DDA greenlights fencing on City parking structure rooftops

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 6:01pm

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority approved $150,000 to install chain-link fences around city-owned parking lots at an executive committee meeting Wednesday.

The decision came after a string of fatal incidents in the city. On Monday, a 56-year-old man fell from the parking structure at the intersection of Fourth and Williams streets. A 22-year-old man fell from the same parking lot on Sept. 7 and a teenage girl fell from the structure on the intersection of State and Washington streets last year.

DDA Director Susan Pollay explained the rooftop of the Fourth and Williams streets structure will be the priority, followed by the Ann and Ashley streets structure, the Fourth and Washington streets structure, the Maynard structure, the Liberty Square structure and the Forest Avenue structure.

“(Fourth and Williams is) the first one we’re tackling because it’s the biggest … geographically,” Pollay said. “Some of the garages (students) may be familiar with, like Maynard … much of the rooftop already has fencing, so that won’t take very long to complete. And Forest has a unique design … so it’s harder to look over the edges.”

Pollay estimated the entire construction will take three months. In the meantime, Republic Parking, the entity that operates the garages on behalf of the city, will add additional staff members to monitor rooftops. The DDA also allocated an additional $250,000 for this staffing and any further fencing needs, though Pollay said she was still unsure exactly how much security will cost at the moment.

“We’ll start collecting those costs once we have an estimate from (Republic Parking); we don’t have that yet,” Pollay said. “That’s why the project budget is larger than the proposal for the fencing to allow for a lot of latitude for the cost of staffing.”

Though plans to install fences on garage rooftops have been in the works in Ann Arbor since last year, high costs delayed the project. City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the initial bid for permanent fencing would have cost Ann Arbor $1 million. Though the DDA is still looking for permanent fencing, it decided to install the chain-link fencing as an interim measure.

“The DDA went out for a bid on a permanent installation, and the price they got back was far in excess of what they budgeted,” Lazarus said. “They chose to reject the bids and then tried to rebid it. The difference now is that they are looking at a very small-opening chain-link fence, which is an interim solution, not the decorative fencing that they have initially designed and picked.”

City Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 5, added that not only were costs higher, but there was also a lack of fencing contractors due to massive amounts of construction in the region.

“It was a much higher cost and lower response from the fencing companies than we expected,” Warpehoski said. “And the reason, we’ve heard, is the building of Little Caesar’s Arena … with that project, all the workforce for projects like these in Southeast Michigan already had their hands full.”

Some of the falls were ruled suicides; research shows installing physical structures like these chain-link fences can help in preventing impulsive action.

In an email, Todd Sevig, Counseling and Psychological Services director, wrote CAPS aims to strengthen ties both within and outside the University of Michigan, a kind of multi-dimensional support that is crucial to ensure no one falls through the net.

“We at CAPS are always looking to strengthen our work around student mental health — our focus of the last few years has been to devote time, attention, and resources to cutting edge clinical and outreach tools for suicide prevention,” Sevig wrote. "Improving mental health really does take all of us, working together, in our different roles, to change the story."