Staff Undeterred by Late Winter Storm

By Emily Singer

A late winter blizzard on Thursday, March 13 blanketed the campus with over a foot of snow. Despite treacherous roads, high winds and inaccessible sidewalks, the College conducted daily operations as usual, albeit with a limited staff.

Many of the College’s staff members were unable to come to work due to impassable roads or had to stay home with their children because schools were closed for the day.

Before sunrise on Thursday, facilities services began clearing emergency access areas from buildings on campus. According to Assistant Director of Maintenance and Operations Luther Tenny, there are typically 14 equipment operators and 30 hand shovelers clearing snow across campus. Depending on the day, custodial teams in certain buildings may also offer assistance in removing snow.

“Thursday was not a typical storm,” Tenny wrote in an email. “Many staff were unable to make it in because of the drifting snow but thankfully most of our plow operators were here. We also utilized two additional pieces of heavy equipment (a backhoe and a front-end loader) through a local contractor for help.”

“For shovel crews we had about 25 working most of the day moving snow from the entries,” Tenny added. Non-essential tasks, such as plowing less-trafficked sidewalks, were left for either late Thursday afternoon or Friday.

While Facilities Services staff was busy ensuring that the College’s roads were clear, surrounding routes were not so accessible.

“One of my employees was heading out on Wednesday afternoon and almost went off the road at ‘The Ledges’ on Route 125 just a few miles west of here,” wrote Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette in an email. “Others reported not being able to see the road and when they did, they were in the wrong lane. Bottom line, it was white out conditions and very dangerous to drive or walk.”

Biette began preparing for Thursday’s storm over two days before it hit, contacting suppliers and making purchases days in advance with the concern that the storm was going to hinder travel.

“The bakery had already delivered breakfast and lunch products for Thursday on Wednesday, the Proctor salad preparation was stocked up and the refrigerators and stock rooms were full with a double order to be sure our students would be taken care of,” said Biette.

“Our staffing on a regular day is enough to produce the various foods and extras offered each day — everyone’s day is full,” Biette wrote, alluding to the Panini presses in Proctor being shut off and the Proctor Fireplace Lounge remaining locked on Thursday to allow staff to focus on more important tasks at hand.

When Biette left for work on Thursday morning, the sidewalks in town were inaccessible. By 6 a.m., Facilities Services had already begun digging pathways on campus.

“Arriving at the dining rooms and kitchens, I was surprised and happy to see very few people out and/or late,” Biette wrote. “In some areas, schedules were changed so those who lived closer [to the College] were [given] opening [shifts], thus giving those who lived farther away more time to make it to work safely.”

Custodial Services was not as fortunate as Dining Services — out of 80 custodial staff, 43 were unable to come to work because of the weather and another 10 had scheduled the day off in advance.

When attendance is low, “staff are reassigned to buildings other than those they normally work in if another team is very short [on people],” Assistant Director of Custodial Services Sylvia Manning wrote in an email.

Dining and residence halls were prioritized over most academic buildings on Thursday, and priority tasks included checking for hazards such as broken items, checking trash bins and restocking paper products in restrooms.

Due to impassible road conditions, Parton Center for Health and Wellness was unable to open at its usual 8 a.m. hour for the first time ever. In past years, and only on very rare occasions, Parton has closed early or announced limited hours because of the weather.

The first staff member arrived at 9:30 a.m., and more people arrived as they were able to, said Administrative Director of the Parton Center for Health and Wellness Terry Jenny. By 10:30 a.m., there was sufficient staff for Parton to open its doors.

“Everyone does their best to get in on time and as soon as they can,” Jenny said, noting that safety is a priority and that staff members across campus put in maximum effort to ensure that operations run smoothly.

While Parton was delayed in opening, its back-up network of health and counseling services was activated and advertised.

“When the need is urgent and Parton Counseling is closed, students can get the help they need by reaching out to Public Safety … or to the Addison County emergency team or Porter Hospital,” Director of Counseling Services Ximena Mejia wrote in an email. “We always have a counselor on call … and during unexpected closures, we check our phone messages and emails several times each hour.”

While the snow prevented some from arriving at work, many braved treacherous roads and white-out conditions to arrive at the College.

“Bottom line is there is a tremendously dedicated staff who brave the elements to get here when it is necessary,” wrote Biette. “Thankfully, everyone arrived safely.”