After countless dissenting voices, after months of tiresome labor and frustrated leaps through bureaucratic hoops, Washtenaw Community College’s newfangled, four-level parking structure is finally open for service.
But despite cutting down hundreds of trees to make room for the garage, the school and its patrons are not out of the woods yet. Safety concerns have already begun to surface about imminent danger in the dark of the new facility.
20-year-old nursing student, Nicole Gross, from Towas, Michigan, worries about vandalism in the structure and is nervous that cars in the structure may become more vulnerable to malicious damage.
“People being jackasses would be a major concern in the building,” Gross said. “It would be an easy target to get tires slashed.”
Business major Kisha Richardson fears that the parking structure may provide the cover that criminals need to avoid being seen. The 28-year-old from Ypsilanti only intends to use the structure during the light of day.
“I think it will be safe during the day,” Richardson said. “During the night, I’m afraid of people that aren’t part of the school posting up in there and trying to rob people. I wouldn’t park there at night. You don’t know who’s in there.”
Campus Safety and Security is not afraid. From behind the two, brand-new, jumbo-screen monitors installed in his new command center within the parking structure, Director of Safety and Security Jacques Desrosiers will be there watching.
Desrosiers is confident that his presence in the new building will be adequate enough to deter crime. The command post will be situated in the structure, with a bridge leading to the LA building.
“The bridge will make accessing the college easier and quicker,” Desrosiers said. “We’re also more centrally located, so our response time will be better.”
While the security office’s new command center continues as a work-in-progress, according to Desrosiers, dispatchers for his department will remain in the Facilities Management building on the west side of campus.
“We should have everything up and running by the time students start coming back,” Desrosiers said. “Then it will be business as usual.”
To strengthen security’s ability to handle concerns in a timely manner, two emergency call boxes have been installed on every floor of the structure, at the elevators. Cameras situated throughout the building will capture movement to be monitored, on-screen, at the office. Each screen can display up to 32 camera images.
Vice President of Administration and Finance Steven Hardy sees a stronger presence for security as imperative to maintaining the peace in the new structure.
“Our main focus is to increase visibility as a preventative measure,” Hardy said. “People need to know we’re out there. With the office positioned more openly, there is more visibility in that structure.”
Extensive lighting in the structure, on motion sensors, is a feature that Hardy believes sets WCC’s structure apart from similar buildings.
“People often feel unsafe in parking structures because it is too dark,” Hardy said. “When you walk into our structure, you’ll see that it is very well-lit all the time.”
The new lighting does not quell Richardson’s fear of the dark. Richardson’s apprehension also results from creepy past experiences. She still refuses to use the structure after dark.
“I’ve been to other structures that are well-lit,” she said. “At night it’s still scary. I definitely won’t use it at night.”
The college has been in league with the Washtenaw County Sherriff’s department to strengthen ties with local law enforcement, according to Hardy.
“We’re really looking for a holistic approach to campus safety,” Hardy said. “We’ve also been passing out the booklets and have just finished our crisis management plan. The structure going up should not cause many problems.”
Desrosiers hopes that the structure may reduce confrontations over parking spots, which are the major cause of altercations on campus.
“I’m just hoping it will reduce the congestion in the lot that causes the tension,” Desrosiers said. “People won’t have to fight for spaces.”
Although she continues to dread danger late after dusk, Richardson agrees that something had to be done about the parking situation at WCC. She also is grateful and excited for a covered walk to her classes during periods of extreme weather.
“The parking here is ridiculous,” Richardson said. “The walk-way makes it very convenient. It’ll be great in the rain and snow. This could be the best thing to happen to WCC.”
Gross is encouraged by plans for strong lighting in the structure and expects to see the heightened visibility promised by her school’s administration.
“Cameras and lights would make it a lot safer,” Gross said. “I guess I don’t think it’s too dangerous.”