INSIDE IOWA STATE
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
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
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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