Parking hardships worsen during ‘Whales’ filming

I am going to be late. But I don’t want to walk that far. It’s cold outside. Should I make another loop?

Such are the thoughts of students trying to find a parking spot. Parking, a seemingly simple concept, has driven quite a bit of drama to the UAA campus. Traditionally, the drama has stemmed from parking tickets and permits, but this semester a different issue has presented itself, resulting in a disconnect between school officials and students yet again.

From Nov. 19 to Nov. 30 the production company for the upcoming movie Everybody Loves Whales is scheduled to shoot scenes in the Journalism and Public Communications (JPC) television studio. The production company has paid a contracted rate to UAA for use of the space as well as 100 parking spots in the west parking lot with 60 spaces in the north parking lot. Both areas will be sectioned off and monitored by security personnel with the production company.

The west and north lots are used by students who have classes in the Professional Studies Building (PSB) and other nearby buildings, such as Sally Monserud Hall. The west parking lot is located, fittingly, west of PSB and is the largest on campus parking lot with 500 spaces.

Although it boasts a high number of parking spots, students battle over the spaces daily, much like a scene from any downtown parking garage across the country at 9 a.m.

One student battles that scene four times a week. Leighann Seaman arrives on campus at 11 a.m. or 4 p.m., depending on the day. Although the times are different, the parking availability is not. Seaman begins her scan for a spot 30 minutes before class starts in order to find a parking spot. That scan can take up to 15 minutes and usually results in a long, cold walk to the building.

“I dress for the walk. I double up on coats and everything,” Seaman said as she secured her wool hat on her head and buttoned up a second coat in preparation for a trudge to her car.

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Seaman does admit that, as a JPC student, she is kind of excited about the benefits the department might receive as a result of the movie shoot. Even with those benefits, however, Seaman said her personal feelings on the matter were “not so hot” considering she had already purchased a permit for parking.

Parking was sparse before the production company planned its use of the campus, according to Seaman.

“It’s pretty jacked up. They should quit selling space that they don’t have,” she said.

Seaman was not alone in that opinion. Donny McSherry, another JPC student, is habitually unable to find a spot in the west lot, which usually causes him to go to a lot further away.

“It’s a short walk. It’s not that big of a deal,” McSherry said, lamenting that it was only going to get worse. “The point is that there was never enough parking to begin with.”

Both McSherry and Seaman said one fix would be for Parking Services, because they have reduced the amount of parking available, to reimburse students a small amount of what they paid in permit fees. McSherry believes that by not doing so, Parking Services has made a statement.

“They clearly don’t have the student’s best interests at heart,” McSherry said.

JPC student Andy Deloose seconded that sentiment with a word unfit for print.

“We’re paying hundreds of dollars to park here and now there is even more limited parking,” Deloose said. “Not only is it costing us money, it’s costing us our education because it is putting time between when we can get to class.”

Deloose is on campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he spends about 15 minutes looking for parking upon arrival.

In the middle of his schedule, Deloose has a class across campus in the Fine Arts building. In order to save time and his parking spot, he takes the shuttle, which often causes him to be late to class. That might make some professors irate, but they are not the only ones. Deloose said other drivers in the parking lot get irate.

“I had a guy yelling at me yesterday,” Deloose said. “People get really frustrated when they can’t find a parking spot.”

Parking Services Director Glenna Schoening said she had considered those student frustrations before coming to an agreement with the production company, but concluded the benefits to the university (and thereby to students) outweighed them.

“I feel that allowing off campus users to visit our campus is an important piece of serving the community,” Schoening said. “The more we can champion the great things Alaska has to offer, the better opportunity we will have in the future.”

The sentiment expressed by Parking Services represents a complete disconnect between staff, faculty and students. Whether that disconnect changes at all because of a film on campus limiting parking for 12 days remains to be seen.

Leighann Seaman and Andy Deloose have previously contributed to The Northern Light.