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New pavement makes campus more accessible

This semester has seen continuous construction on Cotter Drive, Runnals Drive, and Bixler Walk.

New walkways are more environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and accessible than the asphalt they are replacing.

Mina Amundsen, Assistant Vice President for Facilities and Campus Planning, explained that these new walks have many purposes.

“There was a vision of campus [when I came to Colby in 2015], not just for putting new buildings, but how in the process of developing the campus you could also strengthen [the] community,” she said.

Amundsen observed that the College was a very vehicle-focused campus that did not have safe places for people to walk, bike, or spend time outdoors, and it was not very wheelchair-accessible.

“Part of the vision was taking some of these roads at the time and converting them into places [rather than streets],” she said.

The new cobblestones on Runnals Drive and Bixler Walk are made from a material that is sand-based, making it more environmentally friendly than asphalt.

“The less asphalt you have, you are not using a petrol-based-chemical to build your roads,” Amundsen explained. “You have less ice, less salt, [and] it’s also better for the plants, the grass, and the soil. We are upstream of the Messalonskee and we’ve got a lot between us and the stream.

She went on to say that she hopes to work with Facilities to reduce the amount of de-icing salt used in the winter. Using a higher proportion of sand on walkways can help preserve the pH of the surrounding soil and water.

Concrete pavers are also better than asphalt at absorbing water, which Amundsen said can help reduce flooding during storms.

“Asphalt has several issues, one is it cracks, it bumps, it heaves,” Amundsen explained. “It also ices up … much more than concrete or any other mineral-based [pavement].”

With concrete-based walkways, there is a lower risk of slipping and less salt is needed to melt the icy roads in the winter.

Amundsen mentioned that concrete pavers are more expensive, but they are a better material with which to work.

“They stay flat [and] they have about a twenty-year lifespan [without] the heaves, the bumps, and the cracks,” she explained.

Amundsen recounted that on her first winter on campus, she had an injury and had to use crutches.

“[I used it as an] opportunity to see where I could go and where I could not go, so it became my winter audit on crutches,” Amundsen remembered. “I was horrified at how inaccessible most places were.”

Amundsen fractured her ankle the following spring because of a bump in an asphalt walkway.

However, she feels that there is still a lot that needs to happen to increase accessibility on campus.

Automatic doors to get into buildings, she said, are good, but once inside a building, people on crutches and in wheelchairs might not be able to open any of the heavy doors.

Amundsen said that it is an ongoing process to improve accessibility a little more each year in addition to incorporating as much accessibility into big projects as possible.

  Three years ago, she explained, Runnals Drive, Foss, and Mary Low were not accessible to people with disabilities.

“You had steps that went up into these buildings, so if you were on a wheelchair you could not get in,” Amundsen said. “So we raised and changed all the grades so you can just roll right into the buildings.”

Amundsen’s efforts to improve accessibility helped upgrade campus utilities as well.

“We had water lines that had been built probably in the thirties, so they were quite old,” Amundsen said.

“If we had to replace all of those anyway, and they were all under the stretch of road, we didn’t want to put it back with yucky asphalt, then tear it up again and put it back with [concrete] pavers.”

Amundsen proposed that Colby tear up the asphalt, replace the utility lines, regrade the land to address ADA concerns, and finish the refreshed walk with the concrete pavers.

Now, she says, the facilities have improved and campus is more accessible for everybody at Colby.

~ Isabelle Harrison Bregman `25

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