Grounds dept. keeps slippery sidewalks safe

Utah’s winter wonderland is pure bliss for skiers and boarders but for those just trying to get around campus the “greatest snow on earth” has its ups and downs, and on most winter days, it’s more downs than ups.

Ice and snow along the roads and walkways provide drama and entertainment for many students.

“I love watching people bite it,” said Todd Barfuss, a communication senior. “When you’re rushing, you’re bound to kill yourself.”

That’s exactly what the U’s grounds department tries to prevent after each snowstorm.

“We’re here for the students, staff and faculty to make campus safe,” said Sue Pope, supervisor of the grounds department. “When people come here they expect [the snow] to be gone. We’re here on holidays, when school is closed, so when everybody returns they have somewhere to walk.”

Of the 1,400 acres the department is responsible for clearing, there are three acres of platforms and patios that must be hand shoveled, eight acres of sidewalks and three acres of stairs. This 14 acres of snow to shovel doesn’t include the streets and parking lots.

“When it snows at night, we’ll get here between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the morning,” Pope said. “We’re on call for 24 hours, from midnight to midnight, so the same person that was clearing snow at 4 a.m. could be back cleaning up at 11 p.m.”

The hospital is always under a 24-hour snow watch; depending on events held on campus, the snow clearing priority of other buildings varies.

“Highly used, first-open, high-profile buildings have priority and we go from there,” Pope said.

Campus is broken down into areas of varying size, and at least one person is assigned to each area ranging from five to 10 acres. The person in charge of that area is responsible for all snow removal in the winter and takes care of gardening and the lawns in the summer, Pope said.

Equipped with snow-blowers, 180,000 pounds of de-icer per winter and the occasional help of two Kubota tractors clearing a path, campus is usually cleared by 9 a.m.

Though not everybody notices.

“I don’t think [the sidewalks] have been shoveled once,” said Alexis Walker, senior, after last week’s snowfall. “I got to campus from TRAX and I slipped like three times, but I haven’t fallen.”

Walker wasn’t helped by her fashion-not-function heels, which kept her feet out of the snow but had no traction, she said.

“I’ll definitely be wearing shoes with a lot more traction tomorrow,” she said.

Grounds Department Supervisor Pope says that people not wearing proper clothing is one of her worries.

“That’s another concern-people not being properly prepared because it is so cold the de-icer isn’t going to work right away,” she said. “So people do need to be prepared and wearing the right thing.”

The grounds department has 48 full-time employees and between one and six part-time employees in the winter.

“We have more part-time help in the summer; it’s hard to find people that want to shovel snow,” Pope said. “It would be nice to have students on-call from like 5 to 10 [at night], if it snows they can get some extra hours and give my people rest, it doesn’t happen all the time.”

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