Onset of winter means change of pace for grounds department

Kevin Kolus

As winter looms toward Kent State, the grounds department readies itself the way it does every year – one task at a time.

Grounds manager Heather White said that as far back as September the grounds department had already fixed plows onto tractors, placed 70 salt bins on campus and ordered 1,200 tons of salt. This amount of salt will last them all year and is the usual amount they order, she said.

“We’re working one season ahead, unless it’s snowing 24 hours a day,” White said.

The grounds department plans for winter in advance so it’s not overwhelmed when snow does fall. Although winter doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 21, last year’s initial snowfall gave reason for early preparation.

“Last year we got a lot of snow in December and a majority of our snow removal began on Dec. 2,” White said. “It is not unheard of for someone to be out on Christmas Eve making sure the roads are safe around here.”

Groundskeeper Liz Sauer said she does not look forward to the packed ice and snow that covers campus each year. Some sidewalks and steps have to be hand-chiseled and shoveled where large equipment can’t reach.

“Chipping ice hurts your back,” she said. “Snow gets heavy while shoveling.”

Snow also makes litter pickup nearly impossible, Sauer said, because trash gets buried. The grounds department starts work at 6 a.m. during winter, making it more difficult for her because she can’t see well in the darkness.

“I’m going to enjoy the nice weather because it’s not going to last,” she said.

Even without snowfall, the grounds department has “ample work,” White said.

During this current trend of mild weather, 1,800 man-hours have been spent picking up leaves left behind from the estimated 4,000 trees on campus, she said. Also, they are working on gardens and decorative grasses, such as those found on the hillside by Lake Hall, to make spring work easier. Almost 600 man-hours are spent cutting down those grasses before weather turns poor.

However, in the midst of snowfall, everything stops.

“If it snows tonight, everyone will be on plows and shovels,” White said. “If it snows all day and overnight, someone will be out after hours making sure the roads are safe.”

Last winter, leaves that had been piled for collection were abandoned when snowfall began and weren’t cleaned up until March. The grounds department had to “break the ice off and start over,” she said.

Other workers affected by winter are independent contractors who do construction on campus.

Dan Dufala, laborer of Cavanaugh Building, which is building a patio and bus shelter between the ROTC building and C-Midway, said winter is only a problem once the ground freezes.

“It’s not going to get super cold yet,” he said. “The ground is still 50 degrees. Once the snow hits, it instantly melts.”

In construction, snowfall is just an element to work around and doesn’t present a challenge, Dufala said.

“You just got to push it off and keep working,” he said.

The grounds department tries to follow the same mentality, but the non-stop growth of campus hampers the work that needs to be done, White said.

With the addition of Stopher and Johnson Halls, the work will become even more intense this winter for the two groundskeepers assigned to the complex. The stairways leading to the bottom of Stopher Hall have to be shoveled, and White said those steps might be blocked off this winter to take the workload off of the groundskeepers.

“We’re really overloading the plate for someone who is shoveling steps,” she said.

These problems arise due to the growth of campus yet diminished size of the grounds department, White said. The speed at which the campus is cleaned this winter will have to be sacrificed to meet the budget of the grounds department.

“I’m not expanding our staff and (the university’s) changing the face of campus,” she said. “(They’re) drawing out the process. Something, somewhere needs to give, and right now it’s time-expectations.”

Contact building and grounds reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].

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