By Justin Smith
On August 23, many students were surprised to see an e-mail from Public Safety Director H. Wil Johnson declaring, among announcements as banal as the end of summer parking and traffic-related directions for moving into dorms, that the second floor of the parking ramp “will not be reopening this year.”
“People were upset,” said Connor Rosenecker ‘18, the Vice President of the Commuter Student Association.
Johnson said that in the week after sending that e-mail, he received approximately 60 replies, some more acrid than others. The student response led Director Johnson the next day to send another e-mail, entitled “Ramp 2nd Floor Explanation,” in which he explained the reasons for the ramp closing.
“The 2nd floor has been closed because exploration into the issue determined that we no longer need the space,” wrote Johnson, “and there are substantial costs associated with keeping it open…most significantly, maintenance and security.” Johnson added, “[I]t was determined that opening the 2nd floor was not an efficient use of limited College dollars when we no longer have the population to support it.”
This e-mail still did not quell student protest. Rosenecker stated that “there were people independently taking action,” including making unauthorized petitions to the school to reopen the ramp.
Five days later, on August 29–the first day of classes–Director Johnson sent his final e-mail concerning the parking ramp. The e-mail included a copy of the text from the August 24 e-mail, as well as a reiteration that the ramp would not be opening and a clarification on which lot was the Spillman lot, as the College suspected people were incorrectly parking in the HSC lot.
The College, to this point, had provided the student body with only vague reasons for the ramp closing, such as “substantial cost” and Canisius “no longer [having] the population to support it.” Then, on August 30, President Hurley surprised the student body by reversing Director Johnson’s previous e-mails.
“After hearing of the inconvenience caused by the closure of the ramp’s second floor in favor of nearby surface parking lots, the college has reversed the decision,” said Hurley. “Both the first and second levels of the ramp will be open tomorrow morning, August 31. We apologize for any disruption or confusion caused during the opening days of the fall semester.”
The College’s decisions and the various e-mails left the student body with a general sense of what Rosenecker referred to as “confusion and disappointment.” Rosenecker, however, was also quick to point out that he sensed most commuters were not overly angry at the situation.
“The voice of the people who are angriest made the loudest noise,” said Rosenecker.
The Griffin decided to try clearing up some people’s confusion by talking to Director Johnson. Director Johnson was open to conversation and forthcoming with details.
Johnson pointed out during the interview that Facilities was the department responsible for closing the ramp, and that Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Mangione delegated the responsibility of sending the e-mails to him. Johnson said that he, in fact, was “not really part of the decision,” although he was “in support of the decision.”
Director Johnson was in support of the closing for good reason, too. The truth is that the parking ramp is sixty years old and the condition is less than mint. Johnson, although he is no expert in construction, pointed out that there are “things leaking” and “some parts missing” on the second floor. President Hurley, at the Senate meeting on September 6, said that when the third floor was open, the College salted it to keep it clear from snow. However, that salt leaked through the concrete and got onto the rebar. The rebar then oxidized.
“Once the rebar starts to oxidized,” said President Hurley, “you can’t reverse that process.”
Hurley talked at length about the ramp. He revealed that he’s in favor of a surface lot that’s well-lit and landscaped. He also revealed that while the specifics aren’t set, the fate of the ramp is.
“Long term, that ramp is going to have to be replaced,” said Hurley, adding that such a project will take place in the next two to three years.
The condition of the ramp is problematic. However, perhaps the biggest problem with the whole situation boils down to communication. For one, Hurley said that he didn’t realize the ramp was closing until students began e-mailing him. Then, Director Johnson didn’t find out the ramp was re-opening until President Hurley sent the e-mail declaring so. From the student side, there was some thought that the College could have announced the closing sooner, although Rosenecker did tell The Griffin that the e-mail was “appropriately sent” and “gave people plenty of time” to adjust to the would-be new parking situation. However, it should be noted that Director Johnson stated that the College has known about plans to close the second floor since the end of last semester; however, there was “still some discussion,” which led to the delayed release of that information to students.
What does this all mean for the immediate future? According to Rosenecker, it means “commuters parking on the second floor are doing it at their own risk.” Although administration has made no such declaration, Rosenecker says the school’s transparency makes it unnecessary. According to Rosenecker, the parking ramp is deteriorating, the students know this, and therefore, they park on the second floor at their own peril.
What about the long term? It seems clear from President Hurley’s remarks to the Senate that the ramp’s days are numbered. If Science Hall is ever completed, perhaps the Health Science building could be sold off; it is unclear what would happen to the Spillman lot. Director Johnson said in an e-mail that the school has “ample” parking with the Spillman lot, so if it stays, then it is likely the school will not face a major parking crisis once the ramp comes down. But many variables need resolution before anyone can accurately speculate on the future of parking at Canisius.
“Personally,” said Rosenecker, “I’d like to see the ramp stay where it is.”
While this is unlikely, to say the least, it does represent that commuters are happy with the current situation. The College may do well to keep this in mind when figuring out what is next.
Considering the ramp is still open, it seems as if the biggest takeaway may actually be the interaction between students and administration.
“What you send in an e-mail is there forever,” said Director Johnson.
Director Johnson received numerous angry e-mails, and while some were “professionally written,” some were “caustic.” But Johnson, a commuter himself during his college days, understands that the College may not have handled the situation optimally. One question Johnson said the College can ask going forward is, “How can we communicate better?” Ideally, Johnson said that the initial e-mail about the ramp should have been sent sooner and that “giving people more time would be helpful.”
Rosenecker repeatedly reiterated that the CSA did not see the parking ramp situation as an attack on commuters or as a show of disrespect for the commuter population. While the CSA will remain vigilant on behalf of the quality of experience for commuters, this issue, on the whole, does not represent an offense to commuters.
The school will have to solve the parking ramp issue. Students deserve safe parking. However, in the process of solving the issue, administrators will have to remember that their decisions have real impacts on students. Communication and transparency are important and Canisius–students and administration alike–would do well to learn a valuable lesson about that to prevent things like this from happening in the future.