Carl Walker, Inc. is an employee-owned structural engineering firm founded in 1983 by H. Carl Walker from the partnership of Walker & Cagley. At the time, Walker had accumulated more than 18 years of specialty parking-related experience. The company was founded to work primarily as a consultant in parking, structural, and forensic engineering, but added services as it grew. Originally called Carl Walker Engineers, Inc., the company name was shortened to Carl Walker, Inc. in 1993 to reflect its extensive parking consulting work beyond just being “engineers.”
Gary Cudney, P.E., president and CEO, who has been with the firm almost from its inception, recently offered his perspective on the firm’s services, growth, management structure, design trends, and staff.
Civil + Structural Engineer (C+S): What is your background and path to your current position as president and CEO at Carl Walker?
Cudney: My structural engineering degree is from Michigan Technological University (MTU). My first job out of college was in Saint Paul, Minn., with American Hoist & Derrick, designing cranes for offshore oil and marine industries. It was a great job and my wife and I really enjoyed the twin cities; however, after our first two sons were born, we decided to move back to Michigan as both of our families lived in Grand Rapids.
At that time, one of my roommates from MTU was getting his engineering masters at the University of Minnesota and his mom was sending him the want ads from the Grand Rapids Press for mechanical engineers. She tore out that section and sent it to him, accidentally including a few ads for structural engineers, which he passed along to me. H. Carl Walker, P.E. was just starting the firm at the end of 1983 when I was seeking a position. I was the first engineer to be hired for Carl’s new firm located in Kalamazoo, Mich.
I started in January 1984 as a structural engineer. However, I most enjoyed project management and parking structure design consulting, so pretty quickly focused on those roles. H. Carl Walker was my mentor. He is a brilliant engineer and parking designer, so I learned from one of the best. We spent a lot of time together as he was a pilot of his personal six-seat airplane and we would fly around the Midwest for sales and project meetings.
I was eventually promoted to the Parking Consulting group leader, and in 1989 I became a vice president and regional manager of our Kalamazoo headquarters office. We had also opened offices in Dallas, Denver, and Chicago about that time and continued to open new offices during the 1990s and early 2000s.
H. Carl Walker appointed me president in 1996. After Carl sold his ownership and transitioned out of the day-to-day management of the firm, I became CEO in 2000 and chairman of the board in 2002. Carl retired from the firm in 2003, although we have enjoyed working with him on various projects since that time.
C+S: How is Carl Walker organized and managed — i.e., geography, service line, or other — and how do you share expertise and workload across the organization?
Cudney: Carl Walker, Inc. has offices in Kalamazoo; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Indianapolis; and suburban Philadelphia in New Jersey. One of the changes we made when I became CEO was to revise our organization and profit centers from being office/region based to service sector based. This was done to help eliminate border disputes between regions, encourage collaboration internally, and strengthen our service lines. Now we are organized with separate profit centers for New Parking Structures, Restoration Engineering, and Parking Studies and Operations Consulting.
While we are located in seven offices in different states, we are truly a virtual company working together as one office. Our VOIP phone system allows us to be connected easily by phone, and we have a single receptionist for the entire company. Our computer server system also is centralized with network technology; we all have access to the same projects, marketing, project management, administration, and archive directories.
We have groups of experts organized around our service sectors who meet regularly and have weekly conference calls to coordinate work sharing, standards development, proposal preparation, and project management. We also have a Family of Manuals which document our standards for marketing/sales, parking structure design, functional design, restoration, CAD, BIM, contracts, and project management. We also have a centralized group of engineers and BIM/CAD technicians in one office to more efficiently produce project design.
C+S: What is Carl Walker’s process for developing short- and longer-term business plans?
Cudney: Carl Walker, Inc. has a board of directors for company oversight; however, our day-to-day management is led by our six-person Leadership Group. Each year, we develop our annual plan with sales goals by sector and office, marketing plan, financial budget, and administrative goals. Each service sector also meets in person at least annually to prepare its sector plan.
We also have a 13-person Strategic Planning Group. We had a retreat last December where we developed three Strategic Initiatives for 2016 to 2018 as well as four primary Operational Priorities. Each of these seven initiatives has a single person as champion, working with a task force to implement the initiative. Our Leadership Group reviews the progress monthly along with our Strategic Plan Facilitator and we meet quarterly, as well.
C+S: Carl Walker is known for its engineering expertise related to design of parking structures, but what other services do you provide?
Cudney: We are structural engineers specializing in the design of parking structures, but we do offer a broad range of services, including:
- restoration of parking structures, plazas, building façades, tunnels, roofs, stadiums, parking lots, and other concrete structures;
- structural engineering of parking structures;
- structural engineering of mixed-use buildings that integrate other uses above or around the parking structure;
- parking consulting and functional design, which includes traffic flow in the parking structure (ramping, circulation, one-way versus two-way flow), parking equipment specs and entry/exit lane design, security consulting, lighting design consulting, drainage design, green/sustainable parking facility provisions, and signage and graphics for vehicular and pedestrian flow;
- architecture for select projects;
- parking studies such as parking supply and demand, shared parking analysis, site feasibility, parking rate recommendations along with revenue projections and financial feasibility, parking technology implementation, and parking master planning; and
- parking operations consulting, including parking management and financial reviews, technology reviews, assistance in selecting a parking operator, and parking system strategic planning.
C+S: How is technology such as BIM/3D modeling, cloud computing, drones, and laser scanning impacting Carl Walker’s operations and service offerings?
Cudney: Technology has certainly enhanced our business operations. We recently implemented a new software system for accounting, customer relationship management (CRM), and our project database. It centralizes these important tools and integrates them into one platform to eliminate duplication of entry. Our email system is in the cloud and we have centralized multi-seat software licenses that run on the Web.
All of our new parking structure projects are produced using Revit as our BIM software and that has enhanced our productivity and provided benefit to contractors and owners who use our 3D models. Also, the 3D models are great tools for sales presentations and to illustrate what the project will look like and how it will function before construction even begins.
Our restoration sector uses technology for evaluating concrete and steel structures, façades, and roofs for leakage and deterioration, including:
- ultrasonic thickness gauge;
- Hilti Ferroscan;
- infrared cameras; and
- light meter.
Our parking studies services are also being impacted by technology as parking supply and demand surveys are entered into GIS systems. Also, vehicle license plate inventory to determine parking occupancy and turnover of spaces can now be performed using cameras mounted on vehicles that digitize the license plate and tie it back to GIS coordinates. Also, we are currently investigating the use of drones to assist with building façade evaluations, counting vehicles in parking occupancy and turnover surveys, and aerially observing potential sites for new construction.
C+S: How does engineering and design of parking structures differ from that of similar-sized commercial or residential buildings? In other words, why does Carl Walker’s specialized expertise matter?
Cudney: Parking is a unique niche in all of our specialty service areas. New parking structures are unique from other similar-sized commercial or residential buildings because:
- Vehicles drive through the structure, so ramped floors, turn radius clearances, and safety for pedestrians and vehicle occupants is important. Also, incorporating parking access and revenue control equipment and other technology as well as signage and graphics into the design are specialty services we provide. Many engineers and architects who do not specialize in parking structure design may not realize the expertise necessary to design an economical, user-friendly, and durable parking structure.
- The structural systems are typically cast-in-place post-tensioned concrete or precast prestressed concrete, which are less common than steel frame, masonry, or wood frame buildings. There are special design considerations to help prevent cracking and leakage, and to deal with volume change movements and loads caused by concrete creep, shrinkage, prestressed forces, and temperature changes since parking structures typically are not heated or cooled.
- Personal security is important as many people feel unsafe in parking structures. Thus, openness of the structural system, lighting, and visibility into stairs and elevators are important design considerations.
- There seemingly is an anti-parking sentiment from many public transit proponents. Due to this and the “green” movement in general, sustainability of parking is of great importance today. We are founding members and sponsors of the Green Parking Council (GPC) and have certified green garage assessors on our staff. We have considerable experience designing parking structures with green features and have designed them so as to obtain LEED or GPC certification.
We also specialize in parking studies, operations studies, and planning with members of our staff having previously worked in parking operations with parking operators, cities, downtown development authorities, airports, and universities. Our experience and expertise in parking planning helps owners achieve the delicate balance between having enough parking and controlling costs for parking expansion.
