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SG issues own proposal to reopen Tower observation deck

After a group of students last week issued a proposal to open the Tower observation deck, Student Government passed its own measure for access to the Tower Tuesday.

The SG adaptation of the first proposal, which ultimately will have to be approved by UT President Larry Faulkner and the UT System Board of Regents, is expected to cost a total of $33,690.

Proponents say their plan provides for heightened security designed to prevent deck observers from committing suicide, a problem that led to the closing of the observation deck 23 years ago.

According to the SG plan, visitors must sign up to visit the Tower six weeks in advance.

The plan calls for a UT police officer to meet group of six visitors at the Tower elevator, verify their registration and accompany them to the Tower’s 27th floor, where they will be met by a second officer. A UT "Team Tower" volunteer will also accompany each group.

With one officer in front of the group and on behind, students may ascend the steps to the observation deck, where two more officers will already be stationed.

"I think it will be much easier to stop suspicious behavior with all that security," said SG Rep. Laura Freeman, sponsor of the resolution.

The SG idea allocates 75 percent of the available visitor slots to graduating seniors, while the rest would be reserved for alumni and others. All visitors would be required to pay $5.

The SG adaptation is more costly than the plan presented to Faulkner last week. According to the original plan, students and other visitors who also pay $5 to visit the deck would be accompanied by only two security guards.

The SG proposal noted that security guards will cost $35 per hour and stipulates that $30,240 of the expected $33,390 in total expenses will be spent on security. The rest of the money would go toward shirts for student volunteers, walkie-talkies and publicity for the new program.

The original plan listed no expenses–save some money for volunteers’ shirts---and depends on the $5 visitors’ fee to make up security costs.

Freeman said Tuesday’s SG vote marked the first time that Student Government took a stand on the issue. The idea marks the third attempt by students in six years to reopen the deck.

"Th purpose of the resolution was just to get a unified decision from Student Government so that the president or chancellor will know that students are strongly in favor of this," Freeman said.

The Student Assembly considered a $1,350 per semester SG allocation for a Team Tower Student Coordinator but decided to wait.

UT System Regent Lowell Lebermann said the idea is well-planned but that there are issues to address.

"It would be fun to have it open, but it’s a very tough and serious issue," he said, noting that security guards had not been able to prevent suicides in the past.

A total of seven UT students have jumped from the observation deck in the Tower’s history, not including two construction workers who accidentally fell to their deaths.

Lebermann said an idea to cover the deck with Plexiglass to make it suicide-proof had been considered but was dismissed because it would make the deck look unattractive.

The tragedy of the 1966 Charles Whitman massacre is also a factor in keeping the deck closed. In 1966, Whitman barricaded himself in the Tower, using sharpshooter accuracy to kill 16 people and wound several others as far away as the Drag.

"It’s a very delicate issue," Lebermann said.

But Freeman’s resolution did not pass unanimously in the Student Assembly. SG Rep. Fadya Albakry noted that similar proposals have been rejected by UT officials.

"To bring it up again, we’re only going to get another ‘no,’" she said. "Maybe it’s time to give it a rest."

Daily Texan. May 6, 1998.
Article by: Mike Carr

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3 May 1999
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