By GRACIE HART
It was an early Tuesday afternoon and the recently-opened parking deck at the University of Mary Washington resembled a ghost town. The first and second levels of the garage had only ten cars parked in them combined, and only 146 spaces are filled in the garage built to house 440 cars. Meanwhile, the lot on Sunken Road is full and College Avenue has one remaining space available.
After opening on Aug. 27, the nearly $6 million parking deck has been the topic of heated discussion for students and the administration alike. Initially hailed as the answer to the parking problem on campus, the deck has had little impact on resolving the issue.
Vice President of Facilities Services John Wiltenmuth said while, to his knowledge, there has been no formal audit of use for the deck, there have been “anecdotal reports that on many class days it was less than half occupied during the fall semester.”
Senior commuter student Lucas Aylor can attest to that.
“I park in the deck Monday through Friday from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it has never been the case that I have seen all the spaces on any floor totally filled,” he said.
Despite its underuse, he admits that the deck has made parking less of a burden.
“It is good to know that when I get to school I will be able to find a parking space and that I won’t be driving around for a half hour to find a space on campus,” Aylor said.
Until recently, only commuters were permitted to park in the deck between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. However, since December, faculty and staff are also allowed to park in the deck during those hours. Out of the 146 occupied spaces in the deck on Tuesday, none of them had faculty/staff decals.
Meanwhile, residential students continue to have trouble finding parking on campus.
“It’s a pain,” said sophomore Kristin Caulfield. “I usually park in the lot at the apartments if there is a space there, or at the Battlegrounds. I’ve gotten a $25 ticket for being parked in an unclearly marked lot on the weekend.”
With the deck’s lack of use more than evident, changes are likely, and will be discussed by a parking committee at the end of the year.
“I except to see some changes,” said Lt. David Cooper of UMW Police. “I understand that the deck is not being fully utilized.”
Lacrosse coach Dana Hall, who recently held practice in the near-vacant deck, agreed that changes to parking would be beneficial to everyone.
“Sophomores should be allowed to park in the parking deck so that the spaces in front of Goolrick [Gym] can be freed up for the spectators that come to watch games at the gym,” Hall said.
Sophomore Kathryn Carter argued that if commuters are not making use of the deck, it should be opened to residential students.
“I think that commuters should have to park in the deck,” Carter said. Other designated commuter spots on campus are more popular, particularly on College Avenue “If they [the commuters] can park elsewhere, we should be allowed to park in the deck, too.”
The under use of the parking deck particularly stings because of its steep price tag.
“The nearly $6 million for the construction of the parking deck came from institutional bonds. It is now being paid back from assessed parking fees,” Wiltenmuth said. According to a 2005 audit report, the University has until 2026 to pay off the bond.
Although parking was free until Sept. 2004, decal fees have increased every year since. This year, students paid $200 for their decals, while faculty and staff continue to park for free. According to Richard Pearce, the associate vice president of business and finance, there have been about 1,550 decals sold this year, amounting to approximately $294,000 in sales.
While many students complain about the high price of parking on campus, they will be relieved to learn that there are no plans for a fee increase.
“At this point, there has been nothing official saying that the fee for obtaining a parking decal will increase,” Cooper said.
The current traffic violation revenue, which also goes to paying off the deck, amounts to $46,090, according to Pearce.
Due to the beginning of major construction on campus, the parking deck is expected to see more usage in coming weeks.
“We expect that the onset of construction for the renovation/addition to Lee Hall will dramatically shift parking patterns on campus and will result in higher utilization of the deck,” Wiltenmuth said.