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Saint Mary’s students, staff, faculty discuss safety measures taken during dangerous winter weather

| Monday, February 11, 2019

Saint Mary’s College shut down campus from Jan. 30 to Jan. 31 in an effort to keep the College community safe amidst the dangerous temperatures. Yet, the Polar Vortex still managed to cause its fair share of problems.   

Leonardo Sanchez, professor of social work, said that Saint Mary’s made the right call in cancelling classes during the week of Jan. 28. 

I was very concerned with the Polar Vortex weather because I have practicum social work students attending internships in South Bend and surrounding communities,” he said. “I care about my students’ safety driving to their field placement in good weather, and my concern increases even more in poor weather conditions.”

To combat Northern Indiana’s winter weather on campus, vice president for student affairs Karen Johnson said via email that the grounds crew worked diligently to keep up with the falling snow and dangerous ice.

“Our grounds crew plows, salts, shovels and clears as much snow as possible,” she said. “Our director of facilities and his assistant director worked on both the days off in the frigid temps to clear sidewalks and roads.”

Ben Bowman, director of facilities, confirmed that he and the maintenance director stayed on campus “24 hours a day” to make sure they were available to “respond quickly if needed.”

The Science Hall, Bowman said, posed the biggest problem in terms of maintenance. He said there was a leak “due to the cold” that staff was alerted to because of the building’s automation system. Bowman said he was able to prevent any damage to the building because of this early alarm system.

This was not the only problem that manifested itself around the Science Hall. Several students slipped on the ice outside the building, and some had to be hospitalized because of the injuries they sustained.

Johnson said that even though Saint Mary’s grounds crew and maintenance staff worked 24/7 during the shutdown, “it is sometimes hard to keep up with falling snow, and salt doesn’t work below certain temperatures.”

But junior Natalie Davis said that, even though the Polar Vortex weather exacerbated the accessibility problems on campus, this is not the first time she has had trouble getting around.

Davis, who has a wheelchair, said via email that she often has trouble getting up ramps and navigating sidewalks around campus in the winter.

“Most of the time, campus is not shoveled well, and this means that I either ask for help or don’t get to access the building at all,” she said. “I don’t want to have to ask for help all the time.”

During the week of the campus shutdown, Davis said the main ramp to Le Mans, used to access the first floor of the building, was closed off due to the amount of snow and ice it had accrued. Le Mans is a major thoroughfare for students who need a quick way to get from one side of campus to the other.

“This isn’t the first time this situation has happened, as the ramps were closed off last year,” she said. “Last year, I actually missed a final because I got stuck on ice.”

Davis said that so far this winter, if there is snow on the ground or a lack of accessibility in another way, she has been late to one or more of her classes.

While many students worried how they would stay warm outside, some worried about how they would stay warm inside their rooms.

At the time of the Polar Vortex, residents of the dorms were advised to contact their RA or hall director if their heaters need repairing, Johnson said. She said that there were not “many problems last week” in terms of heaters and radiators.

For junior Dalanie Beach, the problem was not her heater but her windows. She said the windows in her Le Mans dorm room were so warped they let in a considerable draft.

“We put all of our sweatshirts and extra blankets on the [window] sill to keep out the cold, and we turned the heater up all the way,” she said. “My roommate Alex and I were so cold that we were considering sleeping in the basement. I have circulation problems, especially in my hands and feet, and I was concerned about frostbite. We ended up sleeping in the room after the temperature inside rose a bit, but I slept with three pairs of socks and gloves on.”

But Bowman said that, all in all, the College escaped the dangerous winter weather with minor heating and maintenance malfunctions.

“Since the College decided to close, we were proactive in adjusting mechanical equipment to make sure nothing froze or broke,” he said. “Temporary heaters [were] available for student rooms through their resident adviser and hall director. We make these oil heaters available as a quick deploy option to provide heat in the room until maintenance can respond and fix the heating issue.”

Even though classes were cancelled and most campus facilities were closed during the shutdown, students still had to venture outside and leave campus.

While it was initially stated on the campus-wide email detailing the effects of the closing that Blinkie and Campus Safety would not be picking up students off campus or at Notre Dame, Phil Bambenek from Campus Safety said that they did provide some transportation for stranded students.

“[Campus Safety] did provide limited transportation between the residence halls during the emergency and picked up students arriving back to campus in the parking lots,” he said. “Several students also missed the last Sweep bus of the night and were picked up at the Grotto. The intent of the plan was to encourage our community members to stay inside and safe, and was, on the whole, very successful.”

While closing the College kept students, staff and faculty safe during the dangerous Polar Vortex weather, winter safety remains top priority for the entire winter. Davis said she still is frustrated with the lack of accessibility on campus in the winter.

“The fact that I have to fight to be able to have access to buildings or rooms that most able-bodied students have access to is maddening,” she said. “I am a human being. I deserve to be treated equally and taken seriously.”

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

Contact Gina