This story is part of Untold Florida, a WUFT News series built from your questions. Melissa from Melrose asked us, “There’s a Veterans Affairs parking garage on Southeast 16th Avenue in Gainesville with stairs that exceed the height of the garage. Why?”
If you’ve ever visited the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center on SW Archer, you may have noticed the unusual landmark that sits next to it.
The landmark? A 7-year-old parking garage with a staircase two floors higher than the four parking levels.
With hundreds of veterans and their families circulating this hospital daily, it’s natural to wonder how this unusual construction came to be and why the levels haven’t yet been equalized.
Cliff Farell, chief of facilities management services at the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center, said there is a rationale behind why the garage is the way it is.
Interested in more local mysteries like this? Above: WUFT’s Henry Coburn hosts our “Untold Florida” podcast, featuring an audio version of this story and an explainer about the missing John Belushi statue in Melrose. Subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or Google Play.
“The garage was designed for five floors,” he said. “It was put out for construction bids, the bids came in too high, so in order to meet the budget, they dropped out two of the floor levels. But they still had sufficient funds to construct the stair tower and the elevator in that tower.”
Budgeting issues didn’t deter the contractors from finishing the staircase and elevator.
Miranda Garner has been taking her grandfather to the VA hospital for two years. She does wonder about the structure’s safety.
“I’ve always wondered if this was done on purpose or by accident,” she said. “It’s the most unusual thing ever — like, really? Are they going to fix this? I’ve never seen a staircase exceed the top of a parking garage. Is this a safety hazard?”
Though many civilians are taken aback by the garage’s appearance, Heather Wingate from the University of Florida Riker School of Construction said safety shouldn’t be a concern with a structure like this.
“It’s not as unusual as people may think,” she said. “There are many reasons a staircase could exceed the actual garage. It could be financial issues, it could be that there wasn’t enough time to complete the project, but it’s definitely not a safety hazard.”
As interesting as the structure is to look at, the structure will not be like this for much longer. The VA is looking to build up the levels within the next two years.
“We have put it in for approval for design in fiscal year 2020,” he said, noting that begins in September and would involve designing the remaining two floors.
But until the garage is renovated, it will stand as one of Gainesville’s unique and curious structures.