Landcare preps campus for yearly challenge: Snow

Sometimes, student-workers get 5 a.m. calls to shovel.

Student gardener Rachel Soika trims perennial grasses Tuesday near TCF Bank Stadium.

Marisa Wojcik

Student gardener Rachel Soika trims perennial grasses Tuesday near TCF Bank Stadium.

Yasin Mohamud

In the fall and summer, ground maintenance on campus is about keeping sidewalks clean, leaves raked and flowers blooming in their beds. When winter hits, itâÄôs about making sure students can get to class safely.

Last yearâÄôs winter storms were not kind to Alex Ludwig. He spent it shoveling snow and scraping ice off of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs campus sidewalks.

Ludwig and about 55 other student workers for the UniversityâÄôs Facilities Management Landcare services are gearing up for the winter ahead with safety and equipment briefings until the first sign of snowfall.

Ludwig said he remembers the 5 a.m. wake-up calls from his supervisors last winter.

âÄúWe got called in all the time last year and would have to start shoveling really early,âÄù he said.

Though it wasnâÄôt much fun, he said getting paid time and a half for the first two hours of the shift made it better.

Lester Potts, the departmentâÄôs grounds superintendent who calls himself the âÄúchief weed puller,âÄù said he has been extremely busy this month with preparations for the snowfall.

HeâÄôs been evaluating construction zones to plan the best way to remove snow and setting up orders for plowing contractors.

Potts said removing snow from areas under construction and nearby will be a challenge, but he isnâÄôt too worried and feels they are well prepared.

âÄúWe had a lot of snow last year, but we handled it well, all things considered, and IâÄôm confident that weâÄôre going to be fine this year as well,âÄù Potts said.

While he doesnâÄôt know how much money they will spend on snow removal this year, Potts said it will be a significant portion of Landcare servicesâÄô $2.5 million budget for 2011.

Switching over equipment from the fall to the winter has been another primary task for Potts and other supervisors. He said itâÄôs a long process because thereâÄôs a lot more equipment used in the winter.

During the fall, the department employs about 55 students, but that number drops significantly by the time winter hits.

âÄúWe have a fairly high turnover for our student workers,âÄù Potts said. âÄúThe work is different during the winter and a lot harder, and some students quit because they donâÄôt expect it to be.âÄù

Jacob Fons, a senior political science major who has been working with Landcare services since his freshman year, said he enjoys the job even though it might not seem glamorous to some.

âÄúItâÄôs a solid job, and they are very understanding about our school schedules, so thatâÄôs why IâÄôve been coming back each semester,âÄù Fons said.

He also likes the fact that the job is on campus and that it takes him just a few minutes to report to work.

Ryan Harris, a transfer student majoring in kinesiology, has been with Landcare since the fall and enjoys the short four hour shifts.

âÄúIâÄôve worked in different kinds of landcare facilities before, so I knew what I was going into and what the job entailed,âÄù Harris said.

Harris, who is originally from Iowa, said heâÄôs heard the winter in Minnesota can be brutal but that heâÄôs ready and plans to keep working for Landcare throughout the year.

The student Landcare workers are an âÄúintricate part of the team,âÄù Dustin Koskela, a gardener for the department, said. He gives them a lot of credit for making campus look better.

âÄúOn a daily basis, we have students who go out and check out all the asherons where all the cigarette butts are put and thereâÄôs a lot of trash-picking, especially on game days,âÄù Koskela said.

Koskela manages a team of eight to 10 students who primarily work on the East Bank. He relies on them to help plant and prune around campus.

âÄúThey do a lot of the small things that people donâÄôt really notice, and that keeps our campus looking great,âÄù he said.