By Josh Mosse
INDIANA — James G. Wakefield, a former public relations photographer at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has a problem with a street closure.
The entrance to the IUP campus at South 11th Street at Oakland Avenue was closed to traffic by the university’s Council of Trustees in September 2004 at the start of renovations to Cogswell Hall.
But IUP kept South 11th closed to traffic after the Cogswell construction project concluded. And administrators closed other streets as well — Pratt Drive between Locust Street and Grant Street following construction of Wallwork Residence Hall, and Maple Street between South 11th and Pratt, according to IUP’s Web site. The closures on South 11th and Pratt are listed as “pedestrians only” areas on an April 1 IUP map. But Maple is marked as closed.
Wakefield, who worked at IUP for 25 years, got 852 people to sign a petition asking Indiana borough council to petition IUP to reopen South 11th.
“The university wants to be by themselves,” Wakefield, 73, said in a Feb. 25 phone interview. “The only thing is, everything that they do one way or another, deals with this community.”
Indiana borough councilman Richard Thorell presented a resolution to reopen South 11th to the IUP Council of Trustees, along with Wakefield’s petitions, at a Sept. 26 council meeting, according to Wakefield’s Oct. 14 letter to the editor of the Indiana Gazette. But IUP’s trustees denied the request, Wakefield said in an interview from his home on Papermill Avenue.
Wakefield said the trustees concluded that foot traffic is too heavy around South 11th and Oakland to safely reopen the street to through traffic.
Michelle Fryling, media relations director at IUP, said the university did not close South 11th without doing its homework. She said IUP worked closely with campus Director of Public Safety William P. Montgomery and studied pedestrian traffic on the closed portion of South 11th.
“We continue to feel strongly that the closing of this portion of the street helps to make this area safer for pedestrians while not causing significant inconvenience to motorists,” Fryling said in a May 3 e-mail interview.
Montgomery didn’t respond to an e-mail query about the studies.
Wakefield said the university can do what it wants, since it controls the street. But he said closing South 11th is an inconvenience to residents on the north side of town. He said closing South 11th is a danger to students. He worried that they might not pay attention to emergency and maintenance vehicles while crossing South 11th.
“Wham, they’re going to get hit,” Wakefield said.
Despite the objections of Wakefield and his fellow petitioners, IUP announced a new construction project that confirms South 11th Street’s permanent closure to cars. On the IUP Office of Engineering and Construction Web site, IUP Project # IN-953.6, the 11th Street and Oakland Avenue Project, states the changes.
“This is a project of the university and authorized by PennDOT with consultation with Indiana Borough,” Fryling said in an e-mail. “South 11th will remain closed to vehicular traffic.”
Emergency vehicles can use the street if necessary, she added.
Indiana Mayor George Hood said the street closure poses no problem for the borough police department. The yellow chain blocking South 11th Street is made of plastic and held together in the middle by white plastic zip ties. A police car could drive right through it, Hood said.
“They will get there no matter what,” Hood said in an April 7 interview in his borough office. “Police are on campus very quickly.”
Indiana police Chief William C. Sutton agreed.
“If a cop parked his car and walked, he could still do his job,” Sutton said in Hood’s mayoral office.
But Sutton added that firefighters might have some trouble with the street closure.
Indiana County Fire Chief John M. Colananni was unavailable for comment on April 20. Third Assistant Paul L. Koons had no comment about the South 11th Street closure.
The new project on South 11th includes installation of a new sidewalk and curb to narrow the opening from Oakland onto South 11th, Fryling said. And South 11th will be resurfaced between Oakland to Grant streets, the block between Foster Hall and Taco Bell. The Clark Hall parking lot also will be resurfaced with a recycled “green” material approved by PennDOT.
Rhino Construction of Lower Burrell has been issued a contract for the project, according to the project Web site.
Work on the project is scheduled to begin May 10, Fryling said, and is expected to be finished by mid-August. Traffic on Oakland shouldn’t be affected by the work, she added.
Wakefield didn’t know about this project before the Feb. 25 interview. And he wasn’t happy about the decision of the university.
“They can do what ever they want to,” Wakefield said. “But it’s an inconvenience to me and the people on the north side of town.”
“While some individuals feel inconvenienced that they must travel approximately half a block farther to access campus, I would strongly support this minor inconvenience versus the horrible tragedy of a pedestrian-vehicle accident,” Fryling said.
Joshua Mosse, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Sarver, Pa.
Sidebar: Fast Facts
For more information on street closures and construction at IUP, contact the following sources:
Media and Public Relations Office
Sutton Hall, Room 314
Indiana, PA 15705
80 N. 8th Street
Indiana, PA 15701
William C. Sutton
Chief of Police
80 N. 8th Street
Indiana PA 15701
Raymond L. Wygonik
Office of Engineering and Construction
650 South 13th Street
Indiana, PA 15705
James G. Wakefield