When a nor’easter winter storm hit the New York metropolitan area on Valentine’s Day Eve, airplanes were grounded, traffic came to a screeching halt and a plethora of pedestrians slipped and slid their way to work. What did not halt, however, was St. John’s. The University remained open and on a regular schedule until the decision to closer early was made at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The snow and freezing rain began around midnight on Tuesday, making for treacherous early morning commutes. Yet St. John’s expected the 12,532 commuter students (83 percent of the undergraduate population) who attend class on the Queens campus to gear up and make the trek to the Jamaica campus. And let’s not forget the faculty and staff who did make it through the ice and snow that day.
A number of students, commuting from Long Island and the far reaches of Queens, as well as the other boroughs, arrived on campus in the afternoon only to be turned around and sent home. And in addition to the confusion caused by the mid-afternoon closing, accidents and injuries occurred as well.
According to Tom Lawrence, vice president of Public Safety, there were several accidents in the parking lots, as well as three or four slip-and-fall accidents across campus. One University staff member was walking toward St. John Hall when she slipped on ice near the building and dislocated and fractured her shoulder.
As Lawrence stated, “The way [the snow] was coming down, it was tough to clean it up.” The University cannot be faulted for being unable to keep up with the precipitation while it was falling. But such events could have been prevented if St. John’s had taken more cautionary measures earlier. Although they should have closed, St. John’s was not the only institution in the city that took its chances.
What the University can be blamed for is the lack of effort made to clean up in the days following the storm. At five o’clock Thursday afternoon the stairway from the University Center to the back of St. John Hall still had not been cleared and as of noon yesterday, six days after the storm, the staircase behind Belson Stadium was still covered with ice and snow, as the University still had not completely cleared the grounds.
Walkways used on a regular basis remained slick at the start of the new week, and the sidewalk along Union Turnpike was still covered with numerous piles of plowed snow, making it difficult to navigate. According to New York City code, snow and ice must be cleared from the sidewalk in front of a building or property within four hours of the cessation of snowfall or.
Perhaps New York City should fine St. John’s. It may just take that kind of drastic measure for the University to realize what a disservice they are doing to the students and the community.
And just maybe it will teach them to take preventative measures, if not to ensure the safety of their students, staff and faculty, then to protect the well-being of their bank accounts.