The support poles and steel girders that seemed to be propping up the exit ramp at Lexington's busiest parking structure will be gone when the aging garage reopens this spring.
As part of a $3.1 million restoration project at the Annex parking garage on Main Street, construction crews are replacing the crumbling concrete and corroded rebar that made the extra supports necessary, officials said.
"The helix will be completely clear of any additional support when it reopens," said Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington Parking Authority. "It has completely new steel from top to bottom."
As the project enters the home stretch, crews from Michigan-based RAM Construction Services are finishing repairs to the exit ramp, dubbed "the helix" for its spiraling design, and to the lower floors of the 46-year-old garage.
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After that, crews will begin waterproofing the concrete, installing brighter and more energy-efficient lighting, and working on other enhancements.
The Annex, used mostly by visitors to the Fayette County clerk's office and Lexington police, has been closed for repairs since November.
"We're on track to be done in May, in the late spring," Means said. "It's still too early to get an exact date."
Downtown employees, residents and visitors are eager for the project to be finished. Residents and employees have complained about noise, the county clerk's office has dealt with leaks and debris, and visitors to the clerk's office and the police department have had to park blocks away.
Lexington resident Valerie Berry recently made a quarter-mile hike in the rain to the county clerk's office with a baby carrier in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Berry planned to renew her vehicle's license plate tags while running errands.
"My pants were wet, and I was kind of distraught," she said. "And to top it off, when I got here, the line was out the door. So I turned around and said, 'I guess I'll come back Monday.'"
Parking authority officials acknowledged the annoyances but asked the public to bear with it a while longer. The repairs and enhancements will make the garage safer, less congested and nicer to look at, Means said.
The project has altered business at the county clerk's office, County Clerk Don Blevins said.
The office's extended Monday hours have been suspended during construction. Over the next couple of weeks, crews are scheduled to saw and jack-hammer part of the second floor of the Annex directly over Blevins' office, prompting concerns about possible falling debris and noise irritation.
"While they're doing that hammering, we cannot be physically in the building. No one can be. It's too dangerous," Blevins said.
The office has laid out tarps and built wooden barriers to keep debris from damaging equipment and records. Some sensitive records, such as old marriage books and wills, have been moved, Blevins said.
Parking spaces reserved for vehicle inspections have been moved from the Annex garage to Water Street behind the clerk's office. Employees have to wear hearing protection because of construction noise in the nearby Helix ramp.
"The construction company has been very accommodating, and we've worked very well together, but it's not been fun either," Blevins said. "For what it's worth, we're anxious to get on with it."
The parking authority has tried to minimize inconveniencies by distributing maps to nearby garages on High Street and Barr Street and renting space from the neighboring public library parking garage for monthly parking permit holders.
The parking authority rescheduled construction hours after receiving complaints from Blevins' office that jack-hammering was so loud that clerks couldn't hear customers speak during the day.
"The sound transmits along the structural columns, so it sounds literally like they're over your head even when they're six stories above you," Blevins said.
Construction in the interior of the garage now begins about 4 p.m. and ends about 10 p.m.
Other changes in store for the garage include high-tech upgrades, including automated fare booths and digital signs that tell drivers how many spots are available before they pull in. Another exit lane will be created on Water Street to keep traffic from getting backed up in the helix.
Means also hinted at decorative improvements to the drab structure, but he said it was too early to go into specifics.
"We have to focus on safety ... first," he said. "But we hope to announce some facade enhancements ... that will make the Main Street side of the structure better to look at."
The Annex was in the worst condition of any of the downtown parking garages that were, until recently, owned and maintained by the city. Ownership of the Annex, the Transit Center and the Victorian Square garages was transferred to the self-funded parking authority in July.
The condition of public and private parking structures came under scrutiny in recent years after heavy panels fell from two garages.
In May 2011, a 7-ton concrete panel fell from the city-owned Phoenix garage's second floor onto Vine Street. No one was injured, and that garage was later demolished.
Five years earlier, a concrete slab fell off the privately owned Chase Bank parking structure, killing bank employee Stephanie Hufnagel, 22, and her unborn child.
Debra Anglin, who came to the county clerk's office Monday to transfer a vehicle title, said she had noticed the Annex garage's deteriorating condition whenever she came to renew her vehicle tags. She said driving around to look for parking was not a terrible inconvenience compared to safety improvements.
"I don't mind," she said. "I just want it to be safe."