It was supposed to be a simple system that ensured free parking for Schlow Library patrons.
You get your ticket when you pull in, validate it when you enter the library, validate again when you leave, and pay no fee. Anyone who didn’t validate paid a $20 fee to exit the parking lot.
The library’s parking system, purchased for about $92,000 from 3M, was installed about a year and a half ago, according to library Director Cathi Alloway, and has been underperforming ever since.
“At least on a weekly basis, if not more, some part of the system breaks down and requires attention,” she said.
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By year’s end, the system could cause even more headaches when its warranty expires.
As recently as last week, the gates failed when the temperature dropped below freezing, Alloway said. Heaters in the cabinets are supposed to allow the system to continue working but weren’t sufficient.
“It’s not just any one part or section of the system that keeps failing,” Alloway said. “It’s everything a piece at a time.”
The system was supposed to generate extra income for the library, she said, and an extra $5,000 in revenue had been added to the budget. But in the past year, the system has generated about $3,000, a figure Alloway blames on patrons not trusting the system to work properly.
If an individual parked but didn’t validate his or her ticket during library hours, she said, that person would have to pay $20 to leave the lot. This was to deter people who weren’t visiting the library from using the lot. After the library closed, parking was available for $1 per hour.
The lot was used the most during State High football games, she said.
“The system kept breaking,” she said, “and people didn’t trust it. They didn’t know if they would have to pay the $1 an hour or $20 to get out.”
An even bigger challenge may be in the offing: According to a letter from Signature Control Systems, the company that supports the library’s parking system, 3M will “transition out of its Global Parking Access and Revenue Control business, formerly known as Federal APD.”
3M is committed to fulfilling all existing product warranties, the letter said, but the warranty for Schlow’s parking system runs out Sept. 17.
Council of Governments Executive Director Jim Steff called the problems a big issue for the elected officials of the Centre Region. COG is the primary funding source for the library as it receives contributions from the region municipalities along with some county and state funding.
While COG does have a small contingency fund, he said, there isn’t enough to cover a $90,000 parking system.
The General Forum meets Monday. Steff said there is no plan on addressing the parking system at that time, but it will be discussed in the coming months.
In the meantime, Alloway said Schlow will do everything it can to negotiate with 3M. Whether the problems lead to legal action, she couldn’t say.
“I believe we’re due some, if not all, of our money back for a system that has not at all lived up to its promises,” she said.