The sounds of electric hammers reverberate across the eastern end of the Downtown Mall as crews repairing the city’s oldest parking garage have reached the top floor. There, they’re chipping away at areas of weakened concrete, according to project manager Stewart Harding.
“It’s progressing along,” Harding told The Daily Progress. “We try to patch it before it starts to spall.”
Spalling, or crumbling, is a feared phenomenon in the life of concrete, as it opens the material to water infiltration which can damage the crucial steel reinforcements known as rebar on which the structure depends. Harding said the crews are taking a proactive approach instead of waiting for visible spalling.
“We test the concrete by dragging chains over it and tapping it with hammers, and you can hear hollow spots,” said Harding.
Such work has been evident this week as the top floor has begun to resemble a chessboard, with squares and rectangles of freshly poured concrete contrasting with older spans.
Unlike most buildings which are protected by a roof and windows, parking garages typically leave expansive areas exposed to the elements.
In April, New Yorkers painfully saw what could happen if parking structures aren’t kept up, when a four-story parking garage with a history of building code violations pancaked and killed its manager. The lower Manhattan incident occurred a year after the city passed a law mandating that each parking deck receive an engineering inspection every six years.
“Due to the unique wear-and-tear these facilities sustain, regular inspections on a fixed cycle are necessary to spot issues and prevent structural failures,” Ryan J. Degan, a spokesman for New York’s Department of Buildings told The Daily Progress via email.
Degan said that his department conducted inspections of more than 200 parking decks in the wake of the fatal collapse.
“The Department has issued 15 vacate orders at parking garages around the City, as we continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect the public,” Degan wrote.
Charlottesville’s proactive approach may stem from the fact that the city owns the Market Street Parking Garage, a multiuse, five-story structure that fills an entire block next door to City Hall.
It opened in 1975, the year before the debut of the Downtown Mall, and also houses shops, city offices, a post office and a long-running wine shop and bar called Tastings of Charlottesville.
The award of the $431,644 maintenance project went in February to winning bidder Eastern Waterproofing & Restoration of Virginia. According to Harding, the project is maintenance that the city performs every five to eight years.
The 141-page engineering report guiding the work calls for cutting additional drains into the top parking level. Such drain holes will be bored only after all potential spalls are repaired and a waterproofing coating applied, Harding said. He said workers will then flood the top level with water to determine the best places to put the holes.
“We’ll see where the water pools,” said Harding.
He said the project appears to be on schedule for its targeted completion in August.
“It’s another six to eight weeks on the top deck, and then we’ll do some repair work in the two staircases, and that will be the project,” said Harding.