College landscapers continue to work amidst campus shutdown

By Porter Bowman

Emmanuel Tamrat
The Main Quad in October 2019.

As the college posts nostalgic images on its social media accounts, Midd Kids reminisce about the rolling green landscape that typically starts to emerge in the final weeks of the school year. Even with most students gone, college landscape workers remain hard at work maintaining the campus.

The landscaping team was one of the first to resume work after the college’s shutdown, but keep a limited staff due to state guidelines from Vermont Governor Phil Scott.

Out of the 12 landscape staff members, I am now rotating five landscapers a day,” said Clinton “Buzz” Snyder, the college’s supervisor of landscape services.

Snyder and his team have returned to their work on the campus’ landscaping needs, and on other projects as needed. The team’s work provides a glimpse into how collaborative work has continued while maintaining social distancing procedures.

“I meet with them every morning to discuss the daily tasks at hand,” said Snyder.  “We meet outside 20 feet apart, then they go off individually on their gators to work alone or with their group but keeping their distance on the grounds.”

Snyder discussed how these cautionary measures and social distancing have become the norm in every part of their daily routine. For example, workers must wear a mask and gloves to retrieve tools inside the Facilities building, or have the option to use the same tools for the week and keep them in their gators and personal vehicles.  According to members of the landscaping team, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies are also available for their use on the job.

“The gators’ seats and steering wheels are wiped down after every use to eliminate any cross contamination,” Snyder said.  “Lunch is taken in their personal vehicles and to communicate besides from our morning meeting we use our cell phones.”

The new guidelines appear to be working quite well for the team, who see little interruption in their work.  Landscapers remarked that on a big campus, it’s easy to practice social distancing.

“If we’re not safe landscaping and working outside, we’re not safe anywhere,” said landscaper Todd Weedman. “My wife is in more danger going to the grocery store than I am going to work.”

Weedman and fellow landscaper Taylor Quesnel added that some of the day-to-day work has lightened with the campus closure. They said that campus lawns don’t need to be mowed as often and as precisely as they would be in preparation for a spring Commencement. Additionally, the typical spring work of mulching and planting in flower beds will likely be reduced or eliminated and instead will focus on weeding.

“Besides preparing for the spring events, most of the work being done remains the same as when students were here,” said Quesnel. “The real challenge is trying to get all of our work done with less guys at a time.”

The cutback in shifts and hours has also been a transition for the landscaping team.  

Landscaper Aaron Pelkey said that staff are given five shifts over the course of a two week schedule, with three shifts one week and then two shifts the next. For Pelkey, whose wife works with the elderly and cannot take time off as an essential employee, this current part-time schedule has been more than ideal for him and his family in the time being.

“I get to work part time while also getting the chance to be home a lot more with my kids and help them keep their grades up,” said Pelkey.

Quesnel felt similarly. Both he and his wife balance their part-time work schedule with taking care of their two young children, whose daycare facility remains closed.

Weedman expressed that with the guidelines currently in place, he feels the staff can be ready to work at full capacity whenever Gov. Scott begins to ease restrictions.

“We’re working about 50% of the time, but full time would be ideal,” Weedman said.  “I feel that we can do that now and be safe.”

Additionally, according to Quesnel, the landscaping team typically takes on three to five seasonal workers every summer to help with extra work. This will not happen this year due to hiring freezes, but will give the existing staff the opportunity to work more shifts.

As the work has resumed, Weedman and Pelkey are eager to prepare for Middlebury students’ eventual return to campus.

“The campus feels eerie without you guys,” Weedman said. “Sometimes I’ll see someone walking their dog, but it’s very quiet.”

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