By MARTY LEVINE
Parking alternatives are moving ahead, childcare alternatives have long been stalled, and the education benefit policy is getting a rewrite, the Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee learned at its Oct. 27 meeting.
Pitt’s parking point person, Kevin Sheehy, assistant vice chancellor of Auxiliary Operations and Finance, told the committee “parking has been up and operational in full effect since July 1. There are certain garages that have been utilized more than others” — in particular the O’Hara Garage, which had been slated for demolition last fall but will be in use at least until the end of the spring semester, Sheehy said.
O’Hara’s popularity is partly due to the use of the Park Mobile system, he said, which now allows employees to pay $5 per day at about eight garages across campus.
Sheehy noted that the O’Hara Garage’s available spaces (minus those for permit-holders) fill up earliest of all the garages each morning.
The parking office had already allowed faculty and staff to put their parking permits on hold “until at least January,” he noted; that option has been extended through April, although employees may pick their own stopping date and also may reinstate the full permit at any time, upon request.
Sheehy also predicted that, once cars are allowed again to traverse Bigelow Boulevard between the William Pitt Union and Cathedral of Learning, the new raised pedestrian walkway “is definitely going to create new questions for drivers.” The road will open after Pitt receives cement planters that were delayed by the contractor because of the pandemic.
He also noted that Pittsburgh Transportation Group has taken over as Pitt’s shuttle provider and is using slightly smaller 24- to 30-passenger shuttles — with physical distancing requirements currently, of course.
While cautioning that “I think next semester looks a lot like this semester,” he added that “Dave DeJong (acting senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations) has challenged me to come up with a whole new parking system … to offer flexibility for people who are coming in once or twice a week.”
He said the effort involves “really taking a look at our whole mobility plan,” since “parking is the last thing we really want.” Pitt hopes employees choose any mode of transportation other than driving themselves to work, he said.
His office is looking to create park-and-ride locations with fellow institutions, increase the financial incentive for those driving carpools, and create smaller vanpooling opportunities, using six- to seven-person vehicles, about which he is now negotiating with a local transportation company.
Childcare capacity limited
Mary Beth McCulloch, director of the University Child Development Center, Pitt’s childcare facility, told the committee that the facility will remain at 50 percent of its 150-child capacity until the pandemic ends, but that only one of four parents using the facility opted to have their children return when it reopened in August.
On the other hand, the waiting list for normal facility use still has about 400 families delayed one to three years for a spot, sometimes longer, depending on the age of their child. “We definitely have more families get on the list than leave the center, so the list has always, always been this long,” McCulloch said.
“We have no room for expansion in our current building, so a second site would be the way to go” to expand childcare opportunities at Pitt, she said.
As recently as 2018, Pitt and UPMC have held discussions about opening a second center, and the likeliest scenario would involve partnering with another organization with experience opening childcare facilities, such as Bright Horizons, she said.
“There would definitely need to be a significant buy-in from senior management to make any of that happen,” due to the potential costs, she noted.
Asked whether any new facility might accommodate the needs of healthcare workers who require childcare coverage for different shifts across 24 hours, McCulloch said such needs had been considered in the 2018 discussions. Although such options would be tough to execute, she acknowledged that they might include the possibility of drop-off care, care during different shifts and care for smaller lengths of time.
Senate Vice President David Salcido suggested that committee members should put the need for a second childcare center into a short paper and give it to Senate officers to take to the administration. McCulloch also suggested the committee could help by researching who might be potential partners for Pitt in this endeavor, especially during a pandemic.
“I felt like the financial bit of it was always what held these other committees or discussions back” in the past, she said, and would be particularly hard to overcome now, considering the financial hit the University has taken due to COVID-19. “I think having a partner is what is going to make a difference,” she said.
Education benefit policy
In his monthly report to the committee, John Kozar, head of Human Resources’ benefits office, said he is in the process of rewriting Pitt’s 26-year-old education benefits policy, which gives employees a large tuition break on classes. He is working with Pitt’s policy committee to take the benefit description through approvals using a vetting committee.
“They will set out probably with me as a chair to rewrite that policy,” he said. It could possibly include increased tuition coverage by the University, he said, but would not contain a shift in how the benefit is taxed, since that follows federal rules.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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