by Justin McConn
Trying to find a parking spot redefines the word difficult.
The school has few on-campus parking spots to offer, so if you do not have your own and you find yourself arriving late to school or an event, you will probably end up having to park a mile away, resulting in tardiness.
In June 2009, the school released the master plans for the construction of a six-level parking garage containing 433 spots.
After raising approximately $4.5 million to fund this project through charitable donations, the school sought the help of Kirksey Architecture to design the garage.
In July 2010, EE Reed Construction LP began construction of the garage on the site of the previous dirt parking lot.
According to a September article published on the school’s website, the construction of this new parking garage is the first step in The St. Thomas Experience … Building on Excellence Capital Campaign.
This campaign also includes the construction of new athletic facilities and two science labs and classrooms, to be built on the parking lot adjacent to Reckling Gymnasium and Fr. Wilson Field. These facilities will be built when enough money has been raised, which is estimated to be within the next two years.
Before approaching an architectural firm to design the new buildings, administrators were looking for a way to expand the campus.
“We approached the neighboring Law Enforcement Academy and apartment complex in hopes to purchase land, but our offer was turned down by both of them,” President Rev. Ronald Schwenzer, C.S.B., said.
The apartment complex on the east side of Granger Stadium exists on property that the school used to own years ago, until the Basilians sold it.
With no way to expand campus, the school was forced to work with the existing space.
Most Reverend Vincent Rizzotto, class of ’49, blessed the construction site at the August 12 ground breaking ceremony.
So far no major problems have been encountered with construction, but workers were forced to remove three small trees and two big pine trees due to irrigation problems. Grass in front of the Basilian residence has been replaced with dirt due to the irrigation issues as well. Further disruption, caused by the irrigation problem, has been the closing of the school’s main entrance.
Suffice to say, construction of the new parking garage has already come with much change for students.
Due to the loss of the dirt lot, many sophomores and juniors either park off campus or do not drive at all.
In an effort to help alleviate the problems caused by lost spaces, the school called upon its past good relationship with The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, asking for permission to use part of their parking lot.
During the second week of school, 79 juniors entered a lottery for the spots and 48 were awarded a coveted space.
One winner, junior John Mouton, was fine with paying $100 for a parking tag and parking at Law Enforcement until he returned to his car after school discovering that his back right tire had been slashed, costing him $300 in repairs.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they make us pay $100 for spots where our cars are not safe while we are at school,” Mouton said.
The lottery also raised complaints from members of the junior class who entered the school year thinking they would be receiving a parking spot on campus and further angered juniors by the way it was conducted.
“I can’t wait for construction to be done so I don’t have to deal with this anymore,” Quinn said.
Building the new garage is causing not only challenges off-campus but on-campus too.
Places such as the rotunda, as well as the driveway along side and in front of the Basilian residence, are closed off due to construction; therefore, the flow of traffic on campus had to be rearranged.
Without the help of the off duty police officers, the traffic off Shepherd Dr. before and after school would be a disaster.
During these times of construction the school pays two off duty police officers to come in the morning and afternoon.
Many other schools such as St. Agnes, Lamar, Kinkaid and Strake Jesuit use off duty police officers on a regular basis, and many think this is something St. Thomas should look into keeping even after construction is concluded.
“There is no doubt that the off-duty officers are a huge help right now,” junior Michael Cady said. “I hope the school keeps them even when construction is done because I know the parking lot gets backed up at the exits.”
Many may overlook the group of people most affected by all of the construction taking place.
St. Thomas is the workplace and residence to the Basilian Fathers who deal with interruptions of the construction morning and night, seven days a week.
Some priests, like Principal Rev. Patrick Fulton, C.S.B., may try to be modest at first when asked how their life at home has been affected by the new garage but soon expressed some frustration with noise pollution coming from the construction site and other problems the priests face.
“It is a bit of an annoyance to be woken at 3 a.m. by trucks laying cement,” Fulton said. “Just the other night, workers were prepping soil, a very noisy process, until 11 p.m.”
