Bridge-Netting Intended to Boost Student Safety at Cornell
By Torrey Sims (06/01/2012)

ITHACA, N.Y. — Two years ago, Cornell University made headlines when it saw a spike in suicides.

The suicides and attempted suicides took place on bridges throughout the campus. Two students’ bodies were recovered from a rugged gorge more than 70 feet below the Thurston Avenue Bridge, their deaths just a day apart.

The university has since been working to help students cope with the losses of their peers. Now it has yet another plan to stop the devastation in the first place: erect nets around the bridges.

At first, temporary barriers were put in place around the campus bridges. Currently, university architect Gilbert Delgado is working with Boston-based NADAAA Architects to install netting around the campus’ seven bridges. The stainless steel netting will be placed under six of the bridges, while the seventh net will be built around the railing of a suspension bridge where a junior engineering student committed suicide in 2010.

“There were several suicides at Cornell in 2010 and after that we put up some temporary measures, but right away we knew that we needed to develop a more thoughtful solution,” Delgado said.

Delgado based the designs off bridge-netting installations in Switzerland. Since the Swiss installed bridge netting, no suicides have taken place at those locations, Delgado said.

The last of the nets will be installed by June 2012. All the bridge netting will be stainless steel and the design will allow students to still experience a connection with nature. Currently in place are temporary barricades that rise up about five feet from the railing, Delgado said.

The bridges will include cameras and heat sensors to determine if someone or something is trapped in the net, according to Andrew Magre, associate university architect.

Black fences surround the bridges at Cornell at the moment, but they will be removed once the nets are installed this summer. Students will then have access to the scenery that has been blocked off for two years.

“At the end of the day we came up with a solution that was effective, and at the same time, it had a minimal impact on the visual element of the Cornell bridges,” Delgado said.

Trying to balance the safety of students without taking away the dramatic and natural space the bridges cross was particularly challenging for Delgado, who said the bridges are a historic part of Cornell’s campus.

“The students and alumni really cherish the beauty of the campus and so we went the extra mile to select a very thoughtful architect that could examine the question from many different angles,” said Delgado.

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