December 6-8, 2021
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Featured Article:

How to make the most from your parking garage restoration project

By Alexis Herr, PE and Kristin Westover, PE



Parking structures are often both the first and last impression of your property that a visitor has. The upkeep of parking structures at healthcare facilities, where accessibility and comfort are of great importance, is even more critical. These frequently used structures are exposed to the environment and often neglected, resulting in dripping ceilings, rusted steel, and pot-holed drive aisles. Keeping an aging garage maintained can be a challenge. Garages require periodic structural repairs and regular maintenance beyond that of buildings of a similar age. If maintenance falls behind or the structure is showing signs of needed repair, it may be time to consider structural repairs as part of a garage restoration project.


Undertaking a garage restoration project can seem like a daunting task, but there are several ways you can streamline the process. Hire a consultant you can trust. Work with your consultant to prioritize and phase the repairs to meet your budget constraints. Address the critical issues first in a timely manner.  In this way, you can transition your garage from needing costly reactive repairs, to only requiring regular maintenance and proactive repair projects.




Walking the garage on a rainy day is a simple way to observe the condition of the garage. A quick tour of Alexis Herr, PE
the garage can identify common deteriorated elements including cracked concrete, rust, and ponding water. A keener eye may be needed to distinguish between structural deterioration and typical wear and tear. For example, some concrete cracks are caused by placement and curing of the concrete during original construction and may not be an indication of a larger problem. A parking garage consultant will evaluate the location and size of a crack to determine the root cause and urgency of a repair. In addition to the cause of the crack, the effects of the crack, such as if it allows water intrusion into the concrete, will be considered. An engineer will be able to recommend the correct repair to the cracks as well as determine which cracks require repair in the short-term.




If your garage requires structural restoration, or you are unsure, contact a consultant to perform a condition assessment. Typically, parking garage consultants are Professional Engineers or Architects. Consultants do not perform the restoration construction and they are able to provide an honest opinion about the repairs that should be completed in the near term and which repairs can be deferred. A consultant will evaluate the observed deterioration and will identify and prioritize conditions that lessen the expected useful life of the garage elements.


Additionally, consultants provide value by not only identifying and recommending repairs, but also by working with owners to develop a maintenance plan to continue proactive repairs of the garage. These plans will increase the service life of components in the garage and will teach owners to be proactive in their repairs rather than reactive. Consultants will identify items in the garage that should be repaired or replaced at regular intervals and will help Owners establish those intervals and budgets.


Local engineers are familiar with local contractors and can make recommendations to help you bid to the right project team. When bids are received, your consultant will have a feel for the local market and let you know if the pricing appears to be competitive.




Not all garage projects are created equal. In addition to the age, construction type, exposure, and traffic volume which may affect a project’s outcome, healthcare properties may face several unique challenges. Often healthcare facilities have garages that are open 24 hours a day, have a high volume of traffic, and are used by unfamiliar drivers instead or repeat users. All of these items can make coordinating a report more difficult.

Comfort, safety, and accessibility should be considered by both your consultant and contractor. Healthcare garages may have accessible parking spaces or specific phasing requirements that need to be addressed during construction. The consultant and bidders should be made aware of any restrictions early in the bidding process. When accessible paths are an issue, the owner may need to consider providing a temporary valet for those requiring accessible parking. The consultant can help recognize any potential complications in the construction process and can create a plan to avoid them prior to construction beginning.


Healthcare clients also typically utilize project management systems which are not used in other construction markets. In particular, vendor tracking systems like ‘e-builder’ may result in a learning curve for a consultant or construction team. Being open about these systems during the bid meeting, and looking for consultants who have worked within the marketplace before and have exposure to these systems, may alleviate early delays in project tracking.




In order to decide what repairs the parking garage may require, a consultant will perform an assessment of the components of the garage. The assessment will include a detailed look at the garage components such as slabs, columns, beams, drainage structures, facade, stairwells, ramps, and overall condition of the garage.


The general process for an assessment is that the consultant’s team will first perform a visual assessment of the garage. The team will review the garage for signs of cracking and deterioration. For concrete elements, the consultant will perform ‘sounding’ by tapping a hammer or dragging a chain over the concrete surfaces. Sounding can assist in determining the extent of deteriorated concrete as well as locate deteriorated concrete that has not yet cracked or spalled. Steel elements, such as beams, will be reviewed to determine if the amount of corrosion has impacted the structural capacity of the elements. Sealant joints should be observed for condition, damages, and age. Drains will be reviewed to determine if there is adequate, working drainage in the garage. Ponding water can increase the rate of deterioration of garage elements and can also be a trip hazard for occupants.


