You may be surprised at the depth of feeling that you're hearing from this group. —Professor Tony Ekdale
SALT LAKE CITY — Frustration is mounting among those crying out against a proposed parking structure that would block the westerly view of a University of Utah building designed specifically with vistas showcasing the state's unique geology.
An overflowing classroom of geology students and faculty faced off with university officials Thursday, loudly protesting the new $6 million structure that could mean major parking help at the university, saying it is a stark contrast to the mission of their education.
Among their chief complaints was the allegation that while student input had been sought regarding the parking initiative that has been in the works since 2008, the interests of the group most directly affected weren't taken into consideration.
"You may be surprised at the depth of feeling that you're hearing from this group," said geology professor Tony Ekdale after nearly two hours of back and forth. "(The building) was designed by faculty and students from day one, and that's why we take ownership of this. That's why our heart and soul is in this place."
The Frederick Albert Sutton Building was dedicated in April 2009. The four-story, 91,000-square-foot facility features state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories and offices. It replaced the Mines Building, which was built in 1927.
Students say it was built to help geology and geophysics students observe and learn science from their desks. If the four-story parking garage is erected downhill from the building, their view of the Oquirrh Mountains, Bonneville Shoreline Trail and Great Salt Lake would be blocked on all but the top floor.
After Thursday's emotional meeting, administrators from the university's campus planning, facilities and commuter services offices agreed to future discussions with the group as the plan advances.
The addition of 1,000 new parking spots, which are currently set to be split between two smaller structures on opposite ends of the campus, is a predetermined project backed by the 2012 Utah Legislature. A design has not been finalized for the structures, which would be built sometime next year and are expected to accommodate future growth while bringing in adequate revenue to support the cost of construction.
The structure would serve students, though at a slightly higher cost, as well as campus visitors.
"The fact of the matter is, the university is a community center, people come from all over the place," director of commuter services Alma Allred said following the meeting. "We have a responsibility to people who are conducting business on the campus to provide a place for them to park."
Possible placement near Sutton was chosen based on size, pedestrian and ADA accessibility, proximity to shuttle connections, traffic and neighborhood impact and walking distance between other campus destinations.
Several students covered the windows of the Sutton building with paper and messages of protest Wednesday, asking their classmates to sign online and written petitions that had garnered more than 400 signatures by Thursday's meeting.
"This paper is here to show people what it would be like without the view," said graduate student David Wheatley.
Not only would the garage obstruct the view, Wheatley said, but it would also defeat the purpose of the only LEED-certified building on the academic campus. The Sutton building's features rely heavily on natural light and access to public transportation, he said.