Press-Republican

December 2, 2012

College officials, students discuss campus parking

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — To avoid being tardy, SUNY Plattsburgh student Leigh Borgstrom leaves her Lake Placid home two hours before the start of her first class of the day.

One of those hours is taken up by Borgstrom’s commute to campus, while the remaining time may be spent searching for a spot to park her vehicle.

“Sometimes it will take me an hour to find parking,” she said.

If she wants to park on campus and avoid a $25 parking ticket, Borgstrom is required by the college to park in a lot designated for off-campus students.

However, she said, she finds those lots — seven of various sizes — are often full, especially between 10 a.m. and noon.

Borgstrom would like to see the college make additional parking spots available to commuter students.

“There’s really not enough student parking on campus,” agreed Krystle Morey, also an off-campus student at the school.

GREEN SPACE

SUNY Plattsburgh could create more parking spaces, said Michelle Ouellette, director of public relations and publications at the college; however, doing so would compromise the green space on campus.

“We want to put a high value on our green corridor, which actually goes down the Saranac (River), and really emphasize the beauty of the campus,” she said.

“We don’t want to sacrifice that with more parking.”

PARKING RATIOS

The number of parking spaces designated for each campus group, including on-campus students, faculty and staff, and off-campus students, is based on nationally recognized parking ratios, according to Arlene Sabo, chief of SUNY Plattsburgh’s University Police.

These recommended ratios take into consideration how much time each group spends on campus.

For on-campus students, who are at the college the most of any group, the national recommendation is that 1.1 parking permits be issued for every one parking space designated for those students.

SUNY Plattsburgh, Sabo said, currently has .7 on-campus student parking permits issued for every one space.

She explained that on-campus parking spaces are situated near the residence halls where those students live, so they must either walk or take the college’s parking shuttle to classes.

“There’s no reason they need to be driving to classes, so they don’t get to have parking near the academic buildings,” Sabo said.

CONTRACTED

The national recommendation for faculty and staff, who are generally at the college slightly less than on-campus students, is that 1.3 permits be issued for each of the group’s spaces. The college now has 1.1 faculty and staff parking permits issued per space.

In addition, Sabo noted, SUNY Plattsburgh employee unions have negotiated for parking spaces in their contracts, and therefore, the college must designate spaces for them rather than allowing open parking for all members of the campus community.

“If they’ve had parking for 20 years, you can’t take it away,” Sabo said. “The campus can’t do that unless they provide something comparable.”

And for off-campus students, who typically come and go more frequently than the other two groups, the college has issued 2.2 permits per space, slightly below the recommended 2.3 to 1 ratio.

“So we’re on target with our ratios; however, here’s the catch to that,” Sabo said. “The spaces might not be right next to the building that you’re driving to, and you know, it’s tough. I get it.”

LOST SPOTS

Sabo noted that construction of the future home of the college’s School of Business and Economics and computer-science program, which is now under way, as well as the Hudson Annex on Broad Street, did eliminate some parking spaces.

Before that, she said, there was a “boutique parking” culture on campus, and people became accustomed to parking at their destination.

“But we had choices to make,” Sabo said.

“We desperately need some new (learning) spaces,” Ouellette added, “so it becomes all a matter of balance.”

Approximately 130 parking spaces were sacrificed in order to build the new business and economics structure on the corner of Draper Avenue and Cornelia Street, according to Sabo; however, about 60 of those spaces will be restored this summer, once construction is complete.

SHUTTLE RIDES

To accommodate those who are unable to find parking near their destinations, the college contracted with CART this year and last to provide a parking shuttle, which does a loop around campus, making stops at each of six locations every 15 minutes.

Sabo recommends that people park in the lot behind Sibley Hall and across from Plattsburgh High School. There, a number of spaces have been designated for on- and off-campus students, who may ride the shuttle from Sibley to another part of campus.

“I can guarantee there will be spaces in that parking lot behind Sibley,” Sabo said.

The shuttle, which operates from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on days classes are in session, is free to anyone with a valid SUNY ID and $1 to those without.

WALK, BIKE

In addition to using the shuttle, Ouellette said, the college hopes more of its members will walk and ride bikes to their appointments on campus.

“We really want to be a sustainable, healthy community, and so that was very much a part of the Facilities Master Plan that we’ve developed is that we want to increase the amount of walking, the amount of bike riding,” she said.

Ouellette estimates that people can walk from any one part of the campus to any other part within 15 minutes.

“But it is a change in culture,” she said. “You do have to plan ahead more than you used to, and we can understand the frustration of people.”

WEATHER FACTORS

Borgstrom said she doesn’t mind having to walk a short distance from her vehicle to class; however, she feels the walk from Sibley is too far, given that she must carry a heavy backpack with her.

