University of Kansas


University of Kansas

When the University of Kansas announced plans for immediate and long-term improvements to campus parking in 1997, construction of an 800-space parking structure was one of the most significant in terms of added parking and visibility.
The prominent location just north of the Kansas Student Union was ideal for the new structure, promising to make the area more accessible to visitors to the Union building, the Spencer Museum of Art and the Adams Alumni Center. The parking structure would also provide additional parking for students and faculty. On football weekends, it could be used as special-permit parking for alumni season-ticket holders.
At the same time, the site selected by the university created design challenges. Situated atop Mount Oread, it is visible from locations throughout the main campus including landmarks such as the Campanile and the Kansas Memorial Stadium. The high-profile structure would have to blend with and enhance the architectural character of the campus.
The design would also have to accommodate the Kansas Union Corp.’s plans to expand the Union to the north, with a crossover to the new parking garage, while preserving views across the campus from Oread Avenue and the Alumni Center. All of this had to be accomplished on a limited site that rises 60 vertical feet from west to east.
“While this highly strategic location promised to make the new parking structure extremely useful and versatile, improving vehicular and pedestrian circulation significantly, it would also be a high-profile addition to the central campus,” says Don Kearns, director of parking at the university.
The challenge was to take a difficult site and construct a facility that would be in harmony with the traditional brick buildings surrounding it, while coming in on budget and on time. “I think we succeeded in doing that,” says Kearns. Opened in August of 2000 in time for the fall semester, the five-story, 818-car structure is meeting the needs of the university and its many diverse users.
Precast components
As the project progressed, it became evident that using precast materials would help meet many of the project challenges, from bringing the structure online in just 14 months from the start of construction and working within the tight constraints of the site, to providing the desired architectural appearance. While sub-freezing temperatures would have slowed cast-in-place concrete construction, factory production of precast continued through the winter. Using precast also enabled the contractor to produce, inspect and stockpile structural members off site and to deliver them as needed, especially important because of limited space for construction staging.
The design of the facility incorporates spandrels set between columns, assembled with a variety of precast shapes. To achieve an exterior look that would be compatible with the traditional brick and limestone of the adjacent buildings, limestone-colored concrete and a light sand blast were used. The architectural tie was made stronger by insetting a thin brick veneer into the concrete facade panels and columns. Vertical finials were added at the top of each column to create interest and aesthetic appeal while hiding connectors for planned future expansion.
The architectural character of the campus was further captured in the roofs of the stair towers, which were designed to match the color, materials and shapes of the surrounding buildings. In addition, brickwork, lighting, and planting were carefully designed to complement the aesthetics of the Union plaza and create a unified campus aesthetic. The result is a striking architectural presentation that has been well received by the university and the surrounding community.
A difficult site
The 2.77-acre site also created challenges for the design team, which looked at a number of site options and ways to configure the structure. Value engineering was used to determine the best solution, a stepped approach using cast-in-place concrete and segmented block retaining wall systems softened with landscaping. The building itself was stepped back into the site and the top floor set back, or terraced, to lessen its impact on Mississippi Street to the west.
On the east, the top level of the facility was kept even with street level to maintain views of the campus from Oread Avenue and the Alumni Center. The parking structure was opened up to the north and south by flaring out the stepped retaining walls, creating a more open atmosphere for users and passers-by. A requirement to retain all storm water on site was met by constructing a large concrete basin under the lowest level of the parking structure.
To provide users with a convenient and secure parking structure, a gateless system with two-way traffic, 90-degree parking, and multiple entries and exits was selected. The system reduces queues at exits and entrances and traffic congestion around the structure. To make the parking structure even more user friendly, vertical circulation ramps were located on the northwest corner of the structure away from the primary pedestrian destination (elevator tower). In addition to minimizing vehicle and pedestrian conflicts, this allowed for large flat areas of parking adjacent to the elevator tower and created an open feeling inside the structure.
Three exit stairs, one in the elevator tower on the south and two at the north end of the structure, are easily accessible to users. To accommodate future growth, the design includes provisions for a two-level vertical expansion and the pedestrian bridge to the Student Union. The parking structure has a functional efficiency of about 300 square feet per car.
University staff decided early in the design process that the parking structure should operate as an unstaffed facility. The pay-on-foot, multiple-space parking meter revenue system that was selected offered substantial benefits to both the users and the university. This system eliminates the need for ticket dispensers, gates, and cashiers, reducing delays at entrance and exit points and increasing the number of parking spaces available. For added convenience, the microprocessor-based system can incorporate remote pay stations that enable users to add time to parking meters without returning to the parking facility.
Improved revenue control is another important advantage of the system, which is complete with bill changers and accepts bankcards, credit cards and university smart cards for payment. (See Sidebar.)
The new parking facility at the University of Kansas has achieved its goal to stand out and impress architecturally, yet blend in with the campus. “In spite of its complexity, this turned out to be a relatively easy project to manage,” says Steve Scannell, director of consulting services at the university. “When you have a good team in place and top people in design and construction, there isn’t much need for management intervention.”
“This project has been a success from its very beginning,” says Warren Corman, university architect at KU. “The acid test for me is to look at what the faculty thinks of a new project, because they don’t hesitate to express their opinions and they can be our toughest critics. They’ve had nothing but good to say about this facility, and I agree.”
The University of Kansas selected the team of George Butler Associates Inc., architects and engineers, of Lenexa, KS, and Carl Walker Inc., parking consultants, of Kalamazoo, MI, to design the new facility.

Joedy Hoogner, AIA, is principal and vice president, George Butler Associates Inc., 9801 Renner Blvd., Lenexa, KS, 66219; (913) 492-0400; e-mail:


Revenue Control
The system at the University of Kansas allows for complex and variable parking rate structures plus other features, including:
* Progressive, regressive or flat rates.
* Rates that vary with the day or time.
* Special no-charge days.
* Rejection of payment for certain spaces at certain times.
* Special user rates.
* Weatherproof and vandal-resistant hardware.
* Easy access for routine maintenance.

Article contributed by:
Joedy Hoogner
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