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Anatomy of a snow closure – everything you always wanted to know

The collective decision-making process involves all institutions and prioritizes safety first.

By Lindsey Coulter

April 1, 2019

St. Cajetan's Event Center in the snowA powerful winter storm brought much of metro Denver to a halt on March 13 — including classes and activities on the Auraria Campus. During the closure and into the night, Auraria Higher Education Center Facility Services crews were out in force plowing, shoveling, de-icing and making the campus as safe as possible for users. However, many in the campus community expressed questions about how, when and why campus closures are instituted. To learn more, the Early Bird talked with campus partners in the Auraria Higher Education Center about the process.

Closure decisions are always made collectively and cooperatively by the members of the Auraria Executive Council — which includes Metropolitan State University of Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., Community College of Denver President Everette Freeman, Ed.D., University of Colorado Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, Ph.D., and AHEC CEO Barb Weiske.

Members receive information directly from the National Weather Service in Boulder and also consult with AHEC Chief Operations Officer Jeff Stamper, who is responsible for Facilities Services. AHEC officials participate in public-safety conference calls with the NWS and consult with campus safety officials before and during a storm, then evaluate the information with Facilities Services to gauge the team’s ability to keep the campus accessible and safe.

With this most recent storm, for example, AHEC staff began monitoring forecasts and participating in NWS conference calls on March 11, said Blaine Nickeson, AHEC’s chief of safety and communications. On March 12 at 7 p.m., the AEC collectively decided to close the campus for March 13. Campus communications staff immediately began the notification process, which continued with a late open announcement on March 14 after a decision by the AEC early that morning.

“The safety of the campus community, including students, faculty and staff, is the critical factor in making closure decisions,” Stamper said. “That said, it is difficult to account for every member of the community given geographic differences.”

For example, while weather and driving conditions along the southern Interstate 25 corridor or throughout the foothills may be problematic during a given weather event, those conditions likely wouldn’t force a campus closure, as they likely only affect a small portion of campus users.

A decision to close campus also has other impacts beyond the academic component. It affects a broader ecosystem on the campus, including food vendors which are primarily run by small-business owners, Stamper said. Hourly employees, including many student employees, also aren’t paid during a closure, as they’re unable to work, and closures can also affect campus events, athletic contests and private events held on campus.

While the three institutions and AHEC officials often field concerns about campus being kept open to avoid loss of parking revenue, Stamper said parking fees are never a factor or a point of discussion among AEC members during the decision-making process.

Stamper also explained that Auraria Campus closures generally don’t mirror closures declared by Denver Public Schools and other school districts because the Auraria Campus is not responsible for transporting young children. As the Auraria Campus’ adult students are primarily responsible for their transportation decisions, the AEC also hopes students — as well as faculty and staff — will feel empowered to make individual judgment calls on their ability to make a safe commute.

For students and employees experiencing frustration with the process, Stamper notes that, like Facilities Services crews, campus communicators are also working hard behind the scenes to keep everyone in the loop. Using information and decisions provided by the AEC, University and AHEC communication teams work together to keep messages timely, accurate and consistent across all University media outlets; to address student and employee questions and concerns; and to continue improving the emergency alert and communication process.

“To everyone who worked before, during, and after the March 13 storm to keep our campus community safe and informed, thank you,” said Davidson. “In events like these, there are many people busy behind the scenes making sure that sidewalks are cleared, parking lots are plowed, and students, faculty and staff have all the information they need to make safe decisions. That hard work certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.” 

For more information, please reference the Campus Closure Policy approved by the AEC.

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