U snow plowers clear paths for students

by Heather Fors

When it’s snowing in the morning, University plowers know their day will be long. Some get up at 1 a.m., scraping the road two or three times before laying down sand and salt to give drivers traction.
If there is a campus event, the night will be busy. The crew will work extra hours to clear the surrounding area. But this is just a typical night for a University plower.
And while the University community might not see them working, the results are usually well-appreciated.
There are more than 60 University snow removal members. They are joined by zonal workers, who take care of individual building maintenance. Contract plowers are called in after three inches of snowfall.
“We all kind of work together,” said Bill Palmer, a University maintenance and operational mechanic who shovels the sidewalks around the University Aquatic Center and Cooke Hall.
Removing the snow from the University’s seven parking ramps, 144 parking lots and 46 miles of sidewalk is a long and slow process, employees said. After the snow begins to fly, it takes up to three hours just to get organized.
Joe McIntosh, a University gardener and snow plower, said for a typical snow storm he comes in at about 3 a.m. and can have things in good shape by the time classes start.
However, problems arise when snow continues falling throughout the day. When this happens the primary concern is getting the bulk of it off the streets, he said. Later they have to return to finish the job, often doubling or tripling their work time.
Clearing the streets and other paved surfaces takes 24 to 48 hours beyond the time for the land crews to clear the sidewalks, said Art Kistler, maintenance and operation supervisor for Parking and Transportation Services.
For a three- to six-inch snow fall, the sidewalk maintenance goal is to have a clear path for pedestrians eight hours after the snow stops. However, they need another 16 to 24 hours to totally clear all the snow from the sidewalks, said Lester Potts, a ground support member for Facilities Management.
And when all this snow builds up, where to put it is a major question, Potts said.
Years ago the University was able to dump snow and debris into the Mississippi River. Now legal restrictions stemming from potential environmental harm prohibits this option.
Michael Ramolae, assistant director for Parking and Transportation Services, said because the University is landlocked, finding a place for excess snow isn’t easy. He and Potts have looked for possible dumping sites on and near campus during the summer.
Last year they toured the railroad yard near the Minneapolis campus looking for spots to lease. “We’re competing for resources for the metro area,” Potts said.
The plowing competition also extends onto the roads when the snow falls during the day. Snow removal officials agreed that it is much easier to clear the streets and sidewalks in early morning or late night because there are fewer pedestrians and cars.
McIntosh said about 99 percent of the pedestrians and cars are very good at getting out of his way.
The other 1 percent might be those who don’t know about the University’s snow removal procedures, officials said.
The roads, access to parking lots, sidewalks, steps to buildings, disability entrances and curb cuts, are plowed in this order. These areas can be taken care of at once by different people, but some are done sooner.