Cain Garage—A Case Study

The International Parking Institute

By Deborah Hoffmann

Published: March, 2017

Texas A&M University Transportation Services celebrated the completion and opening of its latest parking structure last October. We faced a number of challenges during the process—a nine-month construction timeline being one. This case study will look at the good, bad, and the beautiful from the experience and lessons learned while building Cain Garage.

The site for the facility is near the heart of the historic part of campus, adjacent to the student union building and the newly renovated 102,733-seat capacity Kyle Field football stadium. This location required the demolition of an existing building and relocating several student services offices and employees housed within the building. Transportation services staff played a significant role in planning contingencies for people whose offices moved due to the demolition. We helped arrange new parking assignments for employees, developed communication plans for the relocated services so customers would know how to find them, and evaluated and adjusted transit service to ensure proper levels were provided to match the move in demand. Most notable was the time and effort spent corresponding and meeting with faculty, staff, and students to help ease concerns about the effect of the office and student service relocations.

Part of a Partnership

Development and construction of the Cain Garage was not an isolated project. It was a component of a public-private partnership (P3) between the university and a developer contracted to build a garage, hotel, and academic building via a design-build process. For the first time, transportation services was not the owner of a garage being built on campus. The contract called for transportation services to pay for the lease of the garage, so our staff was invited to participate in the design of the facility with the architect, given input, and provided access during construction by way of the contractor. Fortunately, these relationships remained respectful, productive, and intact throughout the project so we felt our concerns and requests were heard, considered, and, whenever possible, implemented.

The most important decision transportation services made was to commission a preliminary site layout and design for the garage before the P3 agreement was finalized. This action was taken as soon as it seemed likely a decision would be made to build a new garage. We worked steadily with a parking-specific engineering firm and developed the program and requirements (POR), which included the projected size of the facility, including the footprint, siting, massing, layout, floor-to-floor heights, elevator locations, and entry/exit lane locations. In addition, working through the engineering firm that collected data and completed studies, we discovered the traffic limitations of the site would ultimately dictate the maximum size of the garage. To have this comprehensive data and information in hand when the architect came calling was invaluable.

Doing Research

The preliminary layout focused on the use of LED lighting, openair stairwells and elevator banks, one-way angled drive lanes, and a parking guidance system (PGS). We went a step further and researched the PGS, conducted site visits to review products, and even hosted a pilot installation to determine which vendor best met our needs. Completing all this work and data collection in advance of the project served us well—we were ready with pertinent information and specific details in hand when an architect was assigned. It would not have been possible to collect so much information and detail within the constraints of the imposed ninemonth construction timeframe.

The Specifics

Our request included cast-in-place concrete construction of the five-level garage, which came in just over our target at 1,426 spaces. Included in the garage are specialty spaces, including six golf-cart parking spaces complete with chargers and three level-2 electric vehicle charging stations. The PGS has ultrasonic sensors in each space, space availability indicators above each stall on the four lower levels, and electronic signs at each turning decision point that display the number of available spaces in each direction. The exterior facade boasts a combination of materials, including brick, burnished block, aluminum panels, and stainless steel mesh. The results are quite stunning.

The transportation services team pressed to include some additional key components to enhance the user experience and improve functionality, including active and passive safety design elements, features to reduce maintenance needs and costs, and technical specifications important to our operational goals:

  • Open-air stairwells without doors and access to elevators without lobbies so no climate control was needed; these also opened the view to all areas for enhanced safety.
  • Unpainted concrete to reduce maintenance required for these surfaces.
  • Eight-foot, two-inch clearance on all floors for better mobility and access.
  • Glass elevator cars and enclosures that allow views to and from outside.
  • Blue-light safety intercoms.
  • State-of the-art cameras with specified cabling requirements, intercom, and PGS with individual space sensors, plus parking guidance lights at each stall and signs at each decision point indicating available spaces in each direction.
  • High-tech command center with wall-to-wall flatscreen monitors.
  • Back-of-the-house needs for storage, break area, and laundry facilities.
  • No curbs (to reduce trip hazards).
  • LED lights throughout the facility.

In addition to meeting the requests above, the developer and contractor gave tremendous leeway and opportunity to transportation services to provide critical input needed for specific wiring, camera, intercom, and gate-access equipment specifications and for the development of a signage plan for the garage.

