Huskie Pups may come back after spring break

By Frank Gogola

NIU will decide in the coming weeks when it will bring the Huskie Pups out of hibernation, although Brett Williams, Student Association director of Mass Transit, said he would “be leaning toward after spring break.”

Belinda Roller, an Architectural and Engineering Services architect, said there is a meeting scheduled for “sometime later in February” to decide when the Huskie Pups will come back. The timetable for their return will be dependent upon what comes out of that meeting.

“It wouldn’t make any difference what we say now while there’s snow on the ground,” Williams said. “I think they’re just waiting for weather and a realistic time for when that weather’s going to be appropriate to run these vehicles. They’re not cold-weather vehicles at all.”

The Huskie Pups, which debuted in early October, have been out of service since Nov. 21 because of weather-related safety issues. One of the vehicles cost $40,000, while the three others cost $18,500 apiece. The Huskie Pups were brought to NIU to provide transportation via shuttle from one end of the campus to the other.

Roller said the Huskie Pups are like golf carts and the electric batteries don’t allow them to be heated like a motor vehicle would.

“Driving on snow or ice on the sidewalks, there’s a safety concern to some extent that they couldn’t maneuver as they would need to with other students and vehicles and everything else using the sidewalks,” said John Cheney, associate athletic director of Facilities and Event Operations. “And there’s also the primary concern is the drivers and the amount of time they would be exposed to the cold.”

Roller said there’s concern about the batteries being exposed to the cold for too long. She said the batteries don’t hold a charge as well in the extreme cold as they would during warmer months.

“Essentially, batteries are batteries,” Roller said. “I don’t think there’s anything that we would be able to do to change that” performance in the cold weather.

The batteries are being stored in the Dorland Building — located southwest of Huskie Stadium — so they’re not affected by any extremes in the winter weather. The vehicles are being stored at Huskie Stadium under the east side grandstand. Cheney said there’s no cost to store the vehicles or batteries since they’re on university property.

New and altered routes will also be discussed during the meeting. Williams said no routes have been finalized, but Cheney said the plan is to keep two Huskie Pups on the west side of the Holmes Student Center and two on the east side.

Katarzyna Wozniak, sophomore early childhood education major, said she would like to see the routes expand from just the middle of campus.

“Maybe they can do more around the residential hall area as well as back over here near Wirtz Hall, the Art Building and stuff,” Wozniak said.

Tierra Hutton, junior child psychology major, said she didn’t have a chance to ride the Huskie Pups in the fall because her classes were in one building. She said the Huskies Pups would be more useful to her this semester since her classes are spread throughout campus, but she hasn’t seen them and isn’t sure why.

“I think it just stopped, and maybe because I wasn’t really paying attention to them — I was trying really to get to classes — but I never really pretty much heard of why they stopped them,” Hutton said.

Wozniak said when the Huskie Pups are brought back she would like to see social media — specifically Facebook and Twitter — used to let students when they are running.