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For some in this industry, the term “consultant” can have some negative connotations. That doesn’t have to be the case!
During my career with the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), I used consultants many times. You can’t be involved with design and construction of more than 17,000 parking spaces and multiple transit, parking and building-related projects without using the expertise of consultants.
The specialized nature of the various disciplines that consultants can bring to the table makes them an enormous asset to building projects.
From the beginning
Like many of you, I started at the bottom and learned as I worked my way up the ladder. Starting as a vending clerk collecting money from parking meters and pay toilets, I eventually became the Assistant Airport Director/ Landside Operations. There were many stops along the way and various areas of increasing responsibility as time passed.
Having a good mentor for the first few years was a big start, also the opportunity to work with skilled experts in areas such as engineering and architecture helped to build knowledge and allowed the growth needed for a great career path.
When we started out in parking, most of us were pretty green, and I don’t mean that in the currently popular vernacular! We all needed to “cut our teeth” in the operation as we developed skills sets and just plain experience the operation. As business grows, new challenges present themselves, such as the need for expansion, rate changes, operational changes, advertising and public relations.
We aren’t all blessed with the inherent knowledge of every subject in order to plan each expansion and to write each press release or to make each public presentation. We need the assistance of those who have lived these events before. That is where consultants offer an advantage.
Areas of commonality
Running a parking operation, whether it is in a hospital, university or municipal setting or at an airport means making day-to-day decisions. It also means being responsible for tremendous amounts of revenue.
There are people to manage, facilities to clean, signs to be placed, money to be collected, reports to be completed, employees to be hired and fired, and most important of all, customers to be served.
There are revenue control systems to be operated and maintained, and massive capital spending efforts to be planned. And there are headaches, lots of headaches! Although each type of operation is different, there are also certain similarities. The similarities lead us to specialized experts that can help us decide when it is time to expand, how to expand, how to maintain the integrity of what we have, how to upgrade the revenue control system, and how to advertise the service that we offer, among many other things.
The ability to find specialized expert assistance is paramount to success. These areas of specialty are many.
A large part of the overall responsibility of engineers and architects involves the design of sustainable structures. This effort is undertaken through various specialty areas within engineering and architectural service. This area takes a number of forms such as:
1. Engineering Services
Structural engineers design the supporting structure and foundations of the multi-level parking structures of today. They ensure the parking structure will stand up to all of the loads from people, vehicles, snow, wind and seismic forces, and other building code requirements.
Mechanical engineers design plumbing and air-handling requirements. Local and federal requirements need to be adhered to during design, as well as finding energy-efficient methods of operation.
Electrical engineers design electrical and communication routing through a project. Stable power sources and stable communication are absolutely necessary in operating the facility. The electrical engineer also likely provides design criteria for proper lighting of the facility for patron safety and operation. Back-up power is often needed for not just life-safety items, but now also for crucial revenue and access control systems to ensure smooth operation.
Traffic engineers usually get involved with egress and access design to a parking facility. Surrounding roadways have a huge impact on the design of parking operations. You can’t design more parking than the surrounding road system can adequately handle, and these engineers can provide roadway capacity studies to help determine how big your facility can be and how many access and egress points you need, and how many the street system can handle.
Civil engineers typically work on design of surface level roadways and curb and gutter, sidewalk details, and drainage of the facility. This is to ensure that there is no standing water following rain storms or even controls the flow of rain that drips off cars traveling within the structure.
Again, there are several areas of expertise in this professional category, such as:
Building architects design the aesthetically pleasing façade of the structure to be sure that it fits in with surrounding buildings. These architects typically also work with the owner to design vertical circulation and parking support buildings that are necessary components of a parking facility. These also work with existing federal and state regulations for ADA compliance.
Landscape architects develop specifications to beautify the area surrounding the parking facility once the major construction is done. Few if any structures built today don’t have green space and some landscape treatment to better “fit in” with the surrounding area.
3. Parking consultants
Here’s where things can get somewhat interesting because of the cross-over of areas of knowledge.
The parking consultant can usually assist with developing an efficient traffic flow and efficient space layout within a parking structure. This requires coordination with the structural engineer as well as the project architect.
In addition, there are revenue and access control systems to specify, which will take close coordination with electrical engineers to ensure adequate conduit and electrical service for peripheral devices. The electrical engineer will need to become involved in order to specify the lane loop cutting and connections to the lane devices.
Once revenue and access control system requirements are identified, rate structures need to be evaluated in order to maximize revenue and utilization of the parking facility. Rates can be anything from hourly to weekly to monthly, depending on the type of use the facility is designed to meet.
The parking consultant will need to coordinate with the civil engineer in order to have level slabs poured for mounting of gate cabinets, lane devices and cashier booths.
To be successful on a job, the parking consultant must know the operation he or she is working on. To do that, site visits, interviews with owners as well as operators of the facility, and a complete understanding of the business rules are paramount. Since revenue and access control systems include reporting capability, the consultant also must know what the customer wants and needs in order to manage their facility.
These rather elementary descriptions are meant to just scratch the surface of what consultants can and should bring to a project. We all grow in our knowledge as we continue to manage or work in our facilities. But the specialized knowledge of the various consulting disciplines cannot be omitted from a project if you want it to be successful.
The best advice might be to recognize and honestly evaluate your own knowledge level, and to be sure to make use of the proper group of consultants to bring order and success to your project.
Greg Leean is director of Transportation and Parking Consulting for the Consulting Engineers Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.