Salt Shortage and Safety Challenge Snow Crew

For David Orr, Cedarville’s director of landscaping and grounds maintenance, the onset of winter means more than runny noses and extra layers. For Orr and the rest of the maintenance crew, the change of seasons brings long days of battling the wind and snow to keep campus safe.

The process begins in September, Orr said, when he begins monitoring the forecast for the coming winter. Then, the crew begins to prepare the equipment used for clearing roads and sidewalks, getting all 12 pieces of equipment ready for carrying salt and plowing snow, which usually takes three to four weeks.

“Then snow comes, and what happens is we look at the forecast really hard,” he said. “I’ll watch it, and then what happens is, usually the night before, I’ll get a snow plan ready. That’s all the people and personnel and what they’re going to be doing.”

Once winter begins, this team of over 20 people collaborate to keep campus clear. The team’s work begins long before the rest of campus awakes, which sometimes, depending on the amount of snow and ice, is just hours after curfew.

“We usually show up on campus anywhere between 2:30 and 4 o’clock in the morning,” Orr said. “And there we’re usually going at about 4 o’clock.”

When campus is hit with significant snow, around five inches and up, campus clean-up usually takes about a day, with a three-day recovery period, Orr said. This includes clearing over seven miles of sidewalk, every exit and fire exit for campus buildings, roads, parking lots, married housing and the president’s house.

“You don’t really think about campus being too big until you get on a tractor and start plowing it,” he said.

But the hardest part of working against winter’s effects, Orr said, is refreeze.

“Ice is the hardest to deal with because the only thing we can do is salt, and we’ve got to wait for the salt to work,” he said. “With snow we can plow it off and put brine down and we’re usually in good shape.”

Winter challenges

An additional hardship came this winter in the form of a nationwide salt shortage. The unusually harsh winter created a higher demand last year, Orr said, and put the salt mines behind in this year’s quota.

“We only have about two-thirds of the salt we used last year,” he said. “Last year, we used about 100,000 pounds of salt and right now we only have about 60,000.”

Some crews in the surrounding areas have used a beet juice compound to supplement the shortage, but because of the high cost, Cedarville continues to use a water and salt brine mix to melt the ice and snow.

When dealing with constant snowfall throughout the day, Orr said the crew does its best to keep everything clear until the snow stops, then they go back to do a more thorough clean-up.

“When it’s snowing through the day, things look sloppy and not the way we want it, but it’s what we have to do in that case,” he said. “When it stops, we’ll get everything cleaned up then.”

In addition to dealing with weather issues, the crew also faces practical challenges, such as equipment breakdowns and long and intense work schedules, some weeks even demanding over 60 hours of work. Most days, Orr said, the crew are on the tractors for 12 to 15 hours.

So, when bad weather causes cancellations or delays, the crew gets a small break.

“It probably pulls some pressure off of us, because we have that delay or closing,” he said. “Usually, if there’s not a delay, we have to be ready by about 7 to 8 o’clock, at least opened up and safe.”

Combatting the Worst Weather

When dealing with weather severe enough to warrant cancellations or delays, Doug Chisholm, director of campus safety, has his own procedures and long hours to deal with.

“When we hear bad weather is coming our way, we try to be proactive and start following the storm and the news at least a day before,” he said. “As early as possible, we start the monitoring process.”

Chisholm said he works with other faculty and colleges in the area to decide whether the incoming weather calls for a delay or cancellation.

“We begin to look closely at the progress of the storm,” he said. “We continue that process, and if it looks really imminent and looks 100 percent sure that we’re going to have a major, major event, we try to cancel or call in a delay the day or the evening before.”

When making these decisions, Chisholm said he has to account for factors such as the safety of student commuters, faculty and staff when driving to school.

“We realize that a certain number of students and faculty and staff have to drive in, so that’s a big factor because we’re concerned about people’s safety,” he said. “So, if we have a delay, that’s because we want to give them an additional chance to get in safe to work or for the public roads to get cleared and salted, giving them additional opportunity.”

But even if campus is closed because of winter conditions, some parts of the school have to remain open to service the students who live on campus. Main areas, such as the cafeteria and the SSC, always remain open, he said, and they try to open the library and rec center to give students something to do.

“Being an on-campus university, we realize that even if we close, we still have to have a certain number of personnel that we hopefully can get in-town here or through student workers that can still come in,” he said.

Cedarville has had the same procedures in place for several years, but the last two winters have introduced a new factor to consider.

“We continue to tweak certain things, but the policy has pretty much been in effect for the last four years,” Chisholm said. “The wind chill was kind of a newer thing to hit us last year. We hadn’t experienced that in a long time. Usually it’s snow or ice.”

Another important factor in the consideration, Chisholm said, is liability.

“We have to take all liability issues into consideration, too,” he said. “When we do have a delay or a closing and we tell people to stay away, we really want them to stay away because of the fact that one, we need to clear parking lots and sidewalks off, but we also don’t want to be responsible for anyone falling or hurting themselves. We’re trying to make things as safe as possible for you.”

Student Awareness

Chisholm also recommended that students confirm that they are signed up for the mass notification system so they can receive any messages about closings and delays. He encouraged students to be aware of the weather forecast so they can be prepared for whatever the day may bring.

“Students really need to go in and kind of monitor what’s going on,” he said. “And take some responsibility for themselves to monitor online what is happening.”

Emily Finlay is a senior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She loves writing, reading, making obscure references in normal conversation and every type of geekery.

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