Driving Parking Garage Efficiency

by Balfour Beatty

For the modern commuter, parking structures may go overlooked. Any urban driver understands their necessity, but perhaps not the nuanced design elements and construction services that enhance parking garages for both owners and users.

Balfour Beatty’s experienced garage builders approach every project as an opportunity to maximize efficiency for our clients’ budgets and schedules. Our teams and our expert trade allies build parking structures that seamlessly integrate within adjacent developments and communities, providing firm foundations for driving business.

Systematic Sequencing

Parking garages are often components of larger vertical construction. Our teams drive schedule efficiencies by maximizing collaboration at every step of the construction process.

For ground-floor and below-grade garages, creating a “pad-ready” site – prepared for vertical construction above it – can be a critical first step, allowing the building team to proceed while interior garage work continues below.

“Below-grade garages are, in many ways, the literal foundations of buildings,” says Alan Le, senior project manager and parking garage expert in the Mid-Atlantic. “In those cases, we accelerate and put much of our focus on bringing the garage structure above grade so our team can begin standing up the building’s ground floors.”

Structurally integrated garages also frequently include the above building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) rooms to better enable direct maintenance access. Our teams maintain constant communication between all parties and leverage tools like BIM and OpenSpace to ensure that utility conduits are properly placed and prepared for seamless integration with the building’s systems, avoiding schedule delays and costly re-work.

On many projects, the garage may be adjacent to or provide the structural base of a larger development. Project sequencing is critical to driving successful outcomes of these projects.

“These garages are typically post-tensioned and cast-in-place, so we bring them to substantial completion first and build out or up from there,” says General Superintendent Greg Weber, one of Balfour Beatty’s parking garage experts in Florida. “We build teams of structural experts who can create sequencing efficiencies at every step for parking garages below, beside or in the middle of any project.”

On the 14th + Spring Apartments and Novel Midtown joint projects in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, parking garage expert and Project Executive Damien Crandall and his teammates were tasked with building a five-level, below-grade parking structure that also serves as the podium for two mixed-use towers. The grand project comprised three separate contracts – one with each tower client and a joint venture between the two for the podium. Sequencing and coordination work was critical to simultaneously collaborating with and executing work for three clients and two design teams, ultimately ensuring construction of both towers could proceed as soon as possible.

“Balfour Beatty took every opportunity to create sequencing advantages from our innovative podium shoring solution at 14th + Spring and Novel Midtown,” Damien says. “By incorporating it within the design of the permanent wall, we created time and budget efficiencies that lasted the entire lifecycle of the project by accelerating work overhead.”

Client-Driven Aesthetics

Parking garage design aesthetic may seem like a lower priority than structure and layout, but Balfour Beatty’s teams combine our varied expertise and network of trusted trade partners to meet every client’s desired goals.

Available parking drives business traffic, so some clients opt for functional, largely unadorned structures. Conversely, luxury retail, hospitality and multifamily housing developers might see the garage as an extension of their primary buildings and want a finish level to match.

“Like any building construction, we work hard to understand what the client wants for the space,” Greg says. “Glass elevator lobbies, tiled stairs and stamped concrete finishes create a cohesive feeling between a luxury building and its garage, and we work with the best trade partners to provide these enhancements within our clients’ schedule and budget goals.”

Greg and his teammates created these features and more for the Lake Nona Town Center Office in Orlando for the Tavistock Development Company. The complex was expected to house a number of high-end retail opportunities and professional industry tenants, so driving new business traffic was less of a concern than extending the same polished finish throughout the offices and the garage. Balfour Beatty delivered a space where tenant employees and visitors alike experience refined professionalism before ever stepping foot in the office building.

Another growing trend, especially in major city centers, is to build parking structures that don’t look like garages. Our teams frequently install curtain walls or perforated panels that form a veneer around the garage and create the first-glance impression of a traditional urban building. But there’s a catch: wrapping a garage in a stylish skin necessitates additional safety considerations.

“Typically, the more attractive you make a garage’s exterior, the more enclosed it becomes, increasing the likelihood of trapping vehicle exhaust,” Greg says. “We work closely with designers to conduct and analyze ‘openness’ studies, installing mechanical ventilation systems wherever necessary to mitigate unsafe conditions.”

On Icon Midtown, another mixed-use tower in Atlanta, Damien and his teammates worked closely with the client to arrive at a cost-effective and aesthetic solution leveraging corrugated and perforated exterior panels.

“When it aligns with our client’s vision, we can build garages that passersby wouldn’t even know are housing hundreds of vehicles,” Damien says. “When necessary, we augment these enclosed garages with carbon sensors, louvres and ventilation systems, ensuring safety, form and function all at once.”

