Police, traffic adjustments in Amherst as UMass freshman class arrives Friday

Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2014
AMHERST — The town’s population will swell Friday as the 4,650 members of the freshmen class at the University of Massachusetts arrive for orientation.

While entering students spend their Labor Day weekend learning the ins and outs of living at UMass — including taking a pledge to affirm the campus’s community values — the town’s public safety officers continue to learn from past experience.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said his department will have additional patrols throughout the weekend. With help from an Underage Alcohol Enforcement Grant from the state, more officers will be on the streets.

But as the fall semester begins, Livingstone said he is disappointed that the report on last year’s “Blarney Blowout” commissioned by the university from Edward Davis, a former Boston police commissioner, is still not complete. “We had been hopeful it would come out sooner,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone added that he hopes the report will address the number of visitors allowed in dormitory rooms because he believes tweaking that might minimize problems on campus.

Police will monitor off-campus apartments, in particular those in North Amherst, where they will leave information about town bylaws and attempt to speak to students about their behavior. “That is part of ongoing communications with the students,” Livingstone said.

Officers have also been invited to meet with players on several sports teams, Livingstone said.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the impacts of the “Blarney Blowout” have to be kept in mind, even though the entire freshman class was not around when it took place.

Nelson said including information about the student code of conduct and community values in freshmen orientation has improved student behavior.

“We’re ready,” Nelson said. “We’ve already mapped out the weekends we’ll have increased staff based on history and activity coming down the pike. We’ll keep our ear to the ground and do our due diligence.”

Town Manager John Musante said the rental registration program, which began Jan. 1, should lead to on-the-ground improvements for student rentals.

“We hope it has real, tangible benefits,” Musante said. “We think it will.”

Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life at UMass, said messaging to new students began during summer orientation sessions and discussions about civility and being good neighbors continues this weekend. Alcohol education is a mandatory component of orientation.

So-called active bystander training that is part of the UMatter @ UMass initiative will be embedded into orientation, and campus banners, bus ads and residence hall programs will continue to remind students about how they can help each other when something harmful might happen.

“This is about building a community of folks who care about each other,” Gelaye said.

While the student code of conduct offers a top-down approach to ensure students meet community expectations, UMatter is about students taking ownership of their own choices, Gelaye said.

Meanwhile, the Walk this Way initiative, which seeks to minimize disruptions in neighborhoods bordering the campus will begin right away, with students participating arriving on campus early to be trained.

Students move in

Move-in will follow similar procedures as previous years, including having traffic rerouted on several roads.

On Friday, vehicles will be prohibited from traveling south on University Drive from Massachusetts Avenue to Amity Street between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., when drivers are advised to use Route 116, Rocky Hill Road or North Pleasant Street to access Amity Street and the southern end of University Drive.

Beginning at 7 a.m. on both Friday and Sunday northbound traffic will be prohibited on University Drive starting at Amity Street and on Sunset Avenue starting at Fearing Street. Regular traffic patterns on University Drive and Sunset Avenue will resume at 4 p.m. on Friday, and at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Also on Sunday all traffic on Commonwealth Avenue in front of the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community will be moved to the southbound lanes for two-way travel while the northbound lanes will be used as an unloading zone for students moving into the complex.

Musante said that the move-in in recent years has been more coordinated and had less of an impact on the town’s residents.

“We’re very excited about the start of another academic year,” Musante said.

Campus activities

This fall sees the return of “EDM,” or electronic dance music concerts at the Mullins Center. Last fall, these concerts were canceled due to concerns over the club drug Molly. This year, concerts scheduled include Little John on Oct. 12, Fantazia on Oct. 19 and Skarillex on Oct. 23.

Nelson said he is meeting with Mullins management to map out a strategy. “We’re going to sit and talk and tweak what we do,” Nelson said.

Though such concerts add a burden to the Fire Department, which sets up an area inside to treat concert-goers who get sick, he understands the desire to schedule events that attract students. “You can’t have Disney on Ice five times a week,” Nelson said.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said there will be more hydration stations available at the arena, which should reduce the numbers of concert-goers who fall ill.

Livingstone said the Police Department actually prefers concerts that attract students because they tend to reduce problems off campus during those times. “Events on campus have proven beneficial to us,” Livingstone said.

Gelaye said there is a commitment from several departments to provide student programing late into the night, sometimes until 2 a.m. This will happen both the first weekend students are back and throughout the fall.

During this weekend’s orientation, freshmen will have plenty of reasons to stay on campus. The UFest occurs Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. on the lawn in front of Goodell Hall, with carnival activities, community service stations and a competitive rope pull.

On Labor Day, the convocation is at 2 p.m., with a welcome from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and others. Afterward, students wearing new UMass T-shirts will gather for an overhead photo and then have the welcome barbecue at 4 p.m. at Haigis Mall, featuring an attempt to have the world’s largest New England clambake. Over the last four years, UMass has set other Guinness World Records, such as the largest stir fry and largest fruit salad.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.