Grounds and movers employees are ready to go
Vol. 17, No. 13Dec. 4, 1997

When snow comes

 Grounds and movers employees are ready to go

Some of the grounds employees who will keep the campus moving when ice and snow hit the area include (from left, front row) Larry King, Mac McCleary and Bence Shorter, and (back row) Ty Moody, Rex Bowlin, Danny Frazer and Bill Reinike.

Mention snow and the responses can vary from excitement to dread. Sam Jones and Roger Bowman, supervisors in Grounds and Movers Services, talk about the sometimes hazardous weather conditions with a special familiarity developed over many winters.

Bowman has been moving and directing the handling of snow around the campus for the last quarter century. Jones has been directly involved for the last two years, since he was named assistant director of Grounds and Movers Services.

"Long hours, lost sleep and challenges" come to mind, Bowman said, when he thinks about the white stuff. Searching his memory, he shared stories of the big storms and others that did not drop record-setting volumes but still left their mark.

"Probably the worst recent storm was in March of '94," he said. "That's because it was very heavy and wet. It wasn't the amount that caused problems, it was a combination of conditions. The ground was soft, and the snow was heavy. That makes it more difficult to handle. Our equipment isn't up to the challenge of a real heavy snow. That kind makes it more difficult for the people and equipment."

On a bulletin board, near Jones' desk in the grounds building, is a oversize poster of the Mall. Its walkways are clear, but the snow on the grassy areas is quite high. Across the bottom of the picture is printed:

Feb. 22, 1987
Predicted: 2 inches-4 inches.
Actual: 15 inches-17 inches.

"Sometimes, the forecasts aren't right on target," Bowman said, smiling.

To get the best information possible, Jones said, UD uses three sources: The Weather Channel, Accu Weather Snow Warning Service and Data Transmission Network Weather Center. The last is a satellite weather service that is updated every 15 minutes.

When a storm is predicted, Jones said the campus crews usually have a 24- to 36-hour alert. A warning comes 12 to 18 hours in advance. Weather service reports include such information as a storm's expected start time, duration, projected end time, accumulation estimates and temperature and precipitation condition (if it will change to ice, rain or freezing rain).

"Our objective," Jones said, "is to keep the campus clear for about 25,000 people. Depending upon the severity of the storm, we will decide whether we should bring in our entire staff."

"If we expect in excess of 2 inches," Bowman added, "we will bring in the entire crew, which is about 45, including managers."

Bowman stressed that grounds and movers personnel are responsible for sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, roadways and free-standing steps. However, he said, keeping roadways clear for emergency vehicles is a top priority.

Clearing building landings, patios, ramps and steps, plus walkways extending out 6 feet from each building, belong to custodial staff in Building Services. Housing Services takes care of the same areas in residence halls.

The University also contracts the services of about a half-dozen outside contractors. They are assigned parking lot removal and transporting snow to a dump site. This year the snow deposit area will be located on the University Farm.

Some employees remember the instant mountain created a few years ago on the grassy area beside Conover Apartments. During the blizzard of '96, Bowman said, there was well over 100,000 cubic yards of snow moved to the Morris property on the Kirkwood Highway.

"I had 24, 12-yard dump trucks working around the clock for three days," he recalled. "I remember there still was snow at that dump site in May.

"We plow in excess of 25 linear miles of sidewalks, 70 acres of parking lots, 50 sets of steps and 5 miles of campus roads."

But, he added, during the early stages of a storm, keeping roads and sidewalks open and buildings accessible are the priorities.

Parking lots cannot be cleared until they are empty, and that never happens. However, there usually are less cars in them after normal day working hours and when evening classes end. Then, he said, the real work begins, and it continues until it is done.

Jones said the staff has gone for several days straight, working 18 hours at a time depending upon the severity of a storm.

"It's a real challenge," Bowman said. "If there's a major storm, like the blizzard we had, we house them in the area. If they go home, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to get back. We've used empty rooms in the Towers, space in Laurel Hall, off-campus motels. We've slept on the wrestling mats in the Field House and in the seats of vehicles."

Equipment ranges from shovels and snow blowers to large front-end loaders.

"Just about every piece of equipment we have is dual purpose," Jones said. "In the summer it cuts grass, and in the winter it moves snow. If it's capable of being equipped with a snow plow, we put a snow plow on it."

"The most difficult thing," Bowman said, "is dealing with individuals who have no idea of what we are involved in. It's not like shoveling the sidewalk and driveway at your house. But, it is nice when we receive compliments from people who say we did a nice job. And some take the time to do that."

Working in sub-freezing temperatures for extended periods of time can be difficult and hazardous, Jones said. Lack of sleep and monotony are two of the factors that can contribute to this.

Also, Bowman added, when snow covers the surface, workers who are unfamiliar with an area may not be aware of curbs, roadways and other structures they cannot see.

"Sometimes," Bowman said, "you have to shut down. In the blizzard of '77, it was so bad that you couldn't see the front of the vehicle and the drifts were taller than the vehicle."

But, he added, things have progressed in the last 25 years. "Our response and sophistication has improved dramatically. Equipment has gotten better, and now we have more accurate information to go by."

"If we can respond quickly and maintain accessibility for the campus community, that's satisfying," Jones said. "During the blizzard of '96, no one could have performed bettter than our staff."

-Ed Okonowicz
Photo by Robert Cohen