Grounds crew shovels away winter weather

Ben Wolford

A plow clears the way through the freshly fallen snow outside of Bowman Hall yesterday afternoon. DANA BEVERIDGE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

At 6 a.m. on a teeth-rattling winter morning, most students are cocooned in blankets and sleeping.

At 6 a.m. on yesterday’s teeth-rattling winter morning, groundskeeper Liz Sauer was shoveling snow and dropping salt on sidewalks.

During a season when slippery stairs and slopes compound the risk of fall-related injuries, Sauer’s snow shoveling and ice-melting duties become important activities.

“We don’t want you to miss class,” said Heather White, manager of the grounds department on campus in a telephone interview.

From 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., White’s grounds crews are all over campus driving plow tractors or salt trucks, shoveling snow by hand and scattering salt. Her department is responsible for clearing all the roads, parking lots and sidewalks on campus.

To get the job done, White employs the help of six blue tractors with eight-foot plows that can fit on the sidewalks. A pickup truck takes care of the larger straightway sidewalks and drops salt if needed.

For salting roads, the grounds department uses a three-ton dump truck and a one-ton dump truck for smaller service drives.

In one year, the pavement on campus is covered with 1,200 tons of salt, White said.

“Even with all the new sidewalks we’ve added, we haven’t used more,” she said. “I think we’re becoming real good at predicting what we need to get each year.”

By watching the Weather Channel and using interactive maps from the National Weather Service, the grounds department has a pretty good clue about what flurries will head through Kent.

Even so, supervisors are on call 24 hours, ready to send out workers at all hours of the day and night.

“It’s not unheard of for someone to work 16 hours in a day,” White said.

That’s because the entire process rests on the whim of Ohio’s merciless weather changes.

For people like Sauer, one of only a few student groundskeepers, it makes the job a variable one.

“Some days it’s tough and others we just need to throw some salt,” she said.

White said the student employees are mostly in the refuse and recycling program, but if the weather gets wild, it’s “all hands on deck.”

So far this season, White estimates 600 to 800 tons of salt have already been dropped. By comparison, the city of Cleveland drops as much as 70,000 tons of salt on its streets every year, according to WCPN, Cleveland’s National Public Radio station.

In taking preventative measures, the grounds department sets barrels of salt around campus near sidewalks and around building entrances. They like to get that done just before Thanksgiving, White said.

“We could have gotten the snow fences up a little faster,” she said. “We put those up just after Thanksgiving.”

The snow fences, which are mostly found near Loop Road, help to keep snow from drifting onto campus streets.

Sauer said the job can be fun, but “that depends on how much it snows.”

And fun is a relative term, anyway.

For some, 6 a.m. is a time to sleep, but when the campus is blanketed white, grounds crews shed their covers and trade sawing logs for shoveling snow.

Contact features reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].