LACONIA — The latest engineering report on the 45-year-old downtown parking garage found that the second level has multiple areas in poor condition.

Temporary wooden shoring installed in 2015 and 2017 had dried and shrunk, and shims would be needed, stated the October report obtained by The Laconia Daily Sun. The shoring helps support the second-floor deck.

Public Works Director Wes Anderson said the city followed recommendations in the report, but the long-term future of the structure remains to be determined. An earlier report said a full rehabilitation could cost $3 million. That cost estimate is now being updated.

The report by DuBois & King recommended that the third floor should continue to be off limits.

“Parking on the third level deck shall remain to be prohibited until temporary shoring or permanent repairs to the deteriorated steel deck and steel framing are made,” the report said. “Monitor snow accumulation and perform snow removal at deteriorated areas of the third-level ramps and deck until structural deficiencies are addressed.”

Repairs were made to the garage in 1996, 2005, 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2017, including permanent welding.

“The drain troughs at the second-level landing are in very poor condition and have failed,” the report said. “They are full of debris, cracked and/or broken and do not function. Water leaks are prevalent in these locations and corrosion is severe to the surrounding steel framing.

“Pigeon roosting on steel beams is evident throughout. Pigeon droppings cause a continuous maintenance problem and are unsanitary, making the garage unappealing.”

Water from the garage leaks through the ceiling of businesses on the ground floor, which is privately owned.

Mixed ownership

The mixture of private and public ownership of the structure complicates repair issues, said City Councilor Bob Hamel.

“We’re in kind of a difficult place,” he said. “It’s a predicament. How long do we let it go before we do something for the businesses underneath? It’s not getting any better over time.”

One suggestion that has been discussed would demolish the garage and build a new one on what is now surface parking outside City Hall – perhaps including retail spaces in the structure and placing residences on the side of the building facing the Winnipesaukee River. 

If the city were to knock down the garage, it would first have to reach an agreement with the private ownership on the ground floor. 

Fit Focus

Brandon Borghi, who owns the Fit Focus athletic club, the largest business in the garage, said he parks on the second floor of the structure. 

“The garage certainly leaks and water gets on ceiling tiles and things like that, but it doesn’t affect business,” he said.

Borghi said his gym has been very successful. Customers park on the street or in the garage. He thinks too much is made of the garage’s condition.

“It’s structurally sound and I trust it," he said. "I’m from the Massachusetts area and some of the garages there are pretty decrepit, but I never read about them.”

The Soda Shoppe

Another business on the ground floor is Mike Soucy's Soda Shoppe.

He said the location is a big positive for his business.

"Great central location, great access to everything, the elderly can get here easily," he said.
 
If he had to relocate, he said his business would continue to succeed, but he worried about his regular customers, whom he referred to as "the family."
 
"If they decide to tear it down, where would my customers go?," he asked. "I'm not worried about myself, I can go anywhere."
 
He said the ceiling periodically leaks in his restaurant and he questions how well the city has maintained the garage. 
 
"They do the (Main Street) bridge, it looks great, then they want to skip over the biggest eyesore. They get the grant money for the Colonial Theatre, but where are they going to park?"
 
"They don't want to take care of it. Preventative maintenance over the years would have done a lot of good."
 
Ample parking

There are about 150 spots in the portions of the garage that are open. Frequently, many are empty and there is usually parking available in surface lots and on streets downtown.

Anderson, the Public Works director, said the garage is inspected every fall to make sure it’s ready for winter.

“There may come a time when we can’t do that anymore,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city follows engineering recommendations to make sure it is structurally safe, he said.

Autonomous vehicles

Some new garages are built to be "future-proof," meaning they can be easily converted to commercial or residential use.

Such design plans include additional structural support and features that allow the building to transition to business or residential use should parking demands change with the expected proliferation of autonomous vehicles, said Peter Merwin, an architect with the San Francisco-based Gensler design frim. 

But Merwin predicts garages will still be needed for many years. 

"We talk about the highest and best use of land," he said. "Parking is a use. People park so they can go to businesses of a walking distance. I'm not sure why you would take down a garage." 

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