SIU weighing August 2017 eclipse options

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

Faced with a total eclipse of the sun, tens of thousands of extra visitors and the start of the fall semester all occurring on the same August day in 2017, officials at SIU say they are working on a plan aimed a relieving anticipated congestion on area streets and in area hotels.

The total solar eclipse to take place Aug. 21, 2017 — the first to touch the continental United States in almost 38 years and the first in Illinois in almost a century and a half — will occur on the first Monday of SIU’s fall 2017 semester, which has prompted widespread concerns about whether Carbondale and SIU can accommodate thousands of anticipated visitors and student move-in at the same time.

While the narrow path of the eclipse will cross the entire continental United States, its point of maximum duration will occur just south of Carbondale, leading to widespread interest from the global astronomy community. Another total solar eclipse will pass over Carbondale in April 2024.

At a press conference earlier this month, Interim SIUC Chancellor Brad Colwell said there is “a strong possibility” that the university would adjust its academic calendar to avoid the congestion and confusion many in the community have been forecasting. At last week’s city council meeting, during which the city hired a consultant to help with logistics planning for the eclipse, Mayor Mike Henry said the SIU administration has been unmovable regarding its fall 2017 start date.

University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith told the Times via email that changing the start of the academic calendar, which is developed years in advance, is problematic because it would have an impact on the timing of finals, winter commencement and more.

She said the university is looking at canceling the first day of classes, which occur on the day of the eclipse, and also possibly altering the schedule for student move-in so as to avoid parents not being able to find hotels in the area.

“Historically, families who assist with move-in leave on the Thursday or Friday before classes start,” Goldsmith said. “We have been advised that people coming in for the eclipse will start arriving on Friday, so in theory, there should not be a major issue with hotel space beyond the demand for the eclipse. In reality, however, we know that this is an unprecedented event ... So we are discussing a number of possibilities related to the move-in schedule that could give us a little more breathing room and confidence, including requiring move-in by a certain time.”

Goldsmith said a final decision will be coming soon.

“What’s most important is that there is an understanding that we are aware of the issues and taking them seriously,” Goldsmith said. “We have a bit of time to look at this and hope to have a final decision in the next couple of months.”