Campus crew clears snow in only hours

Crews work day and night to keep campus streets and sidewalks safe.

by Kristina Busch

Despite nearly 9 inches  of fresh snowfall overnight, University of Minnesota students, faculty and staff were still able to maneuver campus easily last Wednesday.
That’s because by 5 a.m., approximately 50 student workers and about 20 crew members of the University’s Facilities Management   had already fanned out across the Twin Cities campus to begin clearing the snow, said Management Supervisor  Jason Grode.  
“This was our biggest event in five years,” he said. “For bigger events, we bring our crew in earlier than normal.”
“We tend to get large amounts of phone calls during events,” he said. “Everyone has expectations that things will get done right away.” 
And although last week’s snowstorm was the busiest stint for Facilities Management so far this year, it’s been a below-average winter for snowfall. 
By the end of January, almost 19 inches  of snow had fallen in the Twin Cities — about 15 inches below average , according to the National Weather Service .
Workers shoveled sidewalks and steps and plowed snow for about two to four hours across campus, Grode said, adding that crews kept the sidewalks and roads safe throughout the day. 
“Pedestrian traffic may make sidewalks icy, so we’ll have salt sanders come in or have trucks put ice melt down,” he said. 
Grode, who is one of three facilities supervisors who oversee the campus’ maintenance, said his job entails monitoring and responding to the local weather forecast. 
Since removing snow can be dangerous — especially for snow truck drivers — Facilities Management avoids traffic accidents by getting the crew on the road early enough to avoid traffic, Grode said. 
When at least 2 inches of snow falls, Rick Skjonsby,  a University gardener and snow-truck driver , gets called in at 5 a.m. to plow a route that trails most campus streets and Harvard Street in front of the University Medical Center .
“I plow for about two or three hours overnight, go home and come back in the morning to work more,” he said.
Even when students aren’t on campus, Skjonsby can be seen plowing vacant roads.
“I have plowed a couple of times on Christmas,” he said. “It’s not like campus closes down. Places like the hospital are still running even without students.”
He said heavy winter storms can worsen driving conditions for Facilities Management employees, too, as their trucks can slip and slide, especially when driving or backing up. 
“We take safety very seriously,” Grode said. “We have safety meetings every winter and discuss how to protect the crew from the elements and frostbite.”