STATE COLLEGE — Knowing that parking can be a sensitive issue, library director Cathi Alloway donned a neon-yellow vest, labeling her the “parking police,” when she appeared Monday night before Centre Region officials.
The parking mechanism for Schlow Centre Region Library stopped working last spring and, since then, Alloway and other library staff occasionally patrol the lot, making sure spaces are available for patrons.
On Monday, she detailed a new parking plan she hopes would be in place by the end of the year, which still will offer free parking for patrons but will charge per hour when the library is closed.
Alloway said Monday her staff gave her the vest for her parking lot patrols.
“My score today was one car towed, one person warned and one person going into the library when they saw me,” she said during the Council of Governments General Forum, the meeting of the region’s six municipalities.
She wouldn’t say when staff members watch the lot, but said they sample at different times and different days, sometimes without the vest and sometimes from undisclosed locations.
The previous parking mechanism was installed when the library was built at Beaver Avenue and South Allen Street almost seven years ago. Patrons took a ticket to park, a staff member validated the ticket, and patrons had 15 minutes to leave the lot. Without validation, parking cost $20.
“It was a very poorly made system,” Alloway said.
In the interest of saving money on a new system, the library piggy-backed on State College’s bid for new parking equipment planned for several downtown parking lots.
Schlow budgeted $80,000 for the system, but bids have come in at about $90,000. The library capital fund likely would cover the rest.
The new system would operate mostly like the old one. Patrons would take a ticket to park, but would self-validate at computer stations inside. They would insert the ticket in a machine to leave the lot at no cost.
Alloway said those computer stations would be monitored by staff.
“If they see someone come in, validate and walk out, we can intercept them,” she said.
Staff also would be able to help patrons who have trouble with the technology, but borough parking Manager Charles DeBow said officials hope to educate patrons so they can easily use the technology.
“We’re going to try to limit the ability for people to cheat the system,” DeBow said. “Before, they had two free hours of parking. Now we’re going to add an extra step.”
Schlow also hopes to earn a bit of revenue by switching the parking mechanism after library hours so that it charges people who park there. Alloway budgeted $2,000 in revenue for the first year.
It would charge 75 cents per hour, the same as borough parking garages, and DeBow’s office would help manage the system at no cost, for at least the first year.
In exchange, borough emergency vehicles would be allowed to park in the library’s 81 spaces during football and special event evenings.
During Monday’s meeting, Elliott Killian, of Ferguson Township, asked if there was a demand for the after-hours parking, since borough street parking is free after 6 p.m.
“Actually, there is, because most of them fill up,” DeBow said of the metered spaces.
Alloway said the new system won’t be foolproof, but she hopes to better keep spaces available for those patrons who really need them.
“A lot of those people are elderly folks who have some kind of disability or are mothers with small toddlers,” she said. “Those are people who are going to be challenged to park in the garages and walk several blocks, crossing busy streets. I’m just trying to get out to the public to please be considerate of our users.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter