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The city's new parking ramp near the intersection of First Avenue and First Street Southeast was slated to include housing, but city officials say more study is needed to determine if the structure will handle the added load. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The news that the new downtown parking ramp might not be structurally able to handle the affordable housing planned to be built atop it is disappointing.

But what's equally disappointing is that city officials didn't disclose their concerns about ramp's ability to support eight floors of housing until queried by the Post-Bulletin.

Rumors had been circulating that cracks visible in the concrete of the ramp since it opened last March were causing concerns about the viability of the planned housing project. With no official word from the city, those rumors expanded and took on a life of their own on social media.

A news release sent out the day following a PB inquiry offered much-needed clarification. In the meantime, though, misinformation became gospel among too many citizens.

The actual story is that a preliminary review has indicated there are no safety concerns regarding the parking portion of the structure. The parking ramp is safe for public use.

However, a preliminary review by Walker Consultants has, according to the city, "identified that the design and engineering are possibly not capable of supporting the lateral loads (and possibly vertical loads) needed to build housing on top of the ramp." More testing is required.

In other words, there's no indication at this point that the ramp can't support the housing. City officials want to make sure.

But, the city spent $512,000 before work began on the ramp to make sure it would support the housing project. The new study will likely be an additional, as yet undetermined, cost.

That study, though, will allow the city to make certain whether the housing project can proceed, or has to be shelved.

Obviously, there are not a lot of answers at this point. It will take further study to determine if this opportunity to provide affordable housing in downtown Rochester is a go. We hope that, if all safety concerns are put to rest, the city can proceed on a project that is definitely needed.

If that's not the case, questions need to be asked about the planning work in advance of construction, and about the construction process itself.

In any case, we trust city officials will keep citizens appraised of the findings of that study in a timely manner.

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