Students returned from spring break Sunday to find some bridges around campus lined with 10-foot high chain-link fences –– the University’s most drastic response yet to a string of three gorge-related suicides in the past month. The University said it is working on plans for longer-term solutions to prevent suicides on campus bridges.
The Tompkins County chief medical examiner ruled last week that the two most recent deaths — those of William Sinclair ’12 on Mar. 11 and Matthew Zika ’11 on Mar. 12 — were suicides, according to Claudia Wheatley, director of press relations. The Ithaca Police Department is continuing to search for Zika’s body, although they appear to be scaling back the recovery efforts.
“We’re periodically checking the shorelines,” Lt. Vincent Montecello said.
IPD plans to conduct more air searches in the next few weeks once water levels recede, he said.
Also last week, the University closed the pedestrian bridge on North Campus near Beebe Lake, which will remained closed through May 26. The bridge was already scheduled to close next month due to demolition of the partially-collapsed Hydraulics Lab, but University officials decided to close it early, according to Simeon Moss ’73, deputy University spokesperson.
Fencing was installed on all University-owned bridges over spring break. On Friday, fence construction also began on bridges owned by the City of Ithaca — which include the Thurston Avenue bridge and both bridges on Stewart Avenue — after Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson issued an emergency declaration to allow the University to install fences on the three bridges, Wheatley said.
The city initially wanted to know more about the fencing before it would allow installation, Moss said.
The fences are “temporary in nature, and they’ll only be in place until a longer-term solution is ready to be implemented,” Moss said last week. “We need to do some research as to what those longer-term solutions might be.”
There will be some consultation with the Cornell community to determine what long-term solutions would work best, he said.
“It may take a while to put long-term solutions in place,” Moss said.
However, it is unclear whether the chain-link fences will remain in place until the long-term solution is constructed, or whether they will be removed beforehand.
“It’s a little premature to be talking about that,” Wheatley said. It is also too early to know what the long-term solution may be, since a number of ideas have been suggested, she said.
In an e-mail to students on Saturday, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’69 emphasized that the chain-link fences are temporary.
“As an architect, I look forward to the day when we have much more pleasing, permanent approaches for enhancing safety while preserving the natural and man-made beauty of our campus,” he stated.
Hubbell also stated that, for a second time, staff will check in on every student in University dorms. He encouraged students to visit the University’s mental-health website, caringcommunity.cornell.edu.
Despite the construction of temporary fencing, security guards were posted on bridges near campus from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m during spring break. Those hours will likely expand this week, and guards will remain in place on bridges until “at least a week after break,” Moss said last week.
Wheatley could not confirm on Sunday night how long the guards will be posted on bridges. “We’re constantly reevaluating” whether the guards should remain in place, she said.
Original Author: Michael Linhorst