It’s an odd business to be in, pushing snow around from place to place. Done well, nobody knows or cares- come to work, park the car, walk to class. Miss a storm, and it’s easy to see the mistake. Just ask a student wearing their slippers or flip-flops to Proctor for breakfast. (Yes, flip-flops, not exaggerating here) It’s a misnomer to call it snow removal, we’re only pushing it or moving it to a more convenient location. The only way I know to truly remove snow would play havoc with our carbon footprint, not to mention our stormwater catch basins. While I personally believe that snow should only be moved in snowman form, that’s not entirely possible on campus, so we move it around, stack it up, shovel it off of steps, and plow it to the side.
Snow removal starts several days before the storm, sometimes as much as a week. It’s best to not get surprised by a storm and, while it happens, is rare. The more foreshadowing involved, the better shape we are in handle the storm. So we wait, and watch. Luther Tenny, Assistant Director of Facilities Management, oversees snow removal operations, and lives and breathes the weather forecast all winter long. (And all summer, too, but for golf.) He makes “the call”, and sets the operation in motion.
If conditions are right, the day before the storm we spray an anti-icer called Ice Ban on our roads and walks. It’s a topic for another blog post-suffice to say it prevents the snow from forming a bond with the pavement, and helps clear the ground quickly and easily. The devil is in the aforementioned conditions, so while it’s a useful tool, we don’t apply all the time.
Snow removal gears up at 2 AM, about the time students are wrapping up for the night, and starts with the big iron. A loader, a back hoe, and a single axel tandem truck plow snow on the major arteries of campus. These include Old Chapel Road, Porter Field Road, the Service building, Stewart Hill, CFA, Bicentennial Hall Road, and other places I’m sure I’m forgetting. The early start time ensures when staff start arriving at 4 AM to start their day they can arrive safely, and have a plowed lot to park. It is also nice to have main roads open for not just ourselves, but for the town of Middlebury as well.
At 4 in the morning things get more interesting. 6 snowplows on one ton trucks head out, and start plowing driveways, parking lots, loading docks, and other places too small for the large equipment. I’ll outline a typical route-all of them are about this long. Ready? Emma Willard, both front and rear parking lots. Storrs Ave.-the small faculty staff lot, and hop across the road for the library loading dock while you’re in the neighborhood. 3 South, then Twilight Hall, 125 Main Street (Public Safety), then the Meeker parking lot, then go down South Main Street and do 121, 119, 99/105, 100/102, 104, 106, and 108/110. Now head up Franklin Street, and do The Mill, 91, 115, and 131. Still Snowing? Repeat.
Also at 4 the sidewalk tractors join the fray. 4 people, in a couple of types of tractors, and a Trackless, head out and plow our 10 miles of walkways. In square footage, it’s over 8 acres of mostly concrete sidewalks. All the tractors have a small sander on the rear, spreading sand to keep the walks from becoming too slippery. These operators are really the unsung heroes of the snow removal team. Think of the first snow of the year, with no snow banks as reference points, and how hard it is to remember not only where the walkways are, but where are the lips, bumps, manhole covers, trash cans, and other obstructions are, and you’ll get a feel for what they are up against.
6 Am comes, and the light is beginning to break. Unless there is a tremendous amount of snow, the sidewalk tractors have opened enough up for the shovel crews to head out in gators to all the buildings. 43 people in facilities, ranging from electricians and plumbers, to floor crew, Recycle center staff, general services, landscapers, and carpenters, to anybody else we can rustle up, load up the gators with shovels, sand, salt, other ice melters, and ice scrapers, and go shovel out all campus buildings on 10 different routes. Not just main entries, but every fire door, wheelchair ramp, garage door, fire escape, basement hatchway, and front and rear door need to be shoveled clear.
On a normal storm, most routes are done by 9:30 or so. Everybody goes back to the service building, cleans their equipment, and scrounges some coffee or hot chocolate. Then they go back to their regular job for the rest of the day.
The landscape crew stays on the snow detail, for a couple of days sometimes. The sidewalks may need to have snow pushed back more, to make room to push off the next snow. Fire hydrants, oil fill spigots, and propane tanks need to be found and cleared. Unoccupied houses still need to be shoveled, along with decks, plazas, and roofs. Even most of the Bicentennial Hall roof gets shoveled off, with a pair of electric snow blowers, so the building doesn’t fill with fumes, and many shovels. Kohn field is cleared of snow for early spring practices and the track is cleared as well.
On average, snow events number about 15 a year. Even a 1 inch storm demands some response-the tolerance on campus is considerably lower than an average driveway. And come spring, all the sand and torn sod needs to be picked up as well. It’s great fun, actually, being part of such a large team of diverse individuals all coming together to move snow. At least for the first couple of storms…