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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Jan. 26, 2007

Snow keeps campus services busy

by Erin Rosacker

on campus

photo by Bob Elbert.

The equipment is fueled up and ready. The forecast is constantly changing, but whatever the next snow event brings, the campus services division of facilities planning and management is ready to go. With about 50 employees firing up an assortment of vehicles and grabbing shovels, the fun begins before the snowflakes fall.

It starts with a supervisor - one of four who rotate on-call duties for one week of each month. Knowing what is happening on campus, such as an event at Hilton Coliseum, makes a difference in the plan of attack and how many people will be needed. Of course, the amount of snow that actually falls also dictates the plan.

"Our goal is six hours to have things open and ready to pedestrians and vehicle traffic," said Les Lawson, campus services manager. "Everybody has his or her own route, so it's all happening simultaneously. The streets are getting plowed, the parking lots. We're brooming the sidewalks, shoveling doorways, that kind of thing."

Lawson says they don't count on the varying forecasts, but instead react to actual snowfall. It isn't until the snowflakes start hitting the ground that the plan starts to unfold.

"We watch the radar pretty close," Lawson said. "It's usually about an inch in the parking lot before we start doing anything. With sidewalks, doorways, it's more of a skiff - a quarter or half inch - when we start."

Timing is everything

Procedures literally change with the weather. A weekend storm is treated differently than one during the week. A daytime snowfall is different from one that starts during the night.

For instance, last weekend's snow started falling about 10 p.m. Saturday. Campus services got a breather due to the late hour and then geared up operations around 2:30 a.m., calling in crews to start the removal - an easier task than plowing and shoveling during the usual work day.

"It gives us a little more time," Lawson said. "We don't have as much traffic on main campus. The dorms are busy all of the time, so we try to concentrate more on that and then move into central campus."

This snowstorm threw the old one-two punch, though. After getting nearly everything cleared, the crew had to start over when another round of heavier snow began falling at 6 a.m.

"If it snows continuously, we just keep going," Lawson said. "Each snow is different."

A snowplow's work is never done

When the initial snow removal is completed, the next task is to get rid of the mounds of snow piled throughout campus. Phase two of the plan sends the crews back out on their routes to haul off the impromptu sledding hills in the parking lots and push the mounds of shoveled snow farther from doorways.

"It's a week or better process with a snow like this, to get everything to where they're satisfied with their route," Lawson said.

After 22 years of battling the elements, Lawson recalls the worst-timed snowstorm from two years ago, which hit just as students were returning to campus after winter break.

"All of the parking lots were messed up and we just had a mess," Lawson said.

And his least favorite spot to tackle is Hilton Coliseum and the Iowa State Center lots.

"There's just an awful lot of parking lot down there and if it's storming during a game or whatever, that's the toughest," Lawson said.

Just the stats

What is cleared

  • 23 miles of road
  • 34 miles of sidewalks and paths
  • 162 acres of parking lots

Equipment used

  • 16 units (trucks/tractors) that broom or blade sidewalks
  • 3 pickup trucks mounted with sidewalk sanders
  • 1 sander for streets
  • 14 units with blades for plowing roads/parking lots
  • 1 loader (to clean docks)
  • 19 hand shoveling routes