At times, evaluations may require materials testing. Testing may be recommended if the amount of deterioration appears worse than expected for a garage of similar age and exposure. A variety of testing is available for garages including half-cell potential, depth of carbonation testing, compressive strength testing, chloride ion content testing, or petrographic analysis. The type of testing is dependent on the magnitude of the damage throughout the garage or if there is a question as to the material quality. Materials testing may also be used to help determine if additional protective measures should be recommended such as installing a traffic bearing membrane or cathodic protection.


Based on the results of the assessment, the consultant will prepare a report summarizing conditions observed. Conditions in the garage are prioritized and ranked in order of necessity and cost benefit of the repair. Structural conditions that impact life safety will be the highest priority. Conditions that affect the overall usability will also be given a high priority, followed by conditions that provide the most value towards extending the garage life.




Ideally, the budget will be developed after the assessment and the repair recommendations are complete, however, we know that is not always the case. The budget is often set during the previous year, before a consultant is even brought on-site. If the budget has already been determined, be upfront with your consultant about your budget. If you let your consultant know ahead of time, they can tailor the recommendations to address the annual budget while prioritizing repairs.


Restoration costs can vary greatly depending on the age of the garage, and the amount of annual maintenance performed. If you have not previously performed garage structural repairs, be prepared for a large budget number and have flexibility should the consultant identify critical items which need immediate attention. Other times, developing a long-term maintenance plan to keep up with wear and tear may be all that a garage requires and phasing over multiple years with a lower annual budget is possible.


Prioritizing Repairs


An organized approach to the repair process during a few critical early years can help get you to the ‘proactive’ state of maintenance at which all owners desire to be.


Sometimes during a garage assessment, a critical repair item is identified. Critical repair items are items such as a significantly damaged beam or column. Typically these are the result of either a car impact or a poor original design compounded by water intrusion.


CASE STUDY: Parking Garage, Rockville, MD


What began as a routine parking garage assessment with some early critical repair work developed into a long-term repair plan and subsequently led to a relationship for continued consulting services for the garage for almost a decade.

The garage is a two-level, precast/prestressed double tee concrete structure supported by precast concrete columns. The garage was in overall fair condition, and it had been several years since large-scale repairs had been completed in the garage. Ownership was largely reactive when it came to repairing the garage structure, and repairs typically included addressing tenant complaints, such as leaking onto vehicles parked in the garage.


Year 1: In 2014 the owner, requested a cursory site visit to observe the garage condition. During the initial walk through, the engineer observed a significant structural crack along the length of a beam and recommended immediate shoring. After the beam was stabilized with shoring, the engineer performed a more detailed assessment of the garage. The assessment informed recommendations for Year 1 repairs that prioritized the beam repair and also provided a quantity and budget estimate for each other type of repair recommended; this helped the owner plan for annual repairs that fit the upcoming budgets.


Later that year, in the wake of a car accident that broke through one of the parapet walls, more critical repairs took precedence. Being familiar with the garage and its construction, the engineer was able to quickly respond to the news that there had been an accident in the garage and was able to develop repair details and specifications to repair the damage. Several options were recommended, including a full replacement of the wall with a newly reinforced wall that is anchored to the existing structure.


Year 2: As a result of the accident, the owner installed guardrails in the place of tire stops. The construction of the existing wall system was revealed during the accident and the current wall was not structurally tied into the garage slab. When the car drove over the tire stops, it was easily able to drive through the garage perimeter wall. Guardrails were installed to prevent additional accidents from damaging the garage perimeter walls.


Year 3: The engineer conducted a visual assessment of the structure to update the assessment that was completed three years prior. The assessment noted several locations where rust and deterioration were visible. In the report, the engineer recommended several actions to be taken to prevent further deterioration to the structure including concrete repairs to potential trip and fall hazards to occupants and shear connector replacement between the double tees. The engineer recommended that the most critical repairs be completed as a priority as to slow the rate of deterioration in the garage. It was evident that in the three years since the initial assessment, the deferred repairs were in substantially worse condition. Additionally, the restoration work included replacement of a staircase that led from the lower level to the upper level of the garage, which was long discussed, but had been deferred due to the critical repairs was able to be included in the Year 3 repair work.


Years 4-7: With critical repairs completed, the focus shifted to performing repairs on a maintenance schedule to prolong the current garage elements and perform repairs on a proactive schedule. Additionally, the engineer developed a long-term repair plan to include repair of garage elements based on their estimated useful lives and anticipated condition based on occupancy and weather patterns.