Further, we have specialists in the evaluation and restoration of parking structures, plazas, façades and other structures. This focused attention results in a better understanding of what should be repaired and how a structure can be economically repaired for best durability, considering multi-year project budgets. Our experience also helps us create construction phasing plans that minimize disruption to ongoing operations, minimize the amount of parking taken out of service during repairs, and allow the owner to maximize their revenue during construction. Also, our design of parking structure enhancements can improve the image and occupancy while increasing the owners’ return on investment.
C+S: How have parking structure design, operations, and management changed in the last 20 years and how have these changes impacted Carl Walker?
Cudney: It seems the parking industry has seen more change in the last five years than the prior 27 years of our business. Technologies such as LED lighting; lighting control systems with occupancy sensors; parking guidance systems that lead users to an open parking space; reservation and payment of parking using smart phone apps; implementation of sustainable features such as solar panel roofs/canopies, stormwater management, green roofs, electric vehicle charging stations, etc.; and sophisticated software systems to manage parking access and control revenue have all been great benefits to owners, users, and the community.
In addition, design of the concrete superstructure to withstand the deteriorating effects of road salt, snow and ice, water, temperature change, and seismic forces have also made much progress over the past 20 years. More recently, designing parking structures to help prevent suicides has occurred. Sadly, because parking structures are commonly tall, open, and unoccupied buildings, they have become more frequent means of suicide by jumping. Incorporating Call for Help signage, roof top screening, covered level screening of perimeter openings, and other protective strategies are being used to protect lives.
C+S: What current trends do you see in design, construction, management, and operation of parking structures?
Cudney: There has been a significant trend toward mixed-use parking buildings rather than stand-alone parking structures. This goes well beyond including ground level commercial space inside the parking structure. We have designed parking structures with hotels, office buildings, college dorms, medical office buildings, retail stores, hospitals, class rooms, and landscaped parks atop the parking structure.
It is also becoming more common for public entities such as universities, municipalities, and medical centers to retain a private developer to design and build the required new parking structure, sometimes to be owned and operated by the development team and often to be owned by the public entity after construction. Of course, design-build and construction management at risk have become more common construction delivery methods.
There is also a trend to incorporate sustainable features into new and existing parking facilities, as outlined above, and to include newer technology systems in the projects.
C+S: How does sustainability or sustainable design apply within your range of services?
Cudney: We are very focused on designing sustainable parking structures and renovations. We are founding members and sponsors of the Green Parking Council (GPC) and have certified green garage assessors on our staff. We have considerable experience designing parking structures with green features to obtain LEED or GPC certification. Recently, the GPC merged with the USGBC, which will now administer the Green Garage Certification program, since parking structures can no longer be LEED certified.
Our designs often include sustainable features such as solar panel roofs/canopies, stormwater management, green roofs, electric vehicle charging stations, energy efficient LED lighting with lighting controls, use of recycled materials, use of low-VOC waterproofing materials, parking guidance systems to reduce vehicle emissions, bicycle parking, water efficient landscaping, design for concrete durability, etc.
C+S: When you think about successful, experienced engineers at Carl Walker, what characteristics come to mind?
Cudney: We are truly blessed with a great team at Carl Walker. Many of us have committed long-term careers at Carl Walker because of our enjoyment of our specialty parking niche and partnership in the firm. We have many staff with 10, 15, 20, 25, and over 30 years of service who have unique expertise to serve our clients. Many of our leaders are structural engineers; however, we also have experts who are planners, architects, BIM/CAD technicians, restoration technicians, and parking specialists. We have engineers who excel in analysis and design, while others prefer project management, business development, and firm leadership.
C+S: When you think about younger “rising stars” at Carl Walker, what characteristics do you see in them?
Cudney: We have had much success meeting young new graduate engineers at on-campus career fairs and many of our structural engineers have a master’s degree. We also have an internship program and see the benefit of young engineers working summers with us prior to graduation and then joining us full time with advanced skills. Our rising stars have technical expertise with BIM, 3D analysis software, Mathcad, and other tools. We also have engineers who are involved in the design follow-through with construction observation, so our young engineers must communicate and interact well with project teams and have practical capabilities to relate what is shown in their calculations and on drawings to what they see being built in the field.
C+S: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about Carl Walker?
Cudney: We are pleased to announce that H. Carl Walker, P.E., was awarded the International Parking Institute’s 2016 IPI Lifetime Achievement award, recognizing Carl’s significant impact to the parking and transportation industry and IPI throughout his career. We sponsored Carl in the submission for this award and were excited about his selection.