‘Stone Age’ Butler County parking garage automation project slows

Butler County has been working to fully automate what the commissioners have dubbed their “Stone Age” garage for a while, and now it appears the system won’t be up and running until the end of the year.

The commissioners approved spending $200,000 in January to fully automate the five-story garage that is connected to the Government Services Center, making it a 24/7 operation. Officials hoped to have the new system operational this summer but now Chris Hacker, the county’s asset, purchasing and projects director, said it will likely be the end of the year.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said they don’t want to deploy the system until they are certain it will work properly.

“The system is pretty much engineered and designed and they’ve built it,” Boyko aid. “We are now working through the application. There’s an application that needs to be used for our monthly parkers and I want to get those bugs worked out before they launch.”

The 600-space garage currently operates as a cash-only, pay-at-the-gate system. Proposals through the years to automate the garage, making it more user-friendly and generating revenue from community events several years ago ranged from $100,000 to $400,000.

Hacker said the monthly parking rate of $35 for rooftop and $40 for interior spaces will not change but “there is ongoing discussion regarding the daily rate structure” which is a maximum of $6.50. Jurors, law enforcement and fire officials from county jurisdictions and some others park for free.

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There used to be two part-time garage attendants who earned $30,000 collectively.

The full-time parking attendant will still be there to “troubleshoot” and make sure everything is working properly. Some people have noticed the gates have been up sometimes because there wasn’t anyone to man the booth.

Boyko said when gate tenders have been absent Mark Gadd, the former facilities manager who is now the special projects coordinator, has taken over the booth. Hacker said there have been some times when no one was available.

“The responsibilities of the parking garage staff extend beyond solely collections in the booth, and as such, there may be windows of time where he is required to leave the booth to complete those necessary tasks/assignments,” Hacker said. “However, we are ensuring coverage if/when absences exist, whether planned or unplanned.”

The commissioners early on said the automation project needed to have a decent return on investment. Boyko said the county estimates a “four-year ROI based on cost for automation, increased revenues and reduced costs.” She said the annual cost for credit card processing is $10,000, she is estimating increased revenues of $30,000 because they were able to reconfigure the garage and create more spaces and capitalize on weekend parkers. The net benefit should be $50,000.

The entrance and exits will look the same except there will not be a garage attendant manning the booth on Court Street anymore. There will be a pay station that takes cash or credit in the first floor lobby of the garage and another inside the GSC by the breezeway that connects the two buildings on the second floor.

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