Firm Foundations

While some garage construction occurs on greenfield sites, parking garages and their associated buildings are often located in a major city’s downtown areas or bustling business centers. Our teams are experts at both cast-in-place and precast garage construction, capable of threading the needle in constrained urban areas and near unique terrain such as soil conditions and proximity to bodies of water.

On The Wharf Phase II, a premier development in Washington, D.C., Alan and his teammates constructed three below-grade, interconnected parking garages situated between a busy city avenue, the public transit bus tunnel underneath it and the Washington Channel’s Atlantic waters on the other side.

In addition to strategic coordination and permitting with the city to work in a public space with minimal disruptions to traffic or the tunnel, the team engaged specialist trade partners and high-tech solutions to ensure their work did not result in soil stability issues. The team’s proactive planning prevented a number of potential catastrophic outcomes, including tunnel collapse on one side or jobsite flooding on the other.

“We attached thousands of monitors to the tunnel and the side of the channel that could read real-time shifts in fractions of inches,” Alan says. “Especially on the water side, we measured the shifts caused by the tidal patterns and, where necessary, reinforced the sides of our excavation footprint with berm.”

The project team further reinforced the garages’ foundations by conducting boring tests at the lowest excavation points, measuring soil stability and reinforcing weak spots accordingly with rigid inclusions known as micro piles.

Beyond ensuring The Wharf’s structural integrity, the team applied another innovative solution to enhance the end-user experience: a two-inch-thick rubber mat, wrapped around most of the tunnel-side excavation and nearby concrete footings. The mats acted as a dampening system, shielding the luxury offices, hospitality spaces and condominiums from metro tunnel vibrations.

Because of the Wharf’s unique surroundings, the garages are well suited to a cast-in-place construction method, but the team is equally adept at deploying precast solutions where it can create budget savings.

“Precast garage panels can often save clients money, but they aren’t the right fit for every project site, especially the below-grade garages we often build in the Washington, D.C. area,” Alan says. “Either way, Balfour Beatty has the depth of project experience to advise clients on the advantages of either method.”

In Atlanta, the 14th + Spring and Novel Midtown project team’s combined shoring and exterior wall podium solution was not only an efficient sequencing accomplishment, but also ensured soil integrity beneath and nearby the project site.

“In addition to contending with the project site’s high water table, our soil was comprised mostly of clay interspersed with granite and weathered rock,” Damien says. “The dual podium was situated near a Georgia Power substation, so as we excavated and dewatered the site, we constantly analyzed the grade to ensure the drying soil wouldn’t compress or shift.”

Excavating a five-level, sub-grade garage in an area with extensive granite inclusions comes with its own set of challenges. Among the 150,000 cubic yards of excavated material, the project team worked with trusted trade partners and tools like ground penetrating radar (GPR) to analyze the soil integrity below their excavation site.

Through strategic boring and in the course of normal excavation, the team also identified and successfully removed several massive granite boulders as large as a golf cart or even a small sedan. To further shore up the site’s stability, the team also replaced any voids left by boulder removal with additional deep foundations.

On the Krog Street parking garage in Atlanta, the team transported 14-foot wide, double-tee panels through the historic district’s two-lane streets. Using cost-effective precast panels suited the garage’s size and the client’s budgetary goals, but required constant communication between the team, the city and adjacent businesses to avoid disruptions.

“As building and parking garage construction professionals with decades of experience, we’ve seen it all,” says Damien. “We’re able to anticipate, prepare for and overcome any challenges unique to our area, building safe and user-friendly structures on reliable budgets and accelerated schedules.”

Concrete Casting Solutions

Most parking garages Balfour Beatty has built in Florida are parts of larger developments, so cast-in-place solutions largely prevail. Still, the team provides the cost- and schedule-saving advantages of precast when it suits a client’s needs, as with an upcoming project at Jacksonville International Airport (JIA).

“The choice between precast and cast-in-place is truly client-driven, based on their desired design, budget, and maintenance considerations,” Greg says. “Either way, our teams provide the insight and expertise to drive toward the most efficient option. We excel at helping our clients get what they want.”

Although possible to construct, below-grade garages are far less common in Florida due to the excessive cost of mitigating flooding and drainage concerns. Still, each garage’s foundational integrity remains a critical consideration.

Florida’s high water table necessitates unique solutions. We incorporate the expertise of our deep foundation, waterproofing and concrete trade partners to provide soil stabilization solutions, spread concrete footers, foundation piles and pile caps and hydrostatic resistant slabs that all contribute to the structure’s safety, stability and ability to support a significant load of vehicles each day.

Challenging and Driving Efficiency

On every project, at every opportunity, Balfour Beatty’s parking garage experts identify innovative solutions to deliver best-in-class structures for our clients. Parking garages are essential to our clients’ business needs, and Balfour Beatty is the right partner to ensure success on every level.