UI facilities employees work long hours to ensure campus safety during winter months
When the weather gets cold and the snow begins to fall, Charles Zillinger, University of Idaho director of landscape and exterior services, said it’s the busiest time of the year for him and his crew.
Zillinger said it’s not uncommon for some Facilities Services personnel to start work as early as 2 a.m. during the winter months and workers have an automatic early start when at least one inch of snow covers the UI campus over night.
“The best time to remove snow is when no one is there,” Zillinger said. “(We do) whatever it takes to keep campus safe.”
The annual budget for snow removal is around $19,400, Zillinger said. The money is allocated to supplies and equipment costs, but Zillinger said it’s not enough to cover everthing, so additional expenses are supplemented with Facilities general maintenance funds.
With the goal of having campus cleared of snow and ice by 7 a.m., the main areas of campus are the first priority. Zillinger said it’s after they get the main areas cleared when they get to work on other areas of the campus.
“We prioritize snow removal,” he said. “That is going to maximize how many people can use (the walkways).”
Zillinger said a routine winter morning encompasses 18 people who work throughout the day to clear snow from the 10 miles of road and 100 acres of sidewalks that make up campus. Six large plow drivers, six smaller plow drivers and six hand scoopers work together to clear campus and custodial services clear the building entryways.
With a limited amount of people working to clear campus of snow and ice, everything is not going to get cleared, Zillinger said. He said this is the reason why some areas are left untouched and some stairways are blocked off.
“Steps are always snow and ice traps,” Zillinger said.
Once the snow is removed, sand and gravel are laid down to provide traction on ice, Zillinger said. He said the gravel is placed on the roadways and the sand goes on the sidewalks. Over the course of winter, Zillinger said 100 to 200 tons of sand and 600 tons of gravel are used to keep the campus community from slipping. The sand and gravel are bought locally, with the best product in mind, Zillinger said.
“Ice is the most challenging,” he said. “Especially when it gets cold.”
It is important to remember to be careful while walking around campus and to wear the proper shoes and clothes for the weather, Zillinger said.
“Everybody needs to use the appropriate amount of caution,” Zillinger said. “There are going to be incidents, you don’t want it to happen, but it is the nature of winter.”
When the temperature drops to below freezing levels, the ice bonds with the pavement and becomes difficult to manage, Zillinger said. When this happens, the only thing to be done is to make sure his crew puts plenty of sand on top of the ice to provide traction for foot traffic.
When winter ends, the clean up phase begins. Zillinger said the landscaping crew sweeps the sand and gravel off of the walkways and roads, although most of the sand gets washed off the walkways into the storm system. Zillinger said the storm runoff system is also cleaned during this process.
“There is always something to do,” Zillinger said.
Graham Perednia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org