“I commute, so I bring my whole life with me in my backpack,” she said.

And having to make that walk in bad weather, she noted, would be especially difficult.

Borgstrom is hesitant to use the parking shuttle, she said, because she doesn’t like the idea of being far away from her car in case she forgets something in it and needs to get back to it quickly.

CAMPUS VISITORS

Another group that seeks parking on campus are visitors to the college or members of the community attending one of the campus’s many events.

Sabo said when parking on campus, whether it be in a marked visitor’s spot or elsewhere, visitors must go to University Police to get a pass, which will designate a location on campus in which the visitor is approved to park.

Failure to acquire a visitor’s pass or to park in the location instructed on the pass may result in a parking ticket.

Still, Sabo noted, individuals who get a ticket while visiting campus for the first time have the option of filling out the back of the ticket with information explaining why they were on campus and submitting it for a waiver.

“So they have to fill that information in and get it to us, and we have to verify that information, and then, if you’re not a chronic violator, it’s automatically waived,” she said.

DISRESPECT

Sabo added that it’s important that no one disrespect campus parking officials just because they are upset about receiving a ticket.

“Sometimes these people on the front lines are treated very poorly,” she said. “For some reason, it’s a right when you get a ticket to come in and scream at the person in the office.

“I would ask that people think about that. There’s a way to communicate that doesn’t have to be, what ends up kind of being, abusive to other people.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston: alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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SUNY PLATTSBURGH PARKING FINES AND FEES SUNY 

Plattsburgh issues about 6,000 parking tickets a year, according to Chief of University Police at SUNY Plattsburgh Arlene Sabo; however, about half of those $25 tickets are either waived or issued to visitors who are never held accountable for the fines. 

The college, she noted, has about 6,000 students and another 1,000 faculty and staff. "It's absolutely necessary in order to keep people following the rules," she said of issuing parking tickets. "That's why we do it." 

Students who do not pay their parking tickets may be prevented from registering for classes or obtaining their transcripts. And individuals who amass five or more tickets are placed on the college's tow list. 

In order to get to class on time, off-campus student, Leigh Borgstrom, said she does, at times, park in spots not designated for off-campus students. In hopes of avoiding finding a ticket on her windshield when she returns, Borgstrom leaves a statement of her own. "I'll leave a note on my windshield that says, 'I paid a lot of money to be here, so don't give me a ticket,'" she said. 

So far, Borgstrom hasn't received a ticket while using the note; though, she can't say for certain whether she's just lucky, or parking officials are actually obeying her written request. 

SUNY Plattsburgh student Krystle Morey now also lives off campus, but recalls receiving three college-issued parking tickets in the same day during her time as an on-campus student. Two of them were eventually waived, as she was able to prove that her vehicle was indeed positioned in an on-campus student parking space when the tickets were issued. However, Morey paid the third one, which, she said, she received just after 5 p.m. despite the fact that campus parking areas are only restricted between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Sabo estimates the college collects about $75,000 annually in parking fines and said the money supports a variety of costs, including parking operations, parking lot upkeep, University Police operations and the college's general fund. 

All students, faculty and staff who wish to park on campus must pay a $20 parking registration fee each academic year in order to obtain a hang tag, or parking pass, for their vehicles. 

In addition, students and non-union employees must pay a separate parking fee each semester in order to utilize college parking. This fee is $78 for full-time students, and $39 for part-time students. 

"Union employees are exempt by contract from paying the parking fee," Sabo said in an email to the Press-Republican. "They pay the $20.00 hang tag fee." Likewise, non-union employees who make less that $25,000 annually are exempt from the parking fee but not the registration fee. 

Money collected from parking and registration fees, Sabo said, covers the cost of issuing hang tags, parking operations and parking lot expenses. "A number of years ago, the state stopped allowing general funds to be spent on parking lots and parking related expenses," she said. "That is when SUNY campuses started charging a parking fee." 

Since moving off-campus, Morey has opted not to pay the college parking fees and avoids driving to campus as much as possible. Instead, she often takes advantage of the free campus shuttle provided by Renaissance Village Suites, where she lives. And when she must drive to her classes, Morey utilizes campus parking only after 5 p.m. or parks on side streets off campus and walks to class. 

Students, at times, also utilize the lot behind the Newman Center on Broad Street instead of parking at the college, according to Mary Skillan, director of Campus Ministries. "I know they have enough expenses going to college, let alone trying to pay for their parking sticker, so I think sometimes people will park elsewhere," she said. 

Skillan noted that she doesn't personally have a problem with students parking at the Newman Center unless there is an event going on at the church. Many people who attend mass at the center on Sundays are elderly, Skillan said, and if the lot behind the church is full, they end up having to park further away, which can be a problem for people with mobility issues.