Snow Everywhere, Facilities Keeps Campus Clear During Record-Setting Snowfall

Photo by Nicoletta Barolini

From December through February 2011, a record-setting 56 inches of snow-a giant leap from the 22-inch seasonal average-swept across New York City and at many times transformed Columbia's Morningside campus into a winter wonderland. Still, the campus remained accessible thanks to the hard work of University Facilities.

 "It's a coordinated effort that requires a lot of equipment, considerable human resources, and lots of teamwork," says Don Schlosser, Facilities' assistant vice president of campus operations.  

Typically, Facilities' operations and residential directors begin preparations for potential winter storms in the late summer, well before the first drop of snow hits the campus grounds. Inventories of the previous winter's snow removal equipment is used to estimate how many plow trucks, snow blowers, Bobcat skid-steer loaders, ice breakers, and shovels will need to be tested and delivered to each of the University residential buildings in which they are stored for the upcoming season. De-icing materials are also kept at the ready, and contingency plans are made in the event of equipment failure or if extra snow removal is needed.

When winter storms hit, Facilities staff kick into high gear. Building and grounds staff along with custodial and trade shop volunteers work together in shifts to remove snow from the campus perimeter, staircases, and most frequented walkways, such as College Walk. Likewise, residential buildings' walkways and entrances are cleared of any accumulated snow to ensure that all residents can enter and leave their buildings as needed. While this occurs, Vice President for Public Safety Jim McShane sends weather alerts and notifications to keep the campus community consistently informed.

Even with all of the preparations, there are always challenges. During one of the recent snowstorms, Residential Operations Supervisor Peter Baptiste was among the many who braved crippling weather conditions to support the cleanup effort. At 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday, Baptiste ventured into the storm, despite the lack of public transportation, and walked for over an hour to get to a train station en route to campus.

During that storm, Facilities' staff worked from Sunday, December 26 through Wednesday, December 29 to clear the campus of snow and ice. Together, they utilized 24 ice choppers, 24 shovels, 4 plow trucks, 2 Bobcat skid-steer loaders, 8 tons of de-icing materials, and many hours to clear the nearly two feet of snow that fell upon the grounds.

Richard Rodriguez, Facilities heavy cleaner, has spent 31 years tending to the University's campus. He says, "This winter has been the worst one yet, mainly because the storms were back to back, and we were facing 50 mph winds and lots of snow movement. Still, our usual strategy always works-we work together and divide into groups to clear each area on campus."

Richard Bussert, Facilities' director of landscaping and grounds, says, "I am fortunate to have a strong and committed team. They have faced many trying conditions but remain resilient in their support of the University community."