With free parking spots close to classrooms at a premium, Harper College hopes students will shell out as much as $135 to reserve spaces in a new indoor garage linked to a pair of academic buildings.
The $14 million structure -- a first on the Palatine campus -- will partially open at the start of the fall semester.
Administrators initially proposed three parking garages in a 2011 master plan. But the community college first wants to see how many students snatch up parking permits for the four-story garage, under construction since January.
"We're taking a more conservative approach," said Tom Crylen, Harper's executive director of facilities management. "If the demand calls for a second or third (garage), we'll address it appropriately."
For a permit to park inside the garage, Harper will charge both students and faculty $135 a year, $54 a semester or $27 for the summer. Visitors who want to claim a spot must pay the same fees.
The money is intended to cover maintenance, which is pricier than the upkeep of outdoor lots, officials say.
The garage's first two levels will open to drivers Aug. 25. When the other two open in mid-October, Harper will have a total of 5,303 spaces on the main campus. Of that, 819 will be in the garage.
"There are plenty of parking spots available at Harper," said Amirah Nasir, the outgoing student government president. "They're just far away."
Beginning in October, students can move from an enclosed bridge extending from the garage's third level to buildings D and H (both in the midst of renovations) without walking outside.
Although the setup may be convenient for some students, especially during winter months, Nasir said some may be reluctant to dig into their wallets for parking when most spaces are free.
"I think it's a luxury," said Nasir, who is headed to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after two years at Harper.
The college will not hand out windshield stickers or placards. Instead, students and faculty will pay for a first-come, first-served "virtual permit" through iParq, a Santa Barbara, California-based vendor that already manages parking fines for Harper.
To enforce the fees, campus police will use license plate scanners from their squad cars. The devices -- another first for Harper -- will compare plates with a database of permit holders.
"This is a little more disciplined approach," Crylen said.
The garage sits on the east side of campus, on the corner of Lake Drive and Kris Howard Boulevard.
Crews removed parking lot 7 and a small section of lot 6 to make way for the structure, financed by Harper funds. The college also hired a consultant to help design the traffic flow.
"We wanted to make sure that we did this right," Crylen said.