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Snow removal heroes go above and beyond: Clearing campus with care

| Denise Olson

If there is one good thing to say about February, it would have to be that it's over. Even the sweetest of Valentine's Days cannot redeem last month in western Wisconsin.

While we just may want to forget it all, this record-breaking winter will be providing anecdotes for years to come, so we have some snow stories of our own to share. The following are just a few of the eye-popping stats that paint a picture of the heroic efforts of the Blugold grounds crews in clearing snow and ice over the last five weeks.

Crew fast facts

  • UW-Eau Claire's Facilities department has a crew of eight for snow removal — seven groundskeepers and one mechanic for the eight snow-removal vehicles.
  • A crew of four is dedicated to sidewalks, two to roads and parking lots, one for salting sidewalks, and one for salting lots and roads.
  • For the last few pay periods, most of the crew members worked an average of 60-70 hours each week, never having more than one day off between events. Several people worked 14 days in a row, had one day off, then worked another 14 days straight.
  • The typical start time for crews during these snow events has been 2 a.m., ending anywhere between 2 and 6 p.m.

Quick math check: That's approximately 875 overtime hours based on those averages.

Campus fast facts

The ground covered in these snow removal efforts consists of:

  • Roughly 16 miles of sidewalk.
  • Just over one million square feet of parking lot surface, equal to 23.5 acres.
  • Eight major staircases totaling 409 steps, all hand cleared by shovel.

For the first time ever, it became necessary to have snow hauled off campus by an excavation company, hired to remove a total of 450 dump truck loads of snow from parking lots. 

These numbers are only part of the overall picture of what goes into the monumental task that has been facing these crews for over a month. The real wild cards that impact how "removed" the snow and ice can actually be at any given time of day are many, but the most critical factors are:

  • Total accumulation.
  • What time the snow starts and ends — working while people are on campus slows the process by three or four times.
  • Temperature and amount of sunshine, as salt will not work in temperatures below 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The bottom line is that with the accumulation numbers we saw in February, it would have required four to five consecutive 12-hour days for crews to fully clear the entire campus, and there were multiple occurrences of only two days between major snow events. Mother Nature was not giving out any free passes.

One further complication of de-icing efforts has to do with the new cement in the entire Garfield Avenue pedestrian mall. Full strength de-icing products cannot be used for two years on new cement, or there will be damage to the surface. It has been difficult to achieve the desired results with the allowable products during this window, and sand has been used to provide additional traction. 

We all have our own stories about how the weather personally impacted us, from the hours spent on our own sidewalks and driveways and kids missing multiple school days, to driving and walking challenges or mishaps. One way we all get through times like these is by sharing these tales of our weather woes — after all, misery loves company.

It's worth sharing one specific story of a Blugold groundskeeper who epitomizes the dedication and work ethic that these hard-working staff members have been demonstrating.

On the night of the worst snowstorm on Feb. 24, deemed a blizzard with the wind factor, Eau Claire County shut down its plowing operation at 6 p.m., but our crew kept working for several more hours. When crew member Scott Holbrook attempted to drive home, he found totally impassible roads. He returned to campus and rather than rest in the Facilities offices, he went back to work and continued clearing snow and ice until 9 a.m., putting in well over 24 hours straight.

As March rolls by, hopefully more like a lamb than a lion, please take a moment to thank a grounds crew member if you pass them on a sidewalk or in a parking lot. These folks do their very best day in and out to ensure that the work of being students, faculty and staff can go on in any weather. That's what Blugolds do.