ITHACA, N.Y. — A recent state audit found the City of Ithaca did not have plans in place for routine parking garage inspections and thorough documentation of past inspections. In light of the findings, city officials are now formalizing plans for inspections.
The New York State Office of the State Comptroller examined Ithaca along with five other cities, including White Plains, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. In the audit process, they asked the question, “Are municipalities ensuring municipal parking structures are periodically inspected to identify repair needs and ensuring repair needs are completed to ensure public safety?”
Locally, the audit found “there is no plan to inspect each structure within a certain time frame, and there is no documentation to support how or why employees determined when to bring in outside engineers. In addition, officials do not maintain documentation of which structures have been inspected or the results.”
State officials examined the city’s process for evaluating, monitoring and repairing parking structures between Jan. 1, 2015 and Nov. 10, 2016, though they looked for data on inspections data back to 2007.
The city owns and operates three parking garages — the Dryden Road Garage built in 1987 and the Green and Seneca Street garages both built in 1975.
The audit found that city officials do not require regular parking structural inspections. Instead, they contract for inspections when they “deem necessary.” The director of parking, formerly Frank Nagy, told auditors that they monitor parking structures through periodic walk-throughs by parking and engineering employees.
In the audit summary, the report states that Ithaca and White Plains “appeared to be more reactive to potential issues because they contract for inspections after they feel an issue has arose.”
“What’s reactive and what’s proactive is a good question,” City Chief of Staff Dan Cogan said. “We didn’t have a formal monthly inspection program on the same form, we didn’t have necessarily have an annual inspection form that always happened in January of every year, but by and large I think those things were happening, but … what we weren’t able to do for the Office of the State Comptroller was put our hands on forms that prove that we were doing these things”
Because the garages on Green and Seneca streets are older, Tim Logue, director of engineering, said before the audit the engineering office would keep an eye on them “somewhat often” doing a walk-through and the parking staff would regularly patrol them.
“Every so often, say every 10 years or so, we do a sort of whole structure condition report and those would often lead into a repair program,” Logue said. “In the three-year window that they asked, we didn’t really have very many of those reports.”
Cogan, who was previously a member of Common Council, said there has always been a constant awareness of the condition of parking garages and there have been many repairs over the years, especially of the Green and Seneca garages.
However, Logue said they didn’t really have a formalized system in place or rigorous way to document inspections.
The audit goes on to say when they requested inspection reports for the last 10 years, officials could not produce them. City officials did tell auditors that they “may have had a structural inspection around 2007. Although officials hired a firm to perform a structural inspection at the Seneca Garage in 2011, they did not have documentation that showed the complete results of the inspection.”
Over the years, there have been regular repairs on the aging Green and Seneca garages. Recently, the Seneca Street garage had repair work done. In 2015, a “significant amount” of deterioration was discovered on the top floor beams of the Green Street Garage. The garages on Green and Seneca likely do not have many years left. There is currently a Request for Proposals out for the Green Street Garage, due Friday. The Urban Renewal Agency is seeking mixed-use redevelopment proposals for the garage site.
Logue said at some point in the next decade, the city will have to “make some major decisions” about the Seneca Street Garage as well.
New York State currently does not have guidelines or regulations for parking structures. However, following a parking garage collapse in Johnson City in 2015, a parking garage inspection bill was passed in the Senate and Assembly, but ultimately vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Instead, the state Division of Building Standards & Codes is developing a rule that would make condition assessments of parking structures mandatory every three years.
At the end of the audit, the comptroller’s office recommended that city officials consider establishing a regular structural inspection cycle for parking structures and better document and retain inspection reports.
In response, city officials are making some changes.
Cogan said they now have a place on the server where they will store all reports and inspection checklists to make them easy to access. Logue said they have also developed inspection checklists and they have a new form for “tracking the disposition of repairs” to better keep track of the repair process.
Logue and Cogan said even with the previous system in place for inspecting garages, they felt confident the garages are safe.
“I feel very confident that if the superintendent or staff from the engineering office ever felt that a portion or all of a garage was not safe for the public to be in, we would close that. End of story,” Logue said. “It would be really painful and a lot of people would be really unhappy but when it comes down to public safety, there won’t be much compromise.”
Featured image: Seneca Street Garage by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice