Parking closure eliminates 240 free parking spaces

Chance Swaim

When Tom Pham went to Wichita State, parking was free. Where Shocker Hall now stands, a 750-space parking lot allowed students to arrive on campus five minutes before class, park, and still make it to class on time. 

“It was convenient,” said Pham, a 2014 WSU engineering alumnus. “You didn’t have to pay an outrageous sum of money to get to class, you didn’t have to park in a sketchy neighborhood and you didn’t have to get here an hour early and wait for the bus in the wind and the rain.”

Now, if Pham wants to visit WSU he parks at the satellite lot at 21st St. and Oliver and uses the shuttle system. He visits campus several times a year to work on projects for work or to visit Ablah Library, because of its resources and its academic energy. He likes the idea of the university expanding and is excited by the plans for Innovation Campus, but he’s worried he and other alumni will not be able to return to their alma mater without paying for a parking pass.

“Visitor parking is always filled up on campus,” Pham said. “There’s no where else to park for free on campus, and I’m definitely not paying for a parking pass, no more than I come to campus.”

In response to reduced state funding, last week the university announced it would not renew its lease on the 240-space parking lot at 21st and Oliver for next fall, leaving the Metroplex at 29th St. and Oliver as the only free parking lot option for students, faculty, staff and visitors (if the visitor spaces on campus are occupied).

“I don’t mind waiting for the bus,” Pham said. “But the Metroplex only has so many spaces. If that fills up, people are screwed.” 

University officials said its decision not to renew the lease for the parking lot came in response to reduced state funding, to ensure funding is available for a proposed 400-space parking garage that could be completed as early as fall of 2017, if approved by the Kansas legislature and Kansas Board of Regents. The university said this option would allow the university to not raise parking fees next year.

Andy Schlapp, executive director of university operations, said a recent decrease in state funding to WSU has forced the university to make hard choices about how to use available resources to best serve students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“We intend to be responsive to requests for a parking garage option,” Schlapp said. “But the funding climate makes it difficult to pursue that goal without sacrificing the satellite lot.” 

The state of Kansas faces a projected shortfall of more than $290 million in the next 15 months, according to projections by the Kansas Legislative Research Department. 

Instead of raising taxes to meet the shortfall, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas legislature have focused on scaling back state spending. WSU has been forced to make hard choices about cuts while moving forward with the Innovation Campus expansion, Schlapp said. 

The 21st St. lot cost the university nearly $170,000 in unexpected repair and maintenance costs during its two-year lease because the lot was not constructed to handle the wear and tear of constant bus traffic.

The Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th and Oliver will continue to serve the needs of commuters who don’t purchase a parking permit, the university said in a news release.

With input received from WSU Student Government Association, university planners are reviewing the allocation and distribution of green, green/yellow and yellow parking spaces on campus and deciding whether or not to add shuttle stops to “lessen the impact for commuters who currently park in the 21st Street and Oliver lot,” the release said.

The move comes as WSU anticipates a major increase in main campus parking spaces by the end of the fall semester.

The release detailed three parking expansions for fall 2016, which include 53 new parking spaces in an expansion of Lot 27, a 720-space lot east of the Experimental Engineering Building, and 112 new spaces at Marcus Welcome Center. The university expects these projects to be completed in November.

Emily Patterson, associate director of Facilities Planning, said the university will have 869 new parking spaces in service by the end of 2016.

“When these projects are completed, the number of main campus parking spaces will be the largest in WSU — easily exceeding levels prior to the construction of Shocker Hall,” Patterson said. 

Pham said even if the parking spaces on campus increase he worries students who can’t afford a parking permit will not be able to have the same opportunities he had to get to class, especially if they work.

“I think it’s a matter of priorities for the university,” Pham said. “Is it more important to make money off of students, or to make sure they get to class? That’s what it comes down to.”