Wondering whether sidewalks are safe
By Jessica C. Brown
INDIANA, Pa. – Erin B. O’Brien, a senior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, sees icy winter sidewalks as more than an annoyance.
When O’Brien, an honors college student, was a freshman in January 2007, she was walking home to Whitmyre Hall one night. She fell on a patch of ice between Leonard and Walsh halls. She does not remember her roommate walking her back to their room or most of what happened that night.
She went to Indiana Regional Medical Center, where doctors found that her short-term memory was resetting every six minutes. Scans showed that O’Brien suffered a minor concussion. She was sent back to Whitmyre Hall.
Years later, O’Brien cannot remember details of that night or the following day. But she can’t forget the fear she feels.
“I realize they can’t get every sidewalk every minute,” said O’Brien in an Oct. 19 e-mail interview. “But I’ve slipped on the ice here more than once. I bruised my back slipping near Breezedale my sophomore year.”
In fall 2009, 14,638 students were enrolled at IUP, according to the university’s Web site. Of those students, 4,046 live on campus, or 28 percent. The other 72 percent (10,592 students) live in off-campus housing.
Most renters are in charge clearing their own driveways and sidewalks, so slips and falls there are their own responsibility. Kayleigh N. Schartel, a senior at IUP, is one of these renters.
In a Sept. 22 e-mail interview, Schartel said keeping up with winter maintenance at her off-campus home is a pain. But campus sidewalks are her biggest concern.
“Campus sidewalks are just as slippery,” Schartel wrote. “Especially when the stairs get wet.”
No matter their living situation, every student has to walk the sidewalks of IUP. And for some, that is a scary thought.
IUP senior Amy M. Hassinger said she had to carry a friend to safety during winter 2008 when her friend fell and broke her leg after slipping on a patch of ice in front of Weyandt Hall.
“The sidewalk maintenance is horrible,” wrote IUP junior Elizabeth M. McKillop in a Nov. 16 e-mail. McKillop said that since she has been a student at IUP, she has fallen on the icy sidewalks at least three times.
“I do not think IUP’s maintenance does a good job in the winter,” wrote IUP junior Lindsey A. Jakubovic in a Nov. 16 e-mail. “I’m constantly falling because of slipper sidewalks. I choose sometimes to walk in the streets because they’re not as icy.”
Jakubovic said the sidewalks with the worst winter maintenance are in front of the Suites on Grant.
“The hill is difficult enough to walk up, and a layer of ice just adds to the fun,” Jakubovic said. “I fall approximately three times a week while walking through campus in the winter. I even bought Timberland boots to make it easier to walk.”
But some students said when it comes to maintenance, the university’s maintenance staff is doing the best with what they have.
“I think they do a pretty good job,” IUP junior Alex A. Minnick said in an Oct. 7 interview in Davis Hall. “There are a lot of sidewalks for a fairly small staff to take care of.”
“I work for the Maintenance Department at IUP,” said Casey Burkett, a sophomore, in a Nov. 16 e-mail. “Those guys have a hard job that no one else ever wants to do. Give them some credit.”
Sidebar: Extreme circumstances
In an Oct. 2 email to faculty and staff – and repeated on Nov. 25 – IUP administrators announced that in inclement weather the campus will close under only “the most extreme circumstances.” The definition of “extreme circumstances” is not provided, but the decision is the university president’s to make.
The job of managing those circumstances on the ground falls on Tony W. Neese, building maintenance foreman for the Office of Facilities Management. Neese said the IUP Grounds Department does winter maintenance in parking lots and on sidewalks. The Custodial Department handles stairs and entryways. The arrangement is spelled out in a collective-bargaining agreement that went into effect Sept. 2.
“At IUP we remove the snow with plows on trucks and tractors,” said Neese in an Oct. 15 email. “We also use rotary brooms on tractors for sidewalks if necessary.”
Neese said his workers use salt, calcium chloride, fertilizer and crushed limestone on ice.
“What gets used and when depends on the location, current conditions and forecasted conditions,” Neese said.
He added that the department tries to handle ice in a “timely manner.”
“The sidewalks are cleared off when they are covered or slippery,” he said. “This often happens several times a day if it is snowing or icing. If there has not been any precipitation the night before, our staff is out at 6 a.m., looking for isolated problem areas on the sidewalks, parking lots and roads on campus.”
Despite the effort, falls on ice and snow have injured 28 students within the past five years, said Frank V. Carrozza, safety officer for the IUP Environmental Health and Safety Department, in a Nov. 9 e-mail.
Indiana Regional Medical Center does not keep track of injuries attributable specifically to falls on ice, said public relations staff member Laura A. Jeffrey in a Nov. 10 email.
IUP students contacted for this story said they want to see improvements in winter sidewalk maintenance on campus.
“I think the entrances of any building on campus are all right to walk on,” wrote Jakubovic. “I just wish they’d take more care of the sidewalks leading up to the buildings.”
“Improve the quality of the sidewalk plows,” suggested McKillop. “They only skim the top layer of snow, leaving a layer of ice on the sidewalks.”
Some students just want to be able to walk to class in winter knowing they are safe.
“The idea of hitting my head out there again, alone, is a scary one,” O’Brien said.
Jessica Brown is a junior journalism major from Armagh, Pa.
Sidebar: Ice Rx, by the book
The mean annual snowfall for the town of Indiana, Pa., ranges up to six feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Satellite and Information Center.
Indiana County had anywhere from 50 to 75 inches of snow from Oct. 1, 2008, to May 31, 2009, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. Combine that with ice, andit can make for a very slippery walk to class.
Indiana County’s weather can be hazardous. But consider Tower, Minn., one of the coldest places in the United States. There, maintenance workers follow procedures for ice management spelled out in a handbook published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The procedures include use of traditional salt, liquid salt brine and sand mixed with an antifreeze mixture. Sand is used as an abrasive. Salt melts the ice. But once the temperature of the salt reaches the temperature of the pavement, the salt stops being effective, the handbook says.
Kitty litter also is effective on icy sidewalks, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Sidebar: For more information
For more information on this story, contact the following sources:
Tony W. Neese
Building Maintenance Foreman
Office of Facilities Management
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Frank V. Carozza
Environmental Health and Safety Department
Sutton Hall, Room 423
1011 South Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705