Partnership Is Key

The key to our overall success throughout the project was in the partnership we developed with the construction team. We started by assembling a collaborative team of members from all facets of our operation who use, manage, maintain, allocate, host events, communicate about, and serve as ADA specialists for the department.

Our committee employed several strategies to jump-start the decision-making process for signs before meeting with the development team. We met extensively as a group and also worked independently to scour each set of engineering plans for every level of the garage. This process was used to create a true-to-life placement list of each sign with symbols on the plans as a visual cross-reference to help ensure placement was accurate and nothing was missed. This layout plan was reviewed and updated on numerous occasions throughout the process.

Our team used our diverse knowledge base and referenced plans from a garage built on campus in 2003 to help ensure nothing was overlooked. Additionally, before the start of the project, a photo catalog of pre-existing garage signage infrastructure was developed. This visual reference offered an opportunity to review materials, style, exact language, and many other design components to pick and choose what worked well and what was less effective, which was helpful throughout the process of designing the new sign package.

Site visits were made to existing garages to reexamine signage placement and effectiveness, helping address signage needs for the new garage. Finally, a site visit to the new garage was scheduled with the sign designer and contractor. The onsite meeting offered an opportunity for our team to see materials, style, and many other design components of the facility, all of which was helpful in selecting the right hues, fonts, and sizes for all the signage used. We also had the opportunity to discuss what manufacturing and installation processes worked best and were most cost-effective prior to making decisions.

Challenges and Solutions

The sign development process was complicated by a replacement of the sign designer midway through the exercise. Despite this setback, transportation services’ involvement in this part of the project proved invaluable. We considered no sign detail too small for our attention, and every rendition of the sign package produced was thoroughly reviewed and cross-referenced against plans and notes. Mistakes were discovered and corrected. The focus of the team was to ensure accuracy of design, content, and placement.

We logged details from our meetings in notes that were made available to all participants. Creating new notes each meeting kept the team on track and served as a reference when we needed clarification on a previous decision. The team discovered rooms with incorrect labels, left turn arrows with text that read “right turn only,” misnumbered levels, and “no exit” signs planned for exit lanes, just to list a few examples. This was a tireless effort, but our time was well spent, and the result was worth it. For those who know about Aggie joke lore, we didn’t need any more fodder for the World Wide Web with incorrect signs!

One tip the team shared was to request the working design files for each sign completed in the project so replacement signs or additional signs ordered in the future can be produced to match original signage. We cannot emphasize enough the value of having our on-campus subject matter experts participate to this degree in as many aspects of the project as possible; in this case, as a result of the work with our team, the developer nearly doubled the number of signs called for in the original sign package. Without this critical input from our team, the garage could have suffered from deficiencies that had the potential to greatly affect not only our operations, but most importantly, the customer experience.

Helping to get people used to using the new garage once it was open was another big task. We developed a communications plan that outlined clear objectives and identified target audiences to inform the community and potential users of the new facility. Additionally, the communications plan needed to let people know the garage was officially opening, who could use it, how much it cost, and options for paying.

To encourage customers to use the new garage, we launched campaigns at two nearby garages where customers historically waited in line for hourly parking spaces after they became full. Besides promoting to hourly parkers, we also had a goal to sell at least 1,400 annual permits. Campaigns were set to target customers on waiting lists for nearby parking lots and garages letting them know the new facility was open and available. We celebrated when we sold 1,490 permits within nine weeks. The campaigns included elements such as direct emails targeting potential customers, website ads, signage in and around nearby facilities, razor flag signs, and inflatable wavy men.

Early on, it was difficult to fathom not being the owner during construction of Cain Garage while we were still responsible for paying to build it and it would be turned over to us to operate upon completion. We had concerns about having enough input in the key design elements important to our business and operational goals. We did not make demands but rather worked as a partner and made requests that were backed with data or reasoning and had a willingness to contribute work and time to any degree the developer, architect, and contractor requested. This approach equaled success. Associate Vice President of Transportation Services Peter Lange summed up the project: “This is a great facility, and we are pleased to have it open and ready to serve the parking needs of the Texas A&M community. This state-of-the-art garage showcases some of the latest in parking technology that we expect will deliver the ultimate parking experience to our customers.”

Approaching the Cain Garage project with humility and as a ready and willing partner helped reap many benefits.

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