Sheetz and the C-lot: A tale of two sites

Adam Milasincic

Exactly 134 Kent State students want to know: How can Sheetz construct a gas-station superstore in less time than university officials can pave a dirt lot?

The students are members of a group on Facebook that pokes fun at differences between two high-profile construction projects in Kent.

“Are you stalking people in your car for a parking spot near Taylor or the Art Building?” the site asks. “Have you happened to notice that an entire Sheetz was constructed out of a swamp before our new parking lot was level enough to pave?”

Sheetz crews began work on the store’s new state Route 59 location in early July. By late September, they had completed a brick building that includes a car wash, a fast food restaurant and a large, canopied bay of gas pumps.

Also in early July, Cavanaugh Construction demolished the former Terrace Hall building at Kent State to make way for a 330-by-360-foot commuter parking lot. As Sheetz hosted its grand opening, the Terrace Hall site remained covered with dirt mounds and bulldozers.

Kara Solinsky, senior visual communication design major, created the Facebook group dedicated to this quandary after driving past the future commuter lot with friends.

“We saw the sign saying ‘Opens Fall 2006,’ and that’s going to be over pretty soon,” she said. “We just thought it was weird how they built a whole Sheetz which includes underground tanks and a restaurant before the new c-lot was even paved.”

Since the group, named “An ENTIRE SHEETZ was built before the new C-LOT was even paved,” was created, it has drawn joking comments from students both enthralled with the Sheetz menu of “made-to-order” food and irked by the unavailability of parking on portions of north campus.

“I’m excited to have a new Sheetz and a new commuter lot,” Solinsky said. “It’s all in good fun. I don’t want anyone to hate me.”

Once completed, the new parking lot will feature 172 spaces for commuter students’ cars, said Michael Bruder, who coordinated the project for the university architect’s office. Progress was weather-dependent.

“If we’ve got a week of rain, that pushes things,” he said.

The additional space is expected to significantly reduce congestion around north campus academic buildings, where many students search in vain for parking between peak times from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, said parking services manager Larry Emling.

“During the day, I still expect (spaces) to be in high demand,” Emling said. “They’re still going to move over to Music and Speech during peak hours, but it will also ease parking for people coming to White Hall for 4 p.m. classes.”

Emling’s department, which is funded entirely by student parking fees, paid nearly $3.1 million for the new lot, which amounts to about $7,400 per completed parking spot. The Terrace Hall lot is likely to be the last expansion of parking on north campus because few additional sites are available there, Emling said.

Bruder said comparisons between the parking lot and the Sheetz project are perhaps comical, but not especially relevant. Because the university is state-operated, it faces extra months of regulatory requirements, he said. Additionally, the Terrace Hall lot took longer to finish because of the extensive excavation required to uproot the building’s former foundation.

“No two projects are alike from the private sector to the public sector,” Bruder said. “We have (state) regulations that do take longer in terms of situations like bidding and advertising and contracts and things. … The work itself in general should take about the same amount of time.”

Sheetz builds around 20 new stores each year, but the company features more variation in its sandwiches than in its facilities. That consistency allows construction crews to complete a new store in a strict 15-week schedule, said Doug Knisely, the construction manager for the Kent Sheetz.

“There’s minor changes here and there,” Knisely said. “Seating areas and restaurant size and that type of thing.”

Each Sheetz store features a brick veneer and contains no pre-fabricated parts, but the company’s business model allows for fast turnaround times, Knisely said. After construction is completed, only one week of stocking and employee training remains before a grand opening.

“We have the same typical design, and we’ve got a pretty good handle on the schedule,” Knisely said. “I put one of my guys in the field to manage the subs and the general contractor. They help put the schedule together and the timing of the subs coming in, and that really adds to the speed of the project.”

Sheetz, based in Altoona, Pa., is rapidly expanding its presence in northeast Ohio and elsewhere, Knisely said.

Contact StaterOnline correspondent Adam Milasincic at [email protected].