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We all remember those elementary, middle and high school days when we received a call in the morning of a snow day notifying that school was closing. This scenario happened frequently every winter. During the recent ice storm in 2008 many public schools in central Massachusetts remained closed for an extended period of about two weeks. But here at WPI having a snow day is an extremely rare occasion, so rare that when it happened to close at 2 p.m. last Tuesday, January 18, it became the most discussed topic for a couple of days. Even Facebook was raging from status updates and comments about the cancellations within the WPI community.
Although it was helpful that classes after 2 p.m. were cancelled going to the morning and early afternoon classes was still problematic. About fifty percent of WPI students live on campus and for them getting to class is a short walk away. But for the other half of students who commutes to school and for faculty members who travel a considerable distance to get here days like this are a lot more dangerous.
While it is understandable that with seven-week terms, as opposed to full semesters, we can’t afford to lose time for snow days, safety is still the vital concern. Some professors notified in advance about class cancellation, some chose to not show up and left many students waiting, while other professors, who seem brave enough for the New England winter, came right on time and prepared to teach. Roads and sidewalks full of snow and slush and a wintry mix falling didn’t stop students from following their daily schedules.
Decision to cancel classes
Looking at all the different aspects of making the decision to cancel classes we decided to talk to Tracy Hassett, Vice President of Human Resources, who was able to inform us about how the decision was made to close the school at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. She reported that a formal protocol is followed every time there is a need to have a delay, class cancellation or closing of the university. Some factors taken into consideration about these decisions are the general safety of residential students as well as the average travel distance for commuting students and employees. An important aspect to think about is how a cancellation or closing will affect academic programs, such as the administration of midterms or finals. The quality of the campus services and infrastructure also receives major consideration, such as disruption of power service and other utilities or propensity for such interruptions. While it is the Campus Police who notifies of the closings and delays most of the decisions are made by the Vice President of Facilities and the Executive Vice President/CFO.
After the weather conditions are discussed by the advisory board the Grounds Department crew starts their job to ensure safe roads. The Grounds Department employees are on call twenty-four-seven and they are brought in as needed to attend to the services that the school requires. As far the process of removing snow goes streets around campus are cleaned first to ensure access by any emergency vehicles if needed. Then snow is removed from all sidewalks, stairs and parking spots for all WPI property at any location. In case of slippery roads and sidewalks salt and sand are used to prevent the risk of injuries. While streets like Institute and Salisbury are taken care of by the City of Worcester, West Street, Schussler, Trowbridge Road etc are maintained by the campus Facilities Department.
“We try to clean at the times when students are not in and put salt and sand on the roads so they are not slippery. How often we do it depends on how quickly the snow accumulates,” stated Anthony Antianarella, Custodian, Department of Facilities.
Another issue that arises with the snow is parking. Finding a parking spot is a problem at WPI in good weather, let alone snow days. The parking ban which is intended for safety reasons turned to be a major issue last week when many cars were towed at the owner’s expense. Some students claim they weren’t aware of the parking ban being in effect while others simply had no choice so decided to take a chance and park on the streets anyway.
Matt Ivory, currently a senior, had parked his car on Dean Street last Tuesday and had it towed. He commented that while the need for a parking restriction is clear, many streets lack the signs notifying for the ban, one of them being Dean Street.
“I was aware of the parking ban; however, I only knew about it through word of mouth and the signs in front of East.” Ivory told us.
Staying informed about the parking bans is necessary for car owners. The following is the parking ban order in the city of Worcester.
“A permanent ban will remain in effect on Emergency Arteries, WRTA Bus Routes and streets that are critical to the flow of traffic. The permanent ban means that from December 1st through April 30th there is no parking on one or both sides of the street between 2 AM and 6 AM and also when a snow emergency is declared, anytime day or night.”
If you would like to stay up to date about parking bans in the area simply text the phrase, “follow snowparkingban” to 40404 on your cell phone to receive accurate parking ban information quickly, standard text messaging rates apply.
Walking late at night, many times alone, presents safety issues for students even in good weather. This danger is doubled with the slippery roads and snow that we faced last week. Many students rely on transportation provided from the Security Night Assistance Patrol, more commonly known as SNAP, from the hours of 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. to be escorted within campus. Last week SNAP services were cancelled, along with the school closing at 2 p.m.
The SNAP vans are prepared for the snow season with snow tires; however they do not have four-wheel-drive capabilities and are under the driver’s insurance. Although main roads are not a problem, side roads can present a challenge during inclement weather. The decision to cancel SNAP services is made by the sergeant of Campus Police and service is generally only resumed when the condition improves. While there are safety concerns for the SNAP van itself being on the road, cancelling it is still a questionable decision when considering general safety of the many students who utilize the transportation services.
WPI was closed for the day due to inclement weather on January 12 as well. However this coincided with the day before C term started so classes were not affected. Cancellation of classes is a very rare occasion for our school but snow is without a doubt not a rare occasion for this region of the country. While some find the New England snow to be a blessing, many disagree. The slippery roads have fostered many car crashes and many pedestrian falls in the last couple of weeks. But this winter wouldn’t be any different almost anywhere else in the United States. Forty-nine out of fifty states have received some amount of snow so far and it looks like Hawaii is the place to live for those who are tired of the white blanket currently over Worcester.