May 2, 2012

Cornell Prepares for Summer Net Construction

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Correction appended

With the installation of nets on seven campus and city bridge sites set to begin this summer, the University will hire a contractor for the project within the next month, according to Associate University Architect Andrew Magré ’91.

The University has received all necessary approvals for constructing the nets, Magré said. The only remaining steps before work can begin, in addition to hiring a contractor, is determining the best way to install the nets –– which involves deciding which bridge to first work on and the order of installing the nets on other bridges.

Six of the nets will be built under the bridges; a seventh will be built around the Suspension Bridge.

In January, Cornell announced its intention to install the nets over the summer. The University will remove each black fence — the barrier currently in place on all of the bridges near campus — once the net at that site is complete, bringing hope to many involved in the debates over how to best reduce suicides at Cornell and at college campuses nationwide.

“We’ll be working with the contractor to determine the sequencing [of which bridges to work on first] and staging for each of the bridges,” Magré said.

“The goal is to be completed by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re hoping to have at that stage the nets … in place, and the temporary fencing that’s there now will have been removed.”

Installations of the nets — which will be accompanied by the placement of cameras and heat sensors to determine if someone or something is caught in the net — will not begin on all seven bridges simultaneously, in order to minimize traffic disruptions.

“The goal is to not affect traffic — pedestrian and vehicular traffic — as much as possible, so we’d like to avoid closing lanes on multiple bridges that span a single gorge simultaneously,” Magré said. “We will be very sensitive to traffic patterns.”

Workers known as “riggers” will need to use harnesses in order to attach the nets to steel struts — steel beams that stick out from the side of the bridge — that extend 15 feet from the side of the bridge.

“In order to install the cable steel mesh, you’ll generally have riggers out there on ropes,” Magré said. “They’re going to be there over the bridge extended over the gorge on ropes or in baskets and they essentially have to take this mesh — this net — and connect it to the steel struts.”

The panels had to be designed in consultation with the Ithaca Fire Department, which has a training simulator for rescuers to practice recovering a person trapped in one of the nets.

“[We had to] make sure … the nets meet their specifications, and are compatible with their rescue techniques,” Magré said.

The fire department had input in determining the thickness of the stainless steel cable used in the nets and the size of the net openings, according to Magré.

“The dynamics of the mesh system are such that if you were to land into the net, first off, the 15-foot drop would not be a pleasant experience into the mesh,” Magré said. “Once you’re in the net, it’s very difficult to move around in it because of its springiness.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote about the sequence of the nets’ construction to Simeon Moss ’74, deputy University spokesperson. In fact the statement was made by Associate University Architect Andrew Magré ’91.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky