Iowa State University nameplate

Inside Iowa State
Gold bar
March 9, 2001

Winter's toll is more than zapped spirits

by Debra Gibson
The arrival of spring break lets you hope that spring may arrive soon after. Probably nobody is more hopeful than Iowa State's facilities crews. As the mercury plummeted this winter, the costs and workload climbed for ISU's facilities maintenance department.

First, though, the good news. The majority of the campus is warmed by steam heat, which is generated by burning coal. Though there have been some price increases associated with transporting the Kentucky coal to campus (from barges on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to truck delivery from Davenport), "we are largely insulated from significantly higher costs," said David Miller, director of campus utilities.

According to Miller, the campus typically spends $7 million each year for steam and about $8 million each year on electricity. Those rates should remain stable for this fiscal year.

Some areas of campus, though, are heated by natural gas. Those areas include the Administrative Services building, library storage building and new Hawthorn Court development. Natural gas also heats the Veterinary Medical Research Institute (VMRI) and nearby ISU farms. Miller estimates heating bills for those facilities will increase by about $100,000.

Snow removal costs have nearly doubled for the university. In each of the past three years, ISU has spent from $190,000 to $210,000 on expenses associated with clearing sidewalks and parking lots. This year, Miller estimates those costs at around $370,000.

"From Dec. 4 until Dec. 23, we were moving snow every single day," Miller said. "That was seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours per day."

While much of the increased costs relate to additional labor, other price tags also added up. For instance, on two different occasions, snow removal crews ran out of the salt used to break up ice. Surrounding communities, the city of Ames and the Iowa Department of Transportation all provided extra salt for the campus.

On one recent icy, rainy Friday, ISU maintenance workers spread 60 tons of sand on university properties. At $44 per ton, that's a $2,640 price tag just for supplies -- for only one day. Factored into this year's expenses as well are increased maintenance costs for machinery.

"Moving all this snow and ice has been very hard on our equipment," Miller explained. And on floors -- sand collects on the soles of boots and shoes, causing scuffing, scratching and some permanent damage to carpets and floor coverings all over campus.

Then there are the leaks. Due to record snowfalls and persistent ice, natural "dams" have sprung up that pool water at elevations that constrict drainage. This has led to a number of leaking roofs, with water draining "at least a foot above the normal roof levels," Miller said. In addition, high winds accompanying blizzards have pushed snow through grills and into buildings' ductwork. Once the snow melts, leaks occur indoors "like we've never seen before," Miller said.

"We think pipes are leaking, but eventually we find out it's all the snow piled up inside the duct work."

As the campus waits for thaws, buds and blooms, Miller cautions that permanent damage from this winter's weather may continue to show up in the least likely places.

"For example, as you walk around campus, you'll begin to see the tremendous amount of damage done by our rabbit population," he said. "They had a very prolific spring last year, and because of all the snow and ice, they have not had access to food this winter. They've shifted to plant materials with softer bark, and you'll see that we have a large number of plants on this campus now completely stripped of bark. This damage can be seen three feet up, based on how high the snow was piled."

... Becoming the Best
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.