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Excessive snow creates problems on NU campus

By Parker Babbe
On February 10, 2011

High snowfall rarely keeps employees of Norwich University's Facilities Operations from doing their jobs, according to the department head.

"It's hard to keep up sometimes during heavy snowfall, there are a lot of walkways, a lot of stairs, and a lot of roads," said David Magida, the Facilities Operations Chief Administration Officer. "But we know we need to get students to class, to get people where they need to be."

Magida has twenty-five years of snow management experience at Norwich.  He spent seven years as Director of Facilities Operations and is in his 18th year as the Chief Administration Officer. He has seen many things change but what remains constant is the departments concern for everyone's wellbeing on campus.

"Our priority is safety, so the fire safety roads and the pedestrian areas are our number one concern during times of heavy snow", he said.

Students with vehicles on campus often point out that parking lots go far too long without plowing.

 "They do a good job with the stairs but the parking lots always seem to be an issue," said Jerome Chase, 20, a sophomore business management major from Wayland, Mass.

Clearing a path down the middle of the student lots seems to do more harm than good," Chase said. "It really just ends up plowing those in who don't have bigger cars or four-wheel drive."

The parking lots are plowed last for good reason, according to Magida. "It's our lowest priority because it's not critical to maintaining that the campus is open."

According to Magida, clearing a parking lot cannot be done over night; it takes coordination with the Dean of Students, sending e-mail notifications and schedules of plowing times.

"It's time consuming and we can't get to that until it has been coordinated with the commandant, usually a couple days after a major snow storm," he said.

Not even the big snowstorms can stop Fac-Ops from clearing the roads and walkways. "Since I've been here we've once delayed the process by an hour," Magida said.

The Facilities Operations Grounds Crew is composed of 11 men and women who are responsible for the bulk of the snow removal on campus. Custodians also do their part around the buildings they are responsible for, said Magida.

"During major snow and or ice events the entire Facilities Operations team of 81 could work on snow removal," he said.

The grounds crew does a lot of removal by hand but has access to a variety of snow removal equipment.

According to Magida there is currently one-bucket loader, three plow trucks, one salt truck, two Bobcat Toolcats, four walk behind snow blowers, and one small bucket tractor.

"Over the past few years we've gotten some better equipment, machines that are more powerful and effective," he said.

The tools used by Fac-Ops keeps things running smoothly, even with the large amounts of snow fall that Northfield receives each winter.

"We don't cancel school, ever; our goal is to not let snow get in the way of day to day operations," Magida said.

Chris Hammel, 19, a sophomore history major from Londonderry, N.H. said that Fac-Ops is not up to standard. "If they (Facilities Operations) were a landscaping company, they would have many problems and lose this account," he said. "It takes them an awful long time to clean up after a big storm."

Hammel has worked in the landscaping industry for over four years. In the winter months, he works for his brother who is a snow operations manager in N.H.

"The biggest suggestion I have is to hire more people," he said. "During the snow season, most management companies double their staff in order to handle more."

In addition to increasing the staff size, Hammel said that plowing should begin earlier in the morning.

"On weekdays and especially in the mornings there is a lot of foot traffic all over campus," he said. "If the plowing and shoveling is done earlier they wouldn't have to worry about getting in peoples way, possibly reducing the chances of an accident."

In some cases no machine and no amount of workers can stay head to head with a massive snowstorm, said Magida. "There are times when it's snowing so hard that they (Grounds Crew) can clear one of the big staircases and go right back to the top and start it again."

Magida said that the big issue is trying to keep the snow from being compacted and turning into ice. "The frustrating thing is that when it gets below 15 degrees, salt treatment to melt the snow stops working."

Fac-Ops does everything they can to keep up but there is only so much that can be done. "We are vigilant about snow removal, but it's still a situation where people should be careful, exercise more caution in whatever they're doing," Magida said.

The cost of snow removal is part of the yearly budget for Fac-Ops and, "it includes the allocation of labor, equipment, and supplies," Magida said.

Because conditions can get so poor here, labor can be in short supply. "During major storms these guys will have to work a lot of overtime," Magida said. "We anticipate that into the budget as best we can."

No matter how much the roads are treated and plowed, driving in the snow can be a dangerous thing. According to Magida, driving in these conditions takes a certain amount of experience but even the most skillful drivers should be prepared.

"Vehicles should be properly equipped with snow tires, if they are not four-wheel drive," he said.

According to Chase, "Snow has never caused any serious issues for me, it is managed well enough to let me do what I need to do."






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