There’s No Business Like Snow Business

By Kerry C. Regan, January 24, 2019
IC’s snow removal team plows — and shovels — the extra mile.

You may know that a winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow on Ithaca the same weekend students were returning to campus for the spring semester. What you may not know is that a team of 30 grounds and transportation workers were working around the clock to clear the roads, sidewalks, and parking lots to make it safe for their return. What’s more, they were doing it in single digit temperatures and wind chills of -30 degrees.

“I arrived in Ithaca on Friday, and I saw people out almost all the time,” says Alfio Vasta, a junior in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, who saw some crew members shoveling on campus at 4 a.m. on Monday and gave them a shout-out on Facebook.

“I appreciate their efforts in battling the snowstorm during move-in weekend, which can't have been easy,” he says. “I was also surprised at how the shoveling and plowing seemed to be almost a 24-hour ordeal.”

Senior emerging media major Gabe Shakour went on a ride along with the snow removal crew to document their efforts.

In fact, the snow operations for this particular storm began at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and continued through 11:30 p.m. Monday night. Roughly 12 team members spent the night on campus from Saturday to Sunday, staying in their offices, in bunks at the Office of Public Safety, or in rooms provided by Residential Life.

“We have a very dedicated staff,” says Ernie McClatchie ’01, MS ’03, executive director of maintenance, grounds and transportation. “What I tell them, especially in recruiting, is that everyone sees what you do here, and it can have a big, positive impact on the institution. A lot of jobs go unnoticed.”

IC Snow Removal By the Numbers

36 acres of parking lots, equivalent to about 27 football fields

7 miles of roadway

10+ miles of sidewalks

1,200 exterior stairs, equivalent to about a 60-story building

30 snow removal team members

Always on-call

For efficiency, each team member is assigned to a specific zone on campus for plowing roads and sidewalks or shoveling stairs, so when they get the call, they know what they need to do. Each week, six team members are on call to report to work on their off hours if needed. And if significant amounts of snow fall, like they did last weekend, the entire team is called in. A 3 a.m. start time is typical to clear an overnight snowfall by 8 a.m.

You might think that coming in at 3 a.m. is the toughest part of the job, but no. “Actually that’s the piece we like,” said supervisor Matt Porter. “You have the campus to yourself, so you can get a lot more done.”

Too much back-to-back overtime is a different story, however, such as in the winter of 2015-16, when the full team was engaged on four consecutive days. “We try to limit consecutive working hours to 16,” McClatchie says.

Other challenges include finding places to put the snow — some is inevitably trucked out of parking lots — and plowing the narrower, five-feet wide sidewalks on campus, which requires special plowing tractors. The problem is not the actual plowing, but inefficiencies because those sidewalks are spread out around campus, forcing drivers to travel long distances to get to them all. To ensure that other snow removal challenges aren’t introduced with future campus construction, McClatchie reviews all plans to ensure they are snow-removal friendly.

“Our mission is to keep everyone who comes to campus safe,” McClatchie says. “And if there’s an overnight storm that’s finished by 2 a.m., it’s to make sure when people arrive in the morning they may not even realize there was a storm last night.”

Even if it means McClatchie’s team has to sacrifice a good night’s sleep.

Did You Know?

  • In conjunction with the Office of Public Safety, a snow removal plan has been developed for residence hall parking lots.
  • The team removes snow at several off-campus facilities, including the IC boathouse.
  • The team removes snow from the Higgins Stadium artificial turf field for lacrosse team practices, which begin in January.
  • The salt the team uses incorporates additives such as magnesium chloride to make it less corrosive, more eco-friendly and more effective in melting snow and ice than traditional rock salt.
  • Making sure that people with accessibility needs can get to where they need to go is always a top snow-removal priority.