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Canisius demolishes ramp, credibility

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Morale is low. The reimposed mask mandate was understandable and largely unavoidable. The same goes for the lack of a vaccine mandate. But the parking situation is different. Canisius relies on its commuters, and commuters rely on parking. We’re the Golden Griffins, but we feel more like sharks when we circle the lots looking for a spot. Professors are annoyed with students parking in faculty lots or showing up late to class. It’s no fun for Hamlin Park residents, either.

The question, though, isn’t whether it’s annoying. The question is what Canisius can do to solve it — and what they could have done to prevent it. The shuttle is an option that commuters will likely have to get used to. Though part of Canisius’s appeal is its small campus, we might have to get used to parking at the KAC or Delevan and walking more than five minutes to class.

The world will go on (we think — the emissions caused by the parking catastrophe might single handedly advance climate change), but this is a disruption to many students and professors. Commuters make up an increasingly big chunk of students, and their biggest concern is parking. Canisius should place an accordingly large focus on parking, lest they drive future students away (pun used emphatically). Their 2018 Master Plan agreed: “Parking is critical for our faculty, staff, commuter students, and graduate students.” That’s why the timing of the ramp demolition is so befuddling.

Two years after The Griffin drew a strong response from President Hurley for its coverage of the ramp, and thirteen years after it was purchased, Canisius announced the destruction of the parking ramp. The much maligned ramp will be replaced by a “well-lit and attractively landscaped place” with 420 spots (the parking ramp had 550 usable spots).

The ramp is currently closed for asbestos removal. The timeline after that is complete, according to Vice President for Business and Finance Timothy Balkin, is to “begin demolition in October with completion scheduled for early December… resum[ing] in the spring when the weather improves, with completion slated for next summer.” Just in time for classes to end. And we all know how these plans go. *Cough* Palisano *cough.*

The removal of asbestos from the adjacent Science Hall lot doesn’t set a happy precedent for a timely finish. AAC Contracting is mired in a dispute with Laborers Local 210, who allege that the Canisius-hired firm has brought in out-of-town workers and paid them less than the prevailing wage mandated by the state grant Canisius received to remove asbestos. The prevailing wage for Asbestos Removal (Class F) workers in Erie County, according to the New York State Department of Labor website, is $30.63/hour plus $27.65/hour in benefits.

Canisius promises a “well-lit and attractively landscaped” parking lot, we’d rather have a parking lot at all. They needn’t waste time beautifying it. Hamlin Park residents want less of us clogging their streets as soon as possible. If it requires a slightly uglier parking lot to do it, then they’ll probably make that trade-off.

Nobody wants a worse parking situation. President Hurley doesn’t, the trustees don’t, our numerous vice presidents don’t. It’s probably a headache for them, and they’re probably rueing a lost opportunity during the pandemic like we are. President Hurley in 2019 said that “the college’s Facilities Master Plan includes a plan to demolish the ramp and replace it with a surface lot. We are continuing to evaluate the cost and timing of that project.”

This summer’s memo struck a different one: “The existing parking structure has been deteriorating for many years and, at this point, is beyond repair.” At what point between Hurley’s tepid evaluation of it in 2019 and now did it become “beyond repair?” The scales certainly couldn’t have been tipped by last year’s scant use. If it was clear this summer, it was clear in late 2019. Strangely, in 2018, Canisius agreed. That year’s Master Plan stated that “the parking ramp has reached the end of its useful life and must be replaced.”

Presumably, if the administration had been prepared with a plan to demolish the ramp, they could have jumped at the chance to do it last year with minimal commuter disruption. The construction industry was backed up last year, and maybe that’s why they couldn’t. Perhaps they were waiting on the sale of apartments to fund the project or the approval of the Buffalo authorities. However, the benefit of the doubt was lost when they justified the demolition by saying simply that the ramp is beyond repair, something we’ve known for years.

The argument that the money didn’t exist because of the pandemic doesn’t hold water, especially after the federal government passed relief money for colleges. By Canisius’s own admission, the parking ramp is an “essential long-term investment.” “Essential” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “of the utmost importance; basic, indispensable, necessary.” They’re the type of thing you find money for. The Palisano Fitness Center was completed during the pandemic, and that’s hardly an essential long-term investment.

The whole project is slated to cost $4 million. Canisius recently sold Griffin Hall and the Main-Humboldt townhouses for a combined $2.5 million to defray the cost. However, the sale was by no means a lynchpin for the demolition. IRS documents show that in the years 2015–2019, Canisius expended between $1.275 million to $4 million of its average $120,000,000 endowment on “facilities and programs.” In 2019, the number was $3 million. Adding $4 million to make it $7 million for 2019 wouldn’t have been an unreasonable ask, particularly if they knew the above properties would be sold at some point.

We appreciate efforts to coordinate shuttles and increase parking in other areas. We recognize the complicated nature of getting the legal, financial, and construction-related ducks in a row. The fact remains that Canisius knew in 2018 that the parking ramp was unviable and agreed that parking is essential for its survival, yet didn’t take action throughout the pandemic and offered no explanations as to why. The project hasn’t started yet, but Canisius has already demolished something you can’t buy with money.

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