This article was featured in the O+M Special Issue of CRE Insight Journal. Read more here.
While they may have been a little emptier lately, the concrete and asphalt structures that greet vehicles should still be top of mind. Parking lots and decks projects are often budgeted as deferred maintenance. This strategy is common but needs to come with an informed understanding of the needs of a parking structure.
Not only are parking lots and decks the first thing a potential tenant sees when they visit a property, but they are an entity that can often contain easily-missed problems that can be a big cost later.
As previously mentioned, when someone drives up to a property, one of the first things they see is the parking lot or deck. Especially in a commercial office space, the parking lot may be something they see multiple times a day. It is important to treat this area like any other asset to the property. Parking operations coordinator for Highwoods Properties Cameron Higdon, CPP said that this is one reason for investment in the space.
“Parking deck maintenance should be a priority for building owners and operators who want to entice a customer to or keep an existing customer at the location by the ever-important curb appeal,” Higdon said.
Parking lots and decks are also one of the few spaces that see both pedestrians and vehicles. This means that it receives more wear and tear than some of the floors and elevators in the building itself. Doug Brooks, regional vice president with Laz Parking, said that keeping up a parking area is a comprehensive effort.
“If you want the lifespan of the garage to go the distance, then you have to look at preventative maintenance and long-term maintenance,” Brooks said.
There are a few major issues to look for when it comes to both short-term and long-term parking area maintenance projects. Many of them have a large return on investment both in improving quality of life and lengthening the lifespan of your structure.
The first problem to pay attention to is water intrusion. Cracks in concrete can mean big structural issues down the line. Puddling and water build-up are issues to be prioritized as the long-term costs can add up.
“Water intrusion is a common issue and one that can get out of hand rather quickly since the effects of the water intrusion can affect drain lines, electrical components, concrete support systems and more,” Higdon said.
A second major issue, and one with big return on investment according to Brooks, is lighting. Lighting is not only a safety priority but an energy efficiency project and an aesthetic one. Replacing the bulbs in your garage or investing in more lighting for an expansive lot can only improve the relationship between you and your tenants.
“It affects security within a garage,” Brooks said. “Lighting affects your ability to prevent trip and falls.”
Parking maintenance is usually on the shortlist for being deferred. While on the accounting side that makes sense, it is important to know the pros and cons when deciding when to mark parking as a deferred maintenance project. Higdon said that parking maintenance should not be deferred because it could lead to structural or other problems in the future. He said other times is can be a business decision based on the type of property.
Deferring maintenance is something the vendor considers as well. Brooks said he likes deferred maintenance because it can be something to count on and it keeps a steady schedule of work. However, he said it always important to run a risk assessment before deciding when to start a project. Brooks said that not deferring maintenance could mean prolonging a high-cost repair later in the year if there is no room in the budget to cover it.
There are a few ways to make sure that a parking structure is well maintained. Making it a part of the inspection schedule is key with at least one inspection per month. Brooks suggests adding a non-peak inspection every once in a while to allow engineers the best opportunity to catch a problem.
“Drive to your building and walk it top to bottom when there are no cars in it. Nobody ever does that,” Brooks said. “You always do it 10 o’clock, Monday morning, with the property manager.”
The second piece of advice is to stay informed. Higdon said that making uninformed repairs can lead to more cost and time down the line. Because parking maintenance is usually deferred, it is important to have a knowledge of the full scope of possible repairs and projects that may need to occur.
“It is recommended that a structural engineer or industry professional be involved to help identify the cause of the problems that are occurring rather than simply making spot repairs without understanding or addressing the underlying issue,” Higdon said.
A parking deck or lot is just like any other system in a building. Just like any other system, it takes knowledge and expertise to make sure it is run correctly and on budget.