September 13, 2011

University Agrees to Pay for Upkeep of Bridge Nets

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Caving to pressure from Ithaca’s Common Council, Cornell has agreed to pay for the maintenance and insurance costs of its suicide nets proposal, University administrators confirmed Tuesday.

The decision removes a major obstacle to the approval of the University’s plan to install nets underneath six bridges on and off campus, resolving one impasse in the fight over Cornell’s “means restriction” initiative.

The University first proposed installing the mesh nets — which are intended to prevent suicides from the bridge — after revising initial proposals that would have obstructed views of the gorges. The strategy of using these physical barriers comes in response to a string of three suicides in 2010.

While hurdles may remain, some Common Council members say they will now support the project, which was first submitted for approval in May.

The University is currently drafting a Memorandum of Understanding that will address the maintenance costs and other issues, according to an email sent by John Guten­berger, vice president of Government and Community Relations, and obtained by The Sun.

Gutenberger writes that the University made its decision after Cornell staff in Switzerland learned that the costs of a similar net system were not onerous.

“We do understand the city is in a tough situation financially and that the city is reluctant to take on new expenses,” Gutenberger said, adding that the University is committed to establishing a solution that is “cost neutral to the city.”

While he said he was optimistic that Cornell would be able to cover the costs from its existing budget, Gutenberger said it is still unclear  how the University will fund the maintenance and insurance costs of the nets.

“We have to find the money within our existing budget,” Gutenberger said. “But we’re convinced that the costs won’t be very high and that its an investment worth making to reduce and hopefully eliminate jumping from the high bridges.”

Gutenberger also said that before putting the Memorandum of Understanding together, the city must provide the University with more information about potential insurance costs.

At a Common Council meeting on June 28, some Common Council members said they would wait for more information about the cost of maintenance before proceeding with the construction of the nets. Now, Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’09 (D-4th Ward) said that the Council may finally begin to consider other details of the project.

“With the city’s financial situation the way it is, the University offering to pay for the nets takes care of those concerns, so we can refocus our conversation,” Rooker said.

In July, President David Skorton sent a letter to Common Council members committing to finance the installation of the suicide nets. However, the letter did not explicitly address the maintenance costs, Rooker said.

While Common Council is aware of Skorton’s commitment to funding the installation of the nets, both Rooker and Alderperson Ellen McCollister (D-3rd Ward) said that Mayor Carolyn Peterson had not yet informed council members about the University’s agreement to cover the maintenance and insurance costs.

Peterson could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Original Author: Liz Camuti