Winter means fewer grounds workers

Tricia Michel

As temperatures start to drop, so does the number of student employees in Facilities Management’s landcare department.

The department got an early glimpse of winter last month when unseasonably cold temperatures brought an early first frost. From now until the first big snow, landcare employees will mulch leaves, stock up on salt, sand and shovels, and convert lawnmowers into snow sweepers.

Facilities Management Grounds Superintendent Les Potts said once weather turns cold, fewer students are interested in working the outdoor jobs.

“Once the weather gets cold, the number of student employees starts dropping dramatically,” he said.

The landcare department employs three supervisors, 17 full-time employees and between 40 and 45 seasonal student employees in the winter.

Potts said the department does not hire more workers during winter and functions with fewer employees compared to other seasons.

During summer, the department hires 65 to 70 seasonal student employees to work 40 hours per week, he said. Those hours are cut in half during fall semester, and many students quit by winter.

The amount of preparation completed before winter depends on weather conditions, Potts said. He said the hardest part is mulching leaves and guessing how long the department can wait before converting lawnmowers into snow sweepers.

Jim Weber has been a gardener for the University for more than 10 years. He said he likes winter better than other seasons because it is easier to stay warm when it is cold than to stay cool when it is hot.

He said chopping sidewalk ice when it is really cold out is the worst job during the winter.

“It just sucks,” he said.

During winter, the three landcare supervisors take turns monitoring weather forecasts and getting up before dawn to activate crews if necessary, Potts said.

Matt Babcock has been a gardener for the University for more than three years. He said he is not bothered by cold temperatures but does not look forward to the early morning wake-up calls.

“The worst is getting up in the morning and getting called in to work,” he said.

Potts said student employees are also subject to early morning work shifts. He said as an incentive, student workers are paid overtime for hours outside their scheduled shifts.

Potts said the past few winters have been mild, which is why he expects a lot of snow this winter.

“I think we’re due for a hard winter, but I thought that last year, too,” he said.