UW stays open despite icy conditions

Thursday&rsquo;s stormy weather resulted in widespread school closures and cancellations in the Waterloo Region, including the cancellation of classes at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) and Conestoga College. But for UW, it seemed to be business as usual.</p>

The ice storm brought 10-15 mm of ice to the Waterloo Region, resulting in downed tree branches and power lines, leading to large-scale power outages.

Shortly after 5 a.m. March 24, the Waterloo Region District School Board and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board both announced that all of their transportation was cancelled and all  of their schools  were closed for the day. Conestoga College was the first to announce that its campus would be closed, and WLU quickly followed suit. 

UW, however, opted to stay open despite the inclement weather. A special weather statement was posted on the UW website which read: “University open for evening classes. The University of Waterloo remains open today. Evening classes at the university’s main campus will go ahead as scheduled.” 

UW’s weather closing guidelines specify that “[UW] will ‘close’ because of severe weather when normal operation would pose a significant danger to students and employees, or would prevent large numbers of them from coming to campus or returning safely to their homes.”

UW’s director of media relations Nick Manning explained that the decision to keep the university open was a multi-faceted one. 

“We look at a number of different sources. The provost has … advisors here on the operation of the university that comprise [of] police services, plant operations, and a representative from the vice president of university relations,” Manning said.

“The provost himself was up from 4 a.m. actively monitoring the weather [and the] weather radar,” Manning said. “There was a team from plant operations on campus from 4 a.m. who started the process of gritting pathways and Ring Road … We also had information from the City of Waterloo that the primary roadways were gritted and salted through the night and they had begun work on secondary roadways early on.”

The provost also looks at whether or not transportation is running both locally and regionally, including GO transit.

Feds disagreed with the decision to keep the university open. 

“We felt the conditions made it unsafe to travel to campus. The Environment Canada warning advised ‘travel is not recommended’,” Feds president Chris Lolas said. “Also, we have examples of unsafe conditions that existed on campus,” he added.

Kevin Crowley, WLU’s communications and public affairs director, explained that WLU closed due to transportation safety concerns. 

“We felt that the roads were slippery enough and were going to stay that way well into the day,” Crowley said. “It’s a tough call to make, if you can appreciate that it is all happening between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, and nobody wants to close unless there is a real need for it.”

Students also expressed their concerns over the weather conditions outside.

“I was worried about slipping on campus after having fallen on the front steps of my house,” said third year electrical engineering student Acer Wang. 

Feds hopes that in the future, the university’s policies regarding inclement weather closures will become clearer.

“Either close classes in unison with WLU or [provide] a clear, unambiguous definition of when UW will cancel classes,” Lolas said. “We are using the very vocal student feedback we’ve received and will be bringing it to the provost.”