double is taking care of that issue, so either he or the principal will take care of it,” senior Katie Paolillo says, with a note of disgust in her voice. “It’s vandalism and it’s not legal.”

Paolillo is one of several senior students who plunked down $20 to reserve a designated parking spot for their final year of high school.

“We got to choose our top three preferences, and this is my first one,” she says. “I think it’s cool. It makes the parking lot look a lot cooler.”

The students can decorate their spots any way they choose, so long as the design is approved first. They have this week to finish up their artwork. Paolillo chose a huge “K” made up of colorful triangles for the main portion of her spot, getting the idea from patterns she saw on Pinterest.

Madison Brewer came up with a clever idea for her parking space that is meant to draw some smiles.

“It says ‘Vote for Pedro.’ It’s from the movie, ‘Napoleon Dynamite.’ I just thought no one else would do that,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite movies, and it’s just funny. If you’ve seen the movie you would know how funny it is. It’s kind of like my own little inside joke.”

Senior Sydney Kyle is planning to paint her parking place to reflect one of her favorite activities.

“Mine is going to be all black on the bottom, and them I’m going to make a soccer field, and from the center field it is going to be like a flower design out,” she explains. “I play soccer here, and I’ve played varsity since my freshman year, so it’s definitely a big part of my life. And then, I just really like the flower design.”

Kyle says she would be upset if someone vandalized her space, and would do her best to redo it if someone was so unkind as to ruin her artwork. She says police have already caught whoever was responsible for vandalizing one of the spots, which is located close to her own space.

Principal Russ Degitz says the culprit was not a student, but a member of the community, caught on the school’s external cameras.

“There was an individual that chose to ‘burn out’ on a couple of spaces,” he says. “It was at least relieving to me to know that one of our students didn’t make a poor choice. … We have great kids.”

Degitz says with the multiple acres at HNHS that contain everything from athletic facilities to the school building itself, people can make the unwise choice to cause vandalism. However, there are external cameras keeping an eye 24/7 on everything – including the parking lots.

Huntington Police Chief Chad Hacker says Officer Brian Double and school officials are dealing with the few incidents that have occurred. But he warns that perpetrators may not get an easy pass from a judge on what they might think is a funny prank. It could rack up big fines and even jail time.

“They can be charged with criminal mischief,” Hacker says. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are good people, but you’ve always got that 1 percent who have always got to be out there pushing it to the extreme, trying to be humorous. They don’t understand the consequences and how that affects other people. Some student took the time to paint that spot up there, took pride in it, paid $20 and then somebody goes up there and does that to be funny. Look what it does. It gets the police involved, it gets the school involved … the courts involved, the prosecutor’s office involved. It turns into a big deal.”

Degitz says high schools had been charging students parking fees for years, but a change in state law prohibited charging students to park at their school.

“It was a way to help maintain the parking lot and pay for snow removal and all of the costs associated with having a large parking lot for students,” he explains. “Our students now park in the lot for free because of the state law that was changed. But you can do what we’ve done here. … This is just intended to be a school culture-building and community-building activity.”

The student council plans to use the money raised for student activities, benefiting the entire student body, Degitz says. The pavement artists and their handiwork have sparked a lot of interest from the public.

"It’s been pretty neat. In fact, we’ve gotten a lot of comments from people,” he says. “I’ve seen comments that others have shared with me by email, where just general community members are driving through to see the designs and what’s going on. So I think it has really captured some positive attention, and hopefully, it will become kind of a tradition for our seniors each year.”

Even though the parking stalls are reserved during school hours, the kids may see squatters converging on their spots after school and during popular community events that take place at the high school.

“If there is a big basketball game or something, I think visitors might park here. You never know,” Paolillo says. “You can’t really control that.”

But if they do park in a reserved spot, they had better not mess it up.