Top down approach


We discussed earlier the difference between proactive and reactive repairs. A great way to get ahead and be proactive is to address the garage, within your budget, from the top down. This works particularly well in above grade garages but can be applied to below grade garages as well.


Moisture intrusion is one of the most detrimental concerns in most parking garages and the root of most of the deterioration we routinely observe. The top-down approach focuses money on the more exposed levels of the garage with an aim to prevent the majority of water intrusion. As upper levels are addressed, the majority of water intrusion is mitigated and slows deterioration allowing lower levels to be addressed in later years. Common recommendations include frequent replacement of sealant and expansion joints on upper levels or the installation of a membrane on an upper level or other areas of high traffic, such as entrances, in which moisture is introduced.


CASE STUDY: Parking Garage, Reston, VA


A parking garage, located in Reston, VA, was constructed in two phases in 1996, with the first phase consisting of precast concrete double tees and the second phase constructed of conventional cast-in-place concrete. The owner had been self-performing maintenance including bidding to and hiring contractors to perform restoration work. As the parking garage aged, the owner found themselves managing the garage in a reactive manner and realized that several garage elements were past their expected service lives and were showing signs of deterioration.


Additionally, the past maintenance had generally been piece-meal, and repairs had been completed at various locations throughout the garage. Each year, portions of sealants were replaced, or limited trip hazards in the concrete were repaired, but there was no sequencing or planning of the repairs other than to address any obvious defects. Because the repairs were not methodical, there was no way of identifying the age or locations of the repairs, since each year various repairs had been completed throughout the garage. The garage was in overall fair condition, as the owner had been completing repairs, but the garage was in need of a repair plan for the future.


The owner requested assistance with identifying and prioritizing repairs in the garage, as well as developing a maintenance plan for the future.


Year 1: The team conducted a comprehensive visual assessment of the parking garage including sounding for delaminated concrete and visually assessing other components, such as sealants, drainage structures, and the traffic bearing membrane. The condition of the garage was the worst at the middle level, which was one of the main entrances to the garage. In Virginia, temperatures frequently reach freezing during the winter, and the use of deicing salts on roads and walkways is common. Deicing salts brought into the garage on vehicles can increase the rate of deterioration of parking garage elements. The engineer recommended a comprehensive restoration project at the entrance to the garage on the middle level where vehicles enter into the garage. Repairs included sealant replacement, removal of deteriorated concrete, and installation of a traffic bearing membrane.


Year 2: The owner decided to continue with repairs in the garage, but the large size of the garage and budget constraints made it difficult for the owner to decide how to proceed. The engineer recommended repair of the remainder of the middle level of the garage; since it was at the main entrance, it received a majority of traffic. Additionally, safety concerns throughout the garage, such as fall and trip hazards, were repaired. A leaking trench drain was also an ongoing concern, as it leaked onto cars at every rain event, and the concrete at the underside of the drain was cracked and in poor condition. The engineer developed waterproofing repairs to address the leaks in the trench drain, which saved the owner money, but did not recommend replacement of the drains.


Year 3: The engineer recommended a top-down approach to continue the repairs in the garage. The top level was uncovered, so UV rays from the sun, and weather such as snow and rain, fell on the top level of the garage. These elements typically accelerate the rate of deterioration of garage elements. The engineer worked with the owner to develop a repair program to protect the garage elements on the top level of the garage. The repair program consisted of replacing tee-to-tee sealants, repair broken shear connectors, and repair deteriorated concrete. The repairs would create a known replacement timeline as well as mitigate water infiltration into the levels below.





You’ve hired a consultant, performed the assessment, and identified the recommended repairs – now what? It’s time to start the construction process to repair the priority recommendations, begin planning for future repairs, and schedule on-going maintenance in the garage. The assessment will have outlined a multiyear plan with estimated costs for each phase, but it is good practice to include contingencies in each year to account for rising construction costs, materials, or unanticipated issues encountered during the construction process. On-going maintenance in the garage will include items such as power washing the garage twice per year to remove deleterious materials from the concrete surface. Your consultant will be able to walk you through the construction process, to include preparing repair specifications, bidding to qualified contractors, and providing oversight during the construction process.




Structural repairs can be a large undertaking, but it is an important part of improving your tenants’ comfort and maintaining your property. Hiring the right consultant with a feel for the local market and being upfront with them about your garage challenges will help for a successful project. To accommodate an owner’s budget, strategic multi-year planning is often a good investment. Multi-year planning may include prioritizing repairs or engaging in a top-down approach.

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