Kent State University digs out from two weeks of brutal winter weather

Kent+State+students+make+the+trek+down+snow-slick+sidewalks+near+Williams+Hall+on+Monday%2C+Jan.+24%2C+2022

Matthew Brown

Kent State students make the trek down snow-slick sidewalks near Williams Hall on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

Kent State University students returning to campus for the spring semester were greeted with over 13 inches of snow, icy sidewalks and inaccessible parking lots. 

Over the course of the next week the tough weather continued, making conditions rough for students heading to class.

“It has been absolutely nonstop,” said KSU grounds manager Rebekkah Berryhill. “We’re sitting between 24 and 28 inches of snow within a week period, and about 18 inches of that came in a short period. It’s tough to keep up with that kind of precipitation.” 

Berryhill oversees the grounds crew that maintains the over 950 acres of land on Kent’s campus, including dealing with snow and ice when it falls.

The grounds crew is broken up into positions when winter weather hits. The groundskeepers are in charge of shoveling the snow on staircases and ADA accessible ramps. 

The other position consists of equipment operators, who run higher skilled machines like backhoes, aerial lift trucks and tractors. These workers are in charge of removing the heavier areas of snow on the sidewalks and parking lots. 

Berryhill said when her team headed home for the weekend on Friday, Jan. 14 they had a plan in place for five to eight inches of snow, the amount the forecast was calling for at the time. 

“That obviously didn’t come to fruition,” she said. “We got called early [on Sunday] because the storm came a little bit earlier. We had two staff members report at 6 p.m. It was snowing so hard that we had to call in a third person Sunday night, and we ended up bringing the whole crew in by 4 a.m.” 

Berryhill added that, much like the rest of the country, they are having trouble finding people to apply for open positions specifically in the equipment operator area.

“We have two current open positions and we’ll have a third one open next week,” Berryhill said. “So we go from a crew of 10 down to a crew of seven. And if you have some people coming in overnight, then you’re down to five people trying to maintain campus during the heat of class movement.”

Because Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the grounds crew was scheduled to have the day off.  

“We sent out an opportunity for folks who were going to be off to actually come in and volunteer to get some shoveling done,” Berryhill said. “We had, I think, six or eight of the 20 groundskeepers come in.” 

The department also sent a call out to other maintenance departments to get volunteers to help with shoveling around dining halls and to help dig people out.

Another problem that arose during the cleanup was getting enough people to run the heavy equipment. Workers are only allowed to handle machinery for so many hours, to allow for time off to go home and rest, which meant that there were times the department had very few people to continue removing the snow. 

Workers also had issues coming to work because of the huge amounts of snow on their own roads and driveways. 

“We had a bunch of people who got themselves out of their driveway, got about three hundred yards down down their road and got stuck,” Berryhill said. “And they had to abandon their vehicle and wait for the plow to get through their neighborhood.” 

There were also reports from students and staff that ADA accessible ramps were not being cleared quickly. Students with disabilities who may need those ramps would be unable to enter the school. Berryhill said that things within the department may cause incidents like this to slip through the cracks.

“We may have a call off here or a workplace injury there,” she said. “Say Bob Smith worked all night last night, but Franklin Hall is within his zone. We have to have Jim Brown come over and move from his area and make sure he gets Bob Smith’s area taken care of. So it’s always just a dance of working with great communication.” 

Berryhill encourages students to call the department if they notice uncleared ramps so they can get a worker out there quickly.

Kent State University canceled the first day of classes to give the grounds crew additional time to salt sidewalks and clear parking lots. 

But many students were unhappy to find many areas of campus still snow-covered. Conditions worsened as several more inches of snow fell over the next week.

Jake Rumbaugh, a junior marketing major, has seen some of the parking issues firsthand. 

“With the lots not being plowed, you can’t really see,” Rumbaugh said. “You’ll see a lot of spots where people are just parked in areas like on the road. It’s just packed in really tight.” 

Junior fashion merchandising major Reagan Burke said she hasn’t seen parking as a huge issue this semester.

“I’ve been able to find spots,” she said. “There are so many more people on campus now, so that kind of makes it a little more difficult, but I tend to sneak my way in there.” 

Sidewalks have remained icy late into this week. Temperatures went up into the 40s before dropping back into the 20s, allowing any melted snow to freeze. 

“I’ve almost slipped and fallen a few times today,” Burke said. “But I mean that’s what you expect when it’s snowy and icy out. I feel like they could do a little more with the sidewalks, but campus is massive, so they can’t get everywhere.” 

Rumbaugh added that the sidewalks have been the biggest problem this semester.

“The sidewalks are definitely rough,” he said. “It’s a little bit better now than it was last week. It’s definitely still tough trying to walk on the sidewalk. So there’s a lot of people I’ve seen walking on the roads and stuff.” 

Despite the icy conditions, Burke isn’t upset with the university’s efforts.

“I don’t mind driving this,” Burke said. “I think that’s just me. Like, I’m from PA, so I’ve been driving it my whole life. They’ve done a good job and it’s kind of hard to keep up with it. So, they’re doing the best they can.” 

Rumbaugh said the sidewalks are the only part that remains annoying.

“It’s only irritating when it gets to a point where you literally can’t walk on the sidewalks and you’re on the street,” he said. “That gets to a point where it’s annoying because there’s people driving, but there’s also people that don’t have cars that need to get to places.” 

Berryhill said the grounds crew will always work hard to maintain the university through tough snow storms like this. 

“We are absolutely focused on trying to get folks to where they need to go,” she said. “It is a herculean task to try and take care of it all.”

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]