For almost two years, Augustana Student Association’s
Co-Curriculum Committee has been pushing for new lights and updated
security cameras in the Bergsaker parking lot, but numerous hurdles have continuously floundered solutions.
Whenever freshman Lily Giildenzopf walks to her car in the Bergsaker parking lot at night, she never goes alone.
“I usually go with my roommate or my friends,” Giildenzopf said. “I do not really feel that comfortable with going to my car at night. During the day, it is fine.”
Her precaution is commonplace on campus, stretching back to when junior Clair Hammerschmidt was a freshman.
“It was pretty creepy to go out [to the parking lot] late at night,” Hammerschmidt said. “I tried not to leave anything in my car so I would not have to go out there again. It’s just way too dark.”
Zach Praus, the ASA senator charged with addressing student’s concerns with the lot, said students have long labeled the lot with one word: creepy. And while the administration has recognized the problem for many years, Praus said hurdles have continuously tripped up any solutions.
But he hopes to change that.
This week, Praus met with Director of Campus Safety Rick Tupper and President for Finance and Administration Tom Meyer to iron out a plan to install new lights and update the old security cameras in the lot, but time, money and logistics stand in the way. Also, Praus said, the lights are not the only problem. The security cameras in the lot are outdated.
Meyer said lights can be pricey, especially if the campus decides to build light poles. In order to install a pole in the Bergsaker lot, workers would have to dig up the blacktop.
“Anytime you cut a blacktop, you create a weakness in its surface and diminish its life span,” Meyer said.
After installation, workers also have to run electricity through to the pole, which requires removing even more blacktop.
Meyer said he thinks it’s better to work from the exterior of the lot, and is thankful that there are already poles in place. The problem, he said, is he does not know who owns them, but is currently trying to find out.
In the meantime, Meyer said they have to decide on which type of light to buy. There is a choice between incandescent and LED. Incandescent lights are cheap but inefficient, while LEDs are expensive but can cut energy costs. LEDs also last longer and are brighter, he said.
Tupper said the lack of lights is a safety hazard because “bad things happen in the dark.” Installing new lights can act as a deterrent to potential criminals.
Hammerschmidt said during her freshmen year someone had broken into her car parked in Bergsaker parking lot, although she admitted it was her fault for leaving the vehicle unlocked
Thankfully, nothing was missing. She noted that if there were lights in the lot it may have deterred the person from rummaging through her car in the first place.
“My car was unlocked, but that means [the person] was going around and checking to see if cars were open,” Hammerschmidt said. “It’s easier to get away with something like that when it’s darker.”
She did not report the incident to Campus Safety, mainly because she did not think the lot had cameras.
Tupper said the Bergsaker lot already has two security cameras but they are outdated. While updating the cameras seems easy, he said it is more complicated and expensive than one would expect.
The university currently has 125 cameras and while that sounds like a lot, Tupper said there are still numerous unmonitored areas on campus.
He said he would like to see more outdoor cameras with motion detection and night capabilities. Recently, Campus Safety actually used footage from an outdoor camera near the Commons to catch a repeat trespasser.
“I would love to cover parking lots more and public walkways,” Tupper said.
Another difficulty in buying more cameras is that current cameras operate on two different systems. The older cameras function through old land line cables and the newer ones are wireless.
While he wants to add more cameras, Tupper simultaneously has to worry about other updating older cameras to the new system.
Another problem is that more cameras added to the new system, means more bandwidth must be devoted to the cameras’ feed. If the campus adds too many cameras, it could slow down the internet for everyone.
While one security camera may cost between $100 and $200, installation, maintenance and software can bump the price to more than $1000 per camera, he said.
The recent project to update the Elmen Center cameras to the new system came with a $14,000 price tag.
Like the lights, Tupper said the university needs to set aside money to replace and add more cameras every year, while prioritizing crucial areas.
The lighting problem is larger than just the Bergsaker parking lot, Tupper said. There are numerous areas on campus where he would like to see more lighting, especially parking lots on the northeast side of campus like the overfill parking lot for the towers and the east side of the Madsen Center.
It begins, Tupper said, by recognizing the dark areas and drafting effective plans to build a number of lights every year. The plan should also prioritize the darkest areas on campus first, he said.
The neighborhood surrounding campus also could use more lighting as well, Tupper said.
“There are not many lights to begin with, and those that are there are incandescent lights and are up in the trees,” he said.
He reached out to the city and suggested more LED street lighting and, after an audit, it recognized there is a lack of lighting in the area. But, he said, while the city sets aside money to erect more lighting each year, there are numerous other dark areas in the city.
While Meyer agreed that the neighborhood and dark areas on campus need lighting, he said the university needs to consider what the private homeowners on the perimeter of campus and students close to parking lots want. If the campus installs numerous lights, it could pollute their houses with light, and potentially keep them awake. Incandescent lights pollute an area more than LEDs, but LEDs are much brighter.
Meyer said light pollution is not a concern on the Southside of campus, but it is for the north.
“I don’t want to get to the point where students are blackening out their windows because we light up the campus like Vegas,” Meyer said. “There’s a balance here.”
In the meantime, said Giildenzopf and Hammerschmidt’s precautions are smart.
“We want to make it safe,” he said. “I would recommend everyone walk with someone if they can or turn on the flashlight on their phone.”
Praus said ASA Co-Curriculum Committee is willing to put funds toward new lighting and cameras, but, he said, it would only be a fraction of the cost.
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