During the winter months, snowy weather becomes embedded in the daily routines of students and staff alike. Snow opens up valuable opportunities, such as pursuit of popular winter sports and outdoor activities, and simultaneously creates challenges for those who live at the college. When a winter storm approaches many students anticipate the coming snow with excitement, preparing to make the trek to Sugarbush or the snowbowl after fresh powder has fallen.
But while students plan their winter sports excursions or hunker down in their dorms to avoid the cold, a huge team works quickly, efficiently and tirelessly to prepare the campus for approaching inclement weather. As a snowstorm approaches, an array of shovel and plow crews run by Facilities Services prepares to clear the campus of impending snowfall.
Clinton “Buzz” Snyder, the college’s landscape supervisor, and Luther Tenny, facilities maintenance and operations director, work together in order to oversee snow removal operations. Snyder has worked at the college for four years and drives a plow during snow removal operations. Tenny has occupied his position for the past 14 years. When word of an impending snow storm emerges, the two decide on the scale and logistics of initiating a removal operation.
“Luther and I stay in close contact because between the two of us, we make the decision and the call on snow,” Snyder said. “We both are constantly looking at the weather.”
Tenny said that he and Snyder consider an array of factors in evaluating how to tackle a typical “snow event.”
“Usually a snow event is when campus is iced over considerably or we’ve gotten more than an inch of snow and we have to check every entry and plow,” he said. “So Clinton and I work together taking all these factors into account. Do we have classes tomorrow? What do we have for events tonight? How many staff members are either unavailable or out sick can tell us how early we need to come in to be campus ready by the morning so folks can come in, park their cars, get to the buildings, get to the dining halls, stuff like that.”
When a typical winter storm hits (Tenny refers to a “typical snow event” as a foot of snow or less), 14 snow plows, each with its own route around campus, as well as ten crews of shovelers, mobilize. Tenny calls workers from a list organized by the distance that the employees live from the college — workers who live in New York are called in earlier than those who live in Middlebury, for example. Plow crews arrive early, around 4:00 a.m., and begin clearing roads and walkways. These crews include both “sidewalk plows” that work to clear walkways and larger plows that work to clear roads and parking lots, both on campus and surrounding campus buildings as far away as Weybridge, Homestead and the Mill. Shovelers arrive two to three hours later and begin clearing the doorways of over 120 college buildings. As ice builds up on walkways, salt has to be laid down.
Steve Santor, who operates a plow for a crew that works on the northern end of campus, said that the early start time allows the plow crews to function most efficiently.
“The idea behind [the early start time] is it’s just less traffic,” Santor said. “We can get out on the sidewalks and roadways where the employees are parking their cars, get that parking lot clear, etc. We can get some of the main sidewalks clear so the shovelers can easily get started maneuvering around when they arrive later.”
The shovelers, who arrive two to three hours after the plow crews, have a grueling job: clearing all entryways by hand.
“Every door has to be cleared,” Snyder said of the shoveler’s work. “Every entry, every ADA ramp. The sidewalk tractors have about 11 miles of sidewalk to do if you want to get into detail. We also have the outside properties, so we’re not just doing the regular campus. We’re doing, you know, the houses down South Street, drives and homes.”
Plow operator Brian Paquette, who works with the north crew along with Santor, said that the snow removal operation has expanded as the size of the college has increased.
“Over just the last five years or so, the campus has grown quite a bit,” he said. “So our workload goes up and our standards go up as well. [Of] some other campuses and other things I’ve seen, we’re definitely up there as far as standards are concerned with safety, snow and ice removal. The first thing we check on every single morning this time of year during the winter is, is there ice? Is there snow? Is everything safe for everybody?”
Tenny said that storms that clash with warm temperatures, which bring ice on the ground and a resulting wealth of safety hazards, are the most challenging to deal with. Fresh, normal snow is much easier to handle.
“I will take a foot of fresh, fluffy snow — it’s so easy to move,” he said. “ The hard storms are the ones like this past Saturday [Jan. 13] where it starts off as rain. It was 57 degrees at 8 o’clock that night, and within a two hour window it dropped to below 32 degrees. And that’s when all of that rain then turns to ice and then sleet.”
Safety is a huge focus for the snow removal staff, which has been injury free for two years, according to Snyder. Snyder said that when a snowstorm hits, there are a number of steps students can take to increase their safety, the safety of those around them, and the ease of the staff’s job. It starts with simple spatial awareness.
“Students should just be aware of us out there,” Snyder said. “We’re driving equipment that’s got lights going, it’s loud, and we literally have to stop, which we should anyway. But there are so many students that will just come out of nowhere and come right around and it’s like, where did that person come from? Be aware, be cautious, stop when you see us working.”