In Depth

OPP Readies for Another New England Winter

Fallen tree branches, icy steps and snowy pathways transform the campus into a beautiful, but treacherous landscape-a frozen expanse that the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP) is charged with making safe for students. Ron Johnson, Grounds and Vehicles Manager, is in charge of snow removal on campus. He said, “[The crew] will come in no matter what time it is, to start snow removal. We usually start plowing when there’s two inches of snow on the ground.” “We get a lot of overtime work we have to do… the snow has to be addressed whenever the storm occurs.” said Johnson. He said that grounds employees come in on evenings and weekends to clear snow. Johnson continued, “Right before Christmas we had the ice storm, and then we had back-to-back snow storms. Some of our crew was here for long hours, probably 18 hours. In long events, our crew actually has to be here around the clock… it is a challenge in the winter.” A typical snowy day, according to Johnson, requires the grounds workers to check the locks around campus to make sure they did not ice up overnight and to make sure all the roads, walks and steps are clear of ice and snow. Depending on the morning’s agenda, this campus check-up takes about one to two hours. However, “plans can change based on what the weather is,” said Michael Williams, Director of Facilities. Snow and ice storms can alter the check-up schedule. “Every storm has a different profile. Everything is based on what the profile of the storm looks like, whether or not it is a snowstorm,” said Williams. He said that clean-up efforts change for snow, sleet or rain. Said Johnson, “The average [amount of salt used per year] is probably around 25-30 tons.” There is one large plow that clears all of the campus roads, including Chapel Avenue and Old Campus Road. Johnson said that the ground crews use about two tons of ice melt, which comes in 50-pound bags and is placed on walks and steps around campus. He continued, “Our priority list consists of buildings that students use the most: the library, Uncommons [and] GW.” Williams said, “We also [change] the electrical shift coverage to make sure that we have some voltage electricians on campus in case we do lose power. That kind of coordination between various departments falls in part to me.” Johnson said, “Safety is a priority. I think that we’ll just have to use more discretion with spending. Salt prices have gone up a little bit, it’s kind of a balancing act to get everything accomplished.” “We’re lucky here because we have a reasonable budget,” said Williams. “Our top priority here, and for any operation like ours, is to make sure that everyone’s safe and that people aren’t falling.”