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Columbia closes top of Fifth and Walnut parking garage during safety improvement project

COLUMBIA, Mo (KMIZ)

The City of Columbia has put up wooden boards over parking entrances and stairwell doors and shut down elevators going to the eighth and ninth floors of the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets downtown.

City spokeswoman Sydney Olsen says the two upper decks have been closed since last month. "We have blocked off the top two levels of the garage, so it's inaccessible both by elevator and vehicle," said Olsen.

The structure has been a frequent site of suicides. Last month, Haven Thomason, a girl from Columbia, killed herself by jumping off the garage. City spokeswoman Sydney Olsen said that after hearing from residents and Thomason's family, city officials knew something had to be done.

"We knew that we needed to take action and we heard from our residents and we had to come up with something that was safe for both the structure and for any drivers who are going to be in it," Olsen said.

Rebekah Thomas is an employee at Tropical Liqueurs next to the parking garage downtown. She said the experience is shocking.

"It's always just a little jarring knowing that just that close to you," said Thomas.

Thomas also says the additions to the garage will hopefully make a difference "Anything to help prevent, is appropriate in my opinion. And I hope it does help, at least save one life then it's worth it," Thomas said.

The project has two phases. The first phase is installing an 8-foot fence that curves over the lot on the highest floor. The second will include steel coverings for the openings on the lower floor. The first is scheduled to be completed this year but Olsen said COVID-19 is causing some delays.

"The issue with the pandemic right now is that it's going to take approximately eight weeks for us to even get the materials to start the process and then around three weeks to actually install it, " Olsen said.

The city took bids on the project. Bidding closed last month. The contractor for the first phase of the project is Central Fence and the bid was around $488,000 for the project. The goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.

The move toward safety improvements comes as the city faces a lawsuit over a suicide in 2019. The plaintiffs claim the city has been negligent in failing to ensure the design of the Fifth and Walnut parking garage was safe and not moving more rapidly to address safety issues after suicides occurred.

Joushua Blount

Joushua Blount hails from Cleveland, Ohio and has a bachelor’s degree in media communications from the University of Toledo. He also has a master’s degree from the University Of Alabama. Roll Tide!

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