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University of Utah students and professors are protesting a plan to build a parking structure near the school's geology and geophysics building.

In two days this week, about 200 people signed an online petition urging school officials to pick another spot or abandon the project.

They argue building a garage over the existing parking lot would diminish learning at the "showcase" Frederick Albert Sutton Building at 115 S. 1460 East. It would add traffic, discourage use of public transit and block views of the mountain ranges and tectonic processes that are an "educational and inspirational tool," the petition at states.

The building has been called "the most spectacular earth science building in the country," according to professor Marjorie Chan, and is a recruiting tool for the campus. A parking structure would block light, threatening some of the building's eco-friendly, gold LEED-certified features such as a rooftop garden, as well as darkening student gathering areas and displays.

"When you're in the shadow of a parking structure, it's not going to be good," she said. "We have donors who have invested a tremendous amount in the building ... it's one of the highlights, gems on campus."

But university parking officials say more spaces are essential as new construction erases existing parking areas.

"We've been losing 400 to 500, 700 parking spaces a year," said Alma Allred, director of commuter services. "It makes it difficult to serve customers ... there's a significant need for parking in that sector of campus."

Officials are evaluating potential designers and plan to break ground in October.

With the location near Kingsbury Hall, patrons will be a good source of the parking revenue needed to recoup the cost of the $6.3 million project, Allred notes. Parking services must pay for its own construction projects with parking fees.

Allred also argued the four-level structure won't be any taller than other neighboring buildings.

"If you can see over the buildings to west of the Sutton Building, you'll still have same view," he said. "We have very carefully tried to find the best place for the garage."

Twitter: @lwhitehurst