The ETSU parking garage is set to open on Monday, March 31. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Contractors, university administrators and students can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that East Tennessee State University’s $26.1 million parking garage project is slated to open Monday for student parking.
“It’s a beautiful building,” ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins said Friday morning during a media tour of the 425,000-square-foot office and parking facility. “It complements the rest of the campus nicely, and we’re pleased to finally be able to announce it’s opening for students.”
Construction of the 1,200-space garage, the attached offices for the university’s Public Safety department and a welcome center and Subway restaurant, has been fraught with delays almost since the start in August 2012.
Workers first discovered a larger-than-expected amount of soil that needed to be removed and replaced under the parking lots and tennis courts where the garage and an expanded parking lot now reside.
Then, an unusually wet summer, supply and design problems and a frigid winter dealt contractor Rentenback Constructors Inc. delay after delay.
The garage was originally expected to be completed in August, in time for the beginning of the school year, but the series of setbacks pushed it back to Monday, leaving slightly more than a month before graduation.
The office space is completed, but Collins said the Public Safety and Parking offices won’t move in until after the end of the school year, allowing the emergency communications equipment to be shut down and moved at a time when most students are off campus.
Workers were still putting the finishing touches on the food service area Friday, where Collins said a Subway restaurant and a small market will offer students quick dining options with an outdoor patio area adjacent to the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center.
“We hope this well be a place for students to gather,” he said of the patio and the pedestrian mall that took the place of part of John Robert Bell Drive.
The ETSU Welcome Center moves from the D.P. Culp University Center, where Collins said nearby parking was sometimes scarce, to the more accessible first floor of the new garage.
With the opening of the garage, Collins said the Johnson City campus will have more than 8,000 combined faculty and student parking spaces, which should serve its current needs appropriately.
The garage’s two entrances, on John Robert Bell Drive accessible to West State of Franklin Road and the other on Jack Vest Drive, are equipped with signs displaying the number of spaces available on each of the four levels.
Collins said the signs are driven by sensors laid in the floor of the garage that count cars as they move through the levels.
Like in many building contracts, Collins said there are penalties written into the agreement between the state and Rentenbach for late openings — $2,500 per day — but the company will likely negotiate with the Tennessee Board of Regents to reach a settlement regarding that amount.
To pay for the construction, ETSU increased student fees in 2011 from $25 to $50 per semester. The project was initially expected to cost $23 million, but Collins said the school should still be able to cover the increased price tag.