Snow is as familiar to Wisconsinites as cheese and beer. It is part of our culture, our heritage and our sleepy Sunday mornings when we have to gear up to shovel our sidewalks. It is bad enough doing it for one driveway, but imagine doing that for an entire campus.
The university has about 40 acres of parking lots and almost 12 miles of sidewalks that need to be completely cleared of snow and ice for the safety of students, faculty and staff. The snow removal crew works from midnight some nights until seven in the morning to clear it all.
“We try to get everything clean by 7:15,” said superintendent for the buildings and grounds Chris Brindley. “The sidewalks and parking lots are cleared before the students even step outside.”
Brindley is an alumnus of Stevens Point himself and is familiar with the campus.
There are five full-time snow removal staff members and five alternates who cycle through the shifts. Snow removal is often the second job of some alternates.
A staff member is assigned a truck and a truck is assigned an area. A color-coded map dictates where the truck has to clear snow.
The process is also prioritized. The heating plant is plowed first because it is essential to the university. Then the faculty lots are cleared, paying special attention to handicap spots. Debot is also prioritized for the early morning semis delivering food.
The snow plays a large part in determining the amount of time and effort it takes to clear it. It all depends if the snow is heavy, wet, light or flakey.
This week’s big snowfall, which was about three inches, still took the staff all night to clear. They started around three in the morning.
One parking lot alone takes a couple of hours. Brindley stated that a snowfall of nine inches would take six or seven hours to clear.
Careful consideration is taken of the students and staff at all times. Snow in the lots is pushed away from the buildings and out of the way of pedestrians.
Though it may be annoying to hear a snow plow grinding and scraping, it is optimal to work at night for the crew to avoid foot traffic and cars.
“This has been a harsh winter,” Brindley said. “The students sometimes get frustrated, but we have an awesome crew. They’ve never let me down.”
However, their job still is not done even after the snow has been cleared. Salt has to be sprinkled on the sidewalks and parking lots to help melt the ice and give walkers good grip. Salt is not a guarantee and if the temperatures are too cold it does not work as effectively as it should.
The grounds crew has tried experimenting with different substances besides salt, such as liquid deicers and even molasses, but nothing has seemed to work as well as salt.
Still more needs to be done after the salt is down. The staff works on widening the sidewalks and streets by taking snow blowers and moving the snow farther out. This not only gives the people walking more room,
but makes way for the next snowfall. The crew also cleans up the spaces between stalls and curbs when there is no new snow.
“It’s endless,” said Brindley. “But we really do a great job.”
Trucks are equipped with blades, the big ones being 8 feet long and the smaller ones coming in at 7 feet, 6 inches. The smaller trucks are used for sidewalks while the big ones tackle parking lots. Some trucks have v-blades, which can widen and tilt, making it easy to direct the snow. Others have straight blades, which can also tilt left or right.
The biggest difficulty, according to Brindley, is maneuvering around obstacles such as cars parked overnight.
The snow removal crew is not the only group on campus that deserves recognition for their hard work. The custodians also maintain a safe campus by shoveling the building entrances and walkways.
When asked what his favorite part of the job was, Brindley stated that it was seeing people jog and walk on the clean surfaces that makes him proud.