Impound lot makeover due for spring start

new impound facility
A new impound facility along Van White Boulevard will have bathrooms, natural lighting and convertible space that can be used for neighborhood meetings during non-peak times. Rendering courtesy of Clever Architecture

The city’s impound lot, located on a Bryn Mawr Superfund site, is due for a major overhaul that will create a new entrance along Van White Boulevard and will reduce the overall size of the lot, freeing up about 11-12 acres for redevelopment, likely as low-rise offices, on the site’s west side.

The number of cars towed to the impound lot has been trending down for nearly two decades. But a few times per year — during street sweepings and snow emergencies — 600-plus people a day make the trek to the vast plot of concrete northeast of Bryn Mawr Meadows Park to pick up their vehicles.

Visiting the impound lot can be an unpleasant experience. During peak times, dozens of people are forced to wait for a van ride to their car in a standing-room-only trailer. The visitor facility has no public bathroom, and a city contractor once watched as an elderly lady using a walker crossed a rubble parking lot to use the outhouse. City staff have deemed the facility “inadequate” and “beyond its useful life.”

impound lot

After years of planning, the city is preparing for a May construction start on an $11 million to $12 million makeover that will shrink the impound lot by more than 40%. The existing impound facility, accessed via Colfax Avenue, will be demolished and replaced by a new 8,460-square-foot facility on Van White, a quarter-mile walk from the future light-rail station and more easily accessed by bus. The new building will have bathrooms, natural lighting and convertible space that can be used for neighborhood meetings during non-peak times.

“We wanted to try to create a facility that’s approachable and tone down what could be considered animosity and the sense that someone’s trying to get their car out of ‘car jail,’” said Russell Peterson, whose firm Clever Architecture designed the project.

Today, about 32,500 vehicles per year are released from the impound lot and an additional 3,000 abandoned vehicles are auctioned off. The remodeled impound lot will still keep cars within secure barriers, but the barbed wire will be swapped out for 8-foot-high pointy-topped decorative fencing and “vinyl-clad, anti-climb” chain link fencing.

A rain garden and detention pond will be added to the site to help maintain the existing floodplain and filter stormwater before it’s released into Bassett Creek. “Currently all the surface drainage goes into the creek untreated,” said Bob Friddle, the city’s director of facility design and construction. “Now that will all be treated and it will be beautifully landscaped.”

The impound lot is located on contaminated ground that was once a wetland and later became a railyard and an unpermitted dump. Soil contaminated with hydrogen sulfide has been found on the site during excavation, and any dirt trucked away during construction will need to be taken to a landfill. The new impound facility will be built on pilings to “minimize disturbance” of the soil, Peterson said, and a vapor mitigation system will be installed.

The city is accepting best-value contractor proposals for the project through March 10.

Construction, which will make up $5 million to $7 million of the project’s overall cost, is expected to be completed by fall 2021.