Demolition plans uncertain for crumbling parking ramp

Nancy Ngo

When University architects unveiled the East River Road Parking Ramp more than three decades ago, the steel I-beams that keep the structure standing today were never part of their plans.
Although the ramp, completed in 1966, is still home to many contract parkers and commuters, it faces demolition in the near future. Yet because of crumbling concrete, officials are considering a quick renovation project to extend the life of the doomed complex.
The crumbling is caused by rust that has formed on the metal bars inside the ramp’s cement slabs. Modern ramps are built with bars that are laminated to help prevent the rust.
Today, fallen pieces of concrete lie on the ground and stress cracks stretch overhead in the ramp. Parking officials occasionally hear complaints from customers saying cement pieces have sprinkled onto their cars.
Health and safety inspectors perform tests on the ramp regularly to insure the structure’s stability.
In December, inspectors were called in to the ramp to remove pieces of the structure where they found cracks. Contractors warned University parking officials that the ramp’s infrastructure is crumbling at a faster rate than ever before. Experts advised demolition of the ramp by late fall, before the thaw and freezing of winter weather will further weaken the structure.
University officials say they don’t know exactly when the ramp will be torn down. If all goes as planned, the ramp will be gone within three years.
In June, engineers will add 600 more beam posts and repair floor slabs that have cracked. The project, costing about $125,000, will take away at least 200 parking spots in the 1700-space lot. Parking officials said the ramp does not fill up completely every day so there won’t be any parking shortages.
“This is a temporary measure. The repairs are not going to maintain the structure for several years,” said Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services. “We run the risk of, potentially, concrete falling down,” he said, “and that’s what we’re trying to prevent here.”
But the measure is sure to disrupt the lives of some faculty and students who see this as the first step toward demolition. Katie Szczepek, an extension student, said she has parked in the ramp every week for four years because it has the closest parking places to her classes.
“I’d have no idea where to park,” she said.
But customers like Szczepek better start seeking out alternative parking sites because the ramp is slated for demolition as soon as plans for its replacement are in place.
The aging ramp was originally slated for demolition in 1996. But University officials halted the plans because of the Fairview-University hospital merger.
In 1997, the demolition was delayed again because the Board of Regents wanted projects in the ramp and Coffman Union area to be consistent with one another. They asked University planners to come up with schematics for the area, called the South Mall.
Clint Hewitt, associate vice president for Campus Master Planning, said regents wanted the structure that replaced the ramp to be carefully planned out because the site has the potential to open up the Mississippi River to the campus.
The first presentation on the South Mall development came in October. A vote on development plans for the Mall is not on any of the board’s upcoming agendas.
Although the ramp needs to be torn down, Hewitt said delaying its fate is a trade-off to more careful planning of how to use the space. In the meantime, the parking spaces can be maintained.