By Claire Wallace
Officer Don Myers rubs his hands together to get warm in the 44-degree weather. His yellow safety vest shines against the dark pavement and overclouded sky. He stands in front of the Alumni House, right behind the large brick sign that bears the black letters, “UT Tyler: Main Entrance.”
Behind the sign is a line of cars that snakes almost halfway down Old Omen Road.
A silver car pulls up and Officer Myers approaches the half-rolled down window.
“Where we headed?” Myers asks, his hands still clasped in front of him.
“Uh, to the gym over here,” the student says. She is looking towards Lot 2, in front of the Herrington Patriot Center.
“No,” Myers says, standing up and looking at the lots to the left. “Do you have a reserved spot?”
“I’m not sure,” the student says.
“Your best bet is probably gonna be to park in the soccer field over here,” he says, pointing to the next parking lot over. He gives her directions, the student circles the drive and goes back to the traffic of Old Omen Road.
The radio on Myer’s shoulder buzzes. It's his sergeant, informing him that the lots are full. He asks if there are any spots open on the one-way road running between Lots 6 and 7. It’s a negative.
It’s 7:45 a.m. on the first day of the semester.
The University of Texas at Tyler has fenced off parking lots 3, 4 and 5 - the ones in front of the Stewart Administration building and around the Riter Tower - for construction on the new quadrangle, dubbed Patriot Plaza. This means UT Tyler will be losing roughly 200 parking spots between the three lots.
The Soules parking garage at this time was less than half empty.
The parking garage, according to UT Tyler’s President Michael Tidwell per the Fall 2018 semester, was intended to create more parking spaces. With the 350 parking spots allocated to students in the garage and the loss of the 200 spots due to the Patriot Plaza, there is a net gain of 100 spots.
Tidwell sent out an email in fall stating that, with the parking garage completed, “finding a parking space is not a problem!”
Mass communication student Justin Jones disagrees. When he got to campus Tuesday at 10:45 a.m., he was told by officers that all the lots were full and that there might be spots open in Lot 8 in front of Ratliff Building South.
All the spots were full.
“I had to park in Lot 9, which is directly opposite of the side of the campus of where my classes are,” Jones says.
Other students, like sophomore Sarah Day, were able to get spots more easily. Day arrived on campus at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and was able to grab a parking spot directly after a car left it.
“I got lucky,” Day says.
Despite the police directing traffic, parking can still be dangerous.
“I know a bunch of people, they’ve been going late to class because the parking is an issue,” Day said. “They’ve been driving really, really fast [in the parking lots]. I almost got hit the other day.”
Since UT Tyler announced Patriot Plaza was being built, students and faculty have had complaints.
“They’re demolishing maybe the biggest parking lot on campus for a quad, which I believe we already have - it’s that big, fielded area with the ponds between all the buildings,” Jones says. “So they’re adding more places to not park for all the students who already didn’t have parking.”
In Fall of 2017, UT Tyler had a total of 10,527 students with 86 percent of students commuting to school. Tidwell has projected that as many as 400 more first-year students will join UT Tyler in Fall 2019.
Tidwell states that UT Tyler is expected to have more on-campus freshmen than in previous years as well as more students who live close to the university. Before the trends shifted, Tidwell says, student’s priorities were to “drive up [to UT Tyler], get out, go to class, get back in the car, go back to home, work, whatever,” and that “convenience was of the utmost importance, but we’re teaching a different kind of student now.”
Many faculty agree with Tidwell’s need for a green space on campus and ignore the outcry for more parking.
“People would be even more upset if we were tearing up a green space to build a parking lot,” said Honor Director Dr. Paul Streufert.
In Fall 2018, UT Tyler announced a 20-year plan to accommodate these trends that included the building of the Patriot Plaza as well as a new nursing building.
“So the only area we really have on campus to relax is this area here, right along the lake,” Tidwell says, speaking about Harvey Deck. The Patriot Plaza will be an area on campus where students can hang out and let the University hold events.
According to faculty, The Patriot Plaza will be completed by Fall 2019.
“All I’ve heard is we’ll probably be here about a year,” Superintendent Mike Barron of the LMC Corp. says. LMC Corp. was contracted by UT Tyler to construct the Patriot Plaza and began construction December 17, 2018.
Barron and other construction workers do not have a clear work schedule, but according to him, “there’s no getting done” while following UT Tyler’s 20-year plan for campus improvements.
Despite complaints about parking, both faculty and students are hopeful that the lots will become easier to navigate.
“People figure it out,” Day says. “They finally know where their classes are, and the parking usually evens out. I think it’ll … get better by the end of the week.”
Jones believes parking will get better, but only if people drop out or don’t come to class.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that the closest viable option for me to park is still pretty far away,” he said.
UT Tyler administration is aware of student complaints about parking and are working to fix any issues.
“I also want you to know that we hear your concerns about parking so we are working to provide greater access to student parking for Spring 2019,” Ona Tolliver, vice president for student success, wrote in an email to students on Dec. 7, 2018.
The UT Tyler police have put up signs to help people look for spots. Both sides of Varsity Drive have been opened for parking. Temporary parking across from campus on Old Omen Road is also being planned.
For Officer Myers, helping people find places to park is part of the job.
“We always try to find a way just to say yes and to get these folks in here,” Myers says. “It’s what we do.”