By Kayla Tucker – Editor-in-Chief
In the early hours this morning, leaders at Grand Rapids Community College made the call to keep campus open, despite continuous snowfall.
By late afternoon campus officials decided to cancel classes in Byron Center and on the Lakeshore campus in Ottawa County.
The National Weather Service reports the Grand Rapids area had 3 inches of snowfall today, which is approximately the same as this date last year. We have had almost 9 inches of snow since Jan. 1, less than half of what we experienced last year, but historically normal.
GRCC Police Chief Rebecca Whitman said the decision to close depends on a handful of factors, but one of the deciding factors to stay open today was that the Grand Rapids Public School District and local college campuses did not close.
“I do understand, especially for Grand Rapids public schools,” said Mario Marcos, a 20-year-old elementary education major, who expressed concern for students in a free lunch program who may get their only meal at school.
For GRCC students, the college expects students to make the decision on their own depending on what the conditions are where they live.
“It’s important to remember our service area is very large,” said Lisa Freiburger, Vice President of Finance and Administration. “We always ask students to assess their individual situation.”
The Caledonia district, for example, closed but GRCC students in the area still had class. But unlike these schools, GRCC does not look at temperature and wind chill as key factors in closing the campus.
“We don’t have the concern like they do in a K-12 (school) for rural bus routes or bus routes on small streets,” Whitman said. “We don’t have a lot of snow days allotted in our calendar year…We take the decision to close very seriously and it has to be a safety issue.”
Marcos, who lives in Wyoming, said he understood the decision, but was upset anyway due to his extended travel time. He normally takes US-131, but Marcos said it was backed up to 44th Street. when he left home at 8 a.m., so he decided to take Division Avenue instead.
“It usually takes about 15 minutes to get here, but it took one hour today,” Marcos said.
Hannah Sommer, 18, said her commute to campus from Cedar Springs around 10 a.m. was better.
“If I would’ve come in with the … rush hour (traffic) and everybody else, I think it would’ve been a little worse,” Sommer said.
Freiburger said the team that decides whether the campus closes or not is made up of a few key people on campus. A call around 5 a.m. will include Whitman, who is in charge of assessing road conditions, campus facilities personnel, who decide whether the campus can be cleared or not, and the Provost, affiliates in Ottawa County, and President Steven Ender are involved in the decision.
“We had crews here (around) three or four in the morning, clearly assessing roads on their way in,” Freiburger said. The campus sidewalks and ramps were cleared of snow by 6 a.m. this morning, according to Whitman.
Whitman said around 5:30 a.m. the decision is finalized after she drives the roads herself and contacts local law enforcement on highway conditions and how many accidents have occurred due to the weather.
“We’re not going to put you on the road if they are saying (to) stay off the road,” Whitman said.
A full list of conditions assessed before closing campus are outlined in the Campus Police Emergency Closing Procedure.
Grand Rapids experienced an early start to the winter season last year when we had over 50 inches of snow over the course of the winter. This has been a very low year for snowfall with just shy of 15 inches this winter.
The National Weather Service forecasts up to six more inches of snow through Thursday morning.
Chris Powers, Kiyrah Floyd and Avery Jennings contributed to this report.