Winter has made its way to the Kirkwood Community College campus and class delays and cancellations due to weather have begun. Weighing multiple factors to keep campus-goers safe during potentially dangerous winter conditions is one of the many difficult tasks addressed by the leadership at KCC.
“It’s really a team decision,” Troy McQuillen, vice president of Facilities and Security, shared. “We look at things like road conditions. We know a majority of our students are commuters. We have a lot of individual cars coming to campus every part of the day.”
One tool utilized is the DOT website (511ia.org), which classifies road conditions to seasonal, partially- or fully-snow or ice covered, up to ‘travel not recommended.’
“We of course look at weather,” McQuillen continued. “We have lots of weather applications that we follow in respects to the timing of the storm, the duration of the cold weather, the wind chill, the wind conditions, and precipitation amounts.”
Attention is also given to the status of local schools, businesses and community organizations that students may be a part of, especially considering many of the student body are parents, directly affecting their ability to get to classes.
The decision process starts with McQuillen gathering the all the required criteria information, then entering into discussions with Kirkwood President Dr. Lori Sundberg and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jennifer Bradley.
“We talk through all of the considerations. I lay out ‘Here is where our campus is at,’ because the last criteria is how well are we doing as a grounds and facilities team to make sure the campus is accessible. We do all our own snow removal here in house – so our sidewalks, our stairs, our parking lots, our streets – are the responsibility of the facilities team. We want to make sure that is accessible as well as the adjacent streets the city and county are responsible for clearing.”
When deciding on the actual times the campus is closed or open, McQuillen shared, “We do what I call a progression decision, meaning we don’t just close the place all day and all night. We may close during the day and open at 5 p.m., or we may be open all day and close at 5 p.m. We try not to make an overarching decision to cancel. We make the decision based on the am and pm time frames of activity. This consideration is very important for continuing education classes which may only meet once a week, where much contact time will be lost should there be a cancellation. We want to make sure we keep them going if all of the criteria are met as far as road conditions, weather report and campus safety.”
With a look back at previous winter seasons, McQuillen estimated these decisions are made approximately a half dozen times each year. “Every season when we get all of our snow equipment out of the shed, we talk through training, our emergency notification systems. We send out reminders for people to walk like a penguin; we communicate with students about being prepared with their vehicles. We do a lot of messaging around ‘have a cold weather plan.’ There is a whole campaign that goes into the winter season college-wide.”
He added, “Safety is number one priority. We know we don’t make everyone happy with our decisions. On both sides of the decision! But know that we are doing our best. If a student can’t make it, say if they live in Benton, Iowa, on a rural road that’s not plowed first thing in the morning, I would be willing to bet that many of our faculty and staff would understand if you are not able to make it that day.”
McQuillen concluded, “Communication on those ‘can’t-make-it’ days is really important during winter weather. If you live outside in rural areas, if you don’t have a reliable vehicle or you have kids that you have to watch during their closure, we provide – or I hope we provide – flexibility and grace to those students.”
For more information about the official policies concerning Kirkwood’s cancellation and delay procedures, please visit Kirkwood’s Board Policies and Procedures website, and search for sections 304.2 and 502.2.
JoEllen is a non-traditional student, wife and mother – learning new skills in the Digital Arts program at Kirkwood. She is a writer, photographer, digital artist and lover of life.