Students are not the only ones that have parking issues. A lot of the priests’ parking has been unavailable as well.
Besides faculty, seniors are probably the least affected by the new garage because they were already ensured a first chance at on-campus parking after faculty were assigned spaces. Although virtually unaffected by the situation, seniors, too, have very strong opinions about the conditions incurred as a result of the construction.
“I think that the parking situation for the rest of the students is very bad, but I think the new garage will be very useful when it is completed,” senior Nabil Dimassi said.
Even though traffic flow has progressively gotten better, there is still room for improvement.
Before the school year started, Assistant Director of Technology John Michael Cuccia was approached and asked to help design a traffic flow system.
“We have never had a traffic flow system with people directing it,” Cuccia said.
“Before, we just had chaos. That is why it has been hard to enforce, because people aren’t used to it.”
He agrees that this is the most efficient system given the circumstances and that it is very important to maintain this system even when construction is done to keep order around campus.
“Even when the garage and new building are done, we need to have a plan in place that makes sense for our campus that we all follow,” Cuccia said.
Still others have opted to bypass the whole issue of traffic congestion by being dropped off close to campus in the morning or picked up away from campus in the afternoon.
“I walk off campus near the law enforcement school to get picked up,” sophomore Jacob Willis said, “because it is hard for my stepdad to pick me up without wasting a lot of time in the traffic on campus and near the school.”
The new garage will promote traffic flow when it is finished by utilizing the space it takes up and efficiently maximizing driveway space for cars.
Currently, most students and guests must park off campus because spots fill up fast, but the parking garage will make for a more inviting campus, allowing more guests to park on site. Although part of our campus is a bit of an eye sore with all of the construction, it soon will be architecturally updated and be more attractive to the eye.
Parking has always limited the different events St. Thomas is able host.
“I remember freshman year at the Father-Son Mass my dad and I were directed to park on the track behind the football field’s end zone,” junior Ryan Mattingly said.
Parking in odd places will be a thing of the past when the structure is complete. This new garage will also widen the variety of events St. Thomas will be able to host in the future.
Construction of the new parking garage is not scheduled to finish until April 2011, but students have already regained some of the use of that part of campus with the finished pavement of a new driveway.
A couple of times this year, the driveway by the forthcoming garage has been open for use on special occasions, such as before and after school, football games and other events, but traffic will not have full unrestricted use of it until construction is complete.
In fact, drivers soon may see the complete closure of the driveway because concrete will need to be poured to support a crane, and many cement trucks will constantly be on and off campus. The schedule of the trucks may not permit students to use this driveway before and after school.
The completed parking garage will be equipped with 433 spots, two glass elevators, an outdoor stairwell, surveillance cameras and an automatic gate similar to those found in tollbooths.
Designers hope to have an EZ tag-like system, selling parking stickers that activate a gate to open when a car is attempting to enter.
“The most important thing the extra spots will enable St. Thomas to do is not only provide adequate parking for students and guests but also allow the school to host multiple events at the same time,” Schwenzer said.
Short-term problems caused by the new parking garage may be blinding to its long-term benefits, but it will all pay off in the end.
“I’ve been driving longer than most juniors and I think it is unfair that some juniors got spots in the lottery but can’t even drive yet,” junior Jeffery Barnwell said.
It appears that some juniors who won spaces in the lottery in fact do not have a driver’s license. As a result, some spots are just sitting at Law Enforcement waiting for one selfish junior to receive his car – or at least a license.
Other students, like junior Connor Quinn, who did not win a spot at Law Enforcement, must park in surrounding neighborhoods.
Residents of Dickson St. left notes saying, “St. Thomas students don’t park here! You will be towed! This is private parking!” on Quinn’s and the cars of other students who park in the area.
Even though the parking is not private and students may not be towed, they still have to deal with the angry residents when they go to and leave school.