University plowers clear the way

Facilities Management is responsible for plowing on campus.

At 5 a.m., while most of the campus is fast asleep, a select crew of University employees fights flurries and the cold to clear the University’s roads and walkways.

Acting as the University’s gardeners and landscapers in the warmer months, they put in grueling winter hours as they fight snow, ice, wind and cold to keep the University operating through its worst snow emergencies.

When the snow comes, workers for Facilities Management’s Department of Landcare jump in their trucks to plow the University area.

“When the snow’s heavy, we come out as early as 3 a.m.,” department employee Jim Weber said. “We have a proactive stance on taking care of snow. We head out as soon as there’s snow on the sidewalks.

“We like to get the streets cleared by 7 a.m.”

On call day and night

Weber and company, whose duties during the rest of the year include pruning, equipment maintenance and waste disposal, are on call day and night to respond as the weather warrants.

“We stay through evening hours until everyone is gone. Sometimes, we stay as late as 10 or 11 at night,” Weber said. “Then, we come back in the morning and hit it again.”

Yet, some Facilities Management employees said they don’t seem bothered by a routine that involves working early morning shifts and, in some cases, even holidays.

“I enjoy working in the morning. I get a lot more done,” Weber said. “It doesn’t matter when the snow falls. I’ve worked weekends, and I’ve even worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve before.”

Doug Lauer, Facilities Management department supervisor, said crews work year-round. In the winter, 40 to 45 students work, and in the summer, 70 work, he said.

“The students make up a big labor part,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Aside from snow, ice is considered just as important.

Weber said, “Freezing rain or any ice conditions we treat as proactive as snow, if not more so.”

Clearing up notions about a hazardous job

In addition to early mornings and cold weather, there are misunderstandings about how workers do their jobs and how important they are.

One misunderstanding is the speed at which their trucks plow.

“It’s one of the misconceptions,” Weber said. “People think we’re flying through, (but) it’s part of what we have to do.”

Jumping out of his truck to shovel snow from a doorway, Weber said another issue is respect.

“Students don’t always understand why we even go out when there is only half an inch of snow on the sidewalks,” he said. “But someone in a wheelchair or crutches will.

“They just don’t get what it takes to get the job done.”

Plowing can also prove to be a hazardous profession for both people and machinery.

“I’ve sprained my wrist and bruised my sternum,” Weber said after a snowstorm two weeks ago, as the vibrations from his metal plow shook his truck.

“You have to be careful of manhole covers. If you hit one of those, you see stars. People get hurt. They can also break the plows.

“The blizzard of 1991 was definitely the worst I’ve ever seen. I can’t even describe it. I worked 150 hours that week.”

Aside from the hours, conditions, risk of injury and extreme cold, Weber said, the job is still a very enjoyable one.

“I’ve been in this line of work for 26 years,” he said. “You choose a profession because of the things you like to do. And like anything else, a person should take pride in their work.

“I help people the best I can.”

– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]