By RILEY DOHERTY
Whenever there is snow and ice predicted to hit the University of Mary Washington, students hope it will be enough to cancel classes. But how is this going to be cleared up? That’s where the UMW facilities department comes into play. According to the university’s website, the facilities department is in charge of “maintenance and operations of the real property assets of the University” including dealing with snow and other inclement weather.
Richard Blair, the director of Landscape and Grounds, has been working for UMW for 28 years. “The first thing we do is watch for weather, usually picking four weather sites, everyone has their favorite. We put a plan together in our heads, then we start to get equipment together,” he said.
“The Associate Vice President [John Wiltenmuth] … holds a series of planning meetings with department staff to evaluate forecasts and options for each individual storm event,” said maintenance director Nolan Akau. These meetings happen in early November, giving time for training and taking inventory of equipment.
The facilities department has a large fleet of plows to clear snow. “We have three truck mounted snow plows, three small tractors, and two specialized equipment pieces that have plows,” said Blair.
Despite the number of plows, both Blair and Akau emphasized that most work is done manually, and there is a lot of work to do.
“It’s a group effort,” said Blair. “Even the vice president goes out to help, it’s an all hands on event, housekeeping helps, it’s a huge group effort to get this done.”
Almost all of the work done by hand involves clearing stairs and small walkways that plows can’t reach. After using shovels and squeegees to get rid of snow and ice, sand and/or magnesium chloride is used to stop refreezing of ice overnight.
When it comes to removing snow from around buildings, the department works in a specific order of tasks. First residential halls are cleared, then dining halls, then the gym and other nearby centers, and finally the academic buildings.
“First we consider safety, then getting people something to eat, then something to keep people occupied, then we go on to academic buildings,” said Blair.
In a similar vein, the order for parking lot clearing is to first clear the staff lots, then commuter lots, and lastly student parking.
Two of the biggest challenges that the department faces are continuous snowfalls and back-to-back snowstorms, which can lead to employee fatigue, even with the large staff. Another problem that comes into play are inaccurate forecasts. “Normally what catches us is we get a surprise snowfall or temperature change,” said Blair. “I don’t think we’ve ever been unprepared, just caught by surprise.”
“While we don’t look forward to winter weather, we know that we have the experience and knowledge to respond,” said Akau.
Despite their best efforts, the facilities department is not flawless when it comes to snow clearing. Students like Andy Lin, a sophomore and studio srt major, noticed that areas of campus were in less than stellar condition even after clearing efforts. “Some of the areas were hardly cleaned, especially when walking from the edge of campus. Some of us had to take extra precautions as some areas and stairwells were frozen.”
Despite these setbacks, the facilities department keeps plowing ahead. “Our focus is always the safety of students, faculty, and staff,” said Akau.