November 19, 2012

Students Lament Closing of Suspension, Beebe Bridges During Installation of Nets

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When students return from Thanksgiving break, those who live on North Campus will be in for a surprise: Both the Suspension Bridge and the Beebe Lake footbridge will be closed for much of the last week of classes and the entire finals period.

Starting Nov. 28, the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge will be closed for more than a month, until Jan. 2, according to a University special conditions update. The Beebe Lake footbridge will also be closed starting the beginning of December, according to John Keefe, project manager.

The closures are the result of the the University’s decision to  install nets on and under seven campus and city bridges. After years of debate over how best to deter suicides committed off the bridges, the University approved plans in January to replace the black fences that currently act as barriers, with nets.

Construction on the two bridges comes in addition to work on the Beebe Dam foot bridge, which has been closed for repairs since Nov. 12. The Beebe Dam foot bridge will reopen Thursday, according to the University special conditions updates.

Several students said they are apprehensive about the pedestrian bridges being closed as the end of the semester approaches.

Kimberly Bernstein ’15, who lives near North Campus, said that the Suspension Bridge is a more direct way for her to get to her classes across campus.

“My classes are so far away, [and] it will take an extra 10 minutes from where I live to get to the Engineering Quad,” Bernstein said. “I understand that the nets are important, but it’s really inconvenient.”

George Schnaars ’16, a North Campus resident, added that he feels more cut off from Central Campus.

“Due to the closing of [the Beebe Dam foot bridge], it is harder to get to class because I have to go out of my way and it takes longer,” Schnaars said

Still, others said that, although they are inconvenienced by the closures, they understand the importance of the net installations.

Manuela Rios ’16, who said she now has to walk across the Thurston Avenue bridge and around Bailey from her dorm on North Campus rather than take the Beebe Dam foot bridge,  dismissed the temporary disruption in her daily commute to class.

“I thought that although taking the [Thurston] bridge was temporarily inconvenient, it was for an important purpose that will ultimately help the campus for longer than its construction annoyed the campus,” Rios said.

Matthew Laks ’15, echoing Rios sentiments, said he believes the nets are in students’ best interest.

“The long term implication of having a means restriction system in place far outweighs the temporary aggravation caused by construction,” Laks said. “The safety of students should always be the main concern at hand.”

Installing the nets is usually a “two-week ordeal,” according to Keefe, who said that most of that time is dedicated to establishing the supporting structures for the nets, rather than installing the nets themselves.

“It’s funny, the mesh systems, they all go down in about a day — it is preparation of the bridges and the support structures that take a majority of the time,” Keefe said.

But for net installation on the Suspension Bridge, which is expected to take about a month, the net structure is more complex, according to Keefe. Of the seven bridges that will soon have nets, the Suspension Bridge is the only one on which the net will wrap around, rather than hang underneath, the bridge.

“[That net] is a much different thing. It is basically a sock — we call it a sock — that kind of wraps around the bridge, versus the mesh systems underneath the bridge,” Keefe said.

Even after the pedestrian bridges reopen, the fences will not be taken down until safety systems are installed and tested, Keefe said. These systems, he said, will provide a warning to CUPD in case an individual falls into the nets.

“For safety reasons, each bridge has a set of what we call thermal imaging cameras which focus on the mesh system, and until we get those installed, commissioned, and ensure proper reporting, to CUPD, we cannot take the fences down because its not a complete system,” Keefe said.

Original Author: Caroline Flax