IWU Grounds crew combats winter ice

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Jeff Neukom, Managing Editor

 

On Monday, Jan. 26, Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus was covered with a combination of snow and freezing rain, leaving many questioning what was being done on campus to combat the weather.

Immediately after the initial snowfall, the Grounds crew was out clearing sidewalks and pathways. Not too long after, freezing rain formed a thin layer of ice across the just-cleaned pavement, causing dangerously slick conditions.

“I slipped on some ice and cracked my phone screen, so now I am taking every precaution when I walk anywhere,” sophomore Grace Hanzelin said.

One suggestion that has come up to alleviate the issue of icy sidewalks is leaving the accumulated snow on top of the pavement instead of immediately clearing it.

“Bare pavement is the goal,” said Ken Detloff, the assistant manager of the Grounds Department. “In hindsight, it may seem that waiting to clear the snow would have been best, but freezing rain was not in the forecast for Monday.”

“Packed-down snow will turn to ice, and this requires us to salt again and bring out the machines. This ends up being the less efficient way,” he continued.

There has also been some uncertainty of exactly what protocol is for winter weather.

Hanzelin said, “I hear them working outside my window early in the morning, but I couldn’t tell you what their plan is for winter.”

As far as snow removal goes, the Grounds crew has three machines at its disposal, and rather than use a blade apparatus to plow, the crew opts for brushes.

“Wesleyan is one of the few municipalities in the area that uses brushes. Most opt for blades, as they are cheaper and easier to maintain,” said Detloff.

“Brushes are a bit more expensive, but they allow us to get down to bare pavement, whereas a blade will leave a small layer of snow.”

Another benefit of brushes is that they drastically reduce the amount of salt usage, which is beneficial both for fiscal reasons and the health of the pavement. As it is, the Grounds crew spends approximately $10,000 a year on salt alone. Opting for blades instead of brushes would only increase costs.

“Make no mistake,” Detloff said. “When salt needs to be put down, it is put down. Icy rain was not in the forecast for Monday, which is why salt was not used.”

Typically, the Grounds crew’s goal is to clear walk ways before any sort of traffic, which allows them to get down to bare pavement. This eliminates the need for salt, as there is no snow left over that will turn to ice.

To do this requires an early morning. Detloff and the rest of the crew are up and moving by 3:30 a.m., on campus by 4:00 a.m. Canvassing the entire campus take approximately fours hours, and even more if the snow continues into the daytime hours.

Residence Halls and academic facilities are top priority, which means that certain areas of campus might not be cleared until later.

“Students don’t typically see us working at 4:00 a.m.,” said Detloff. “But we have to start somewhere, so students seeing unplowed areas and wondering are probably at a spot we haven’t gotten to yet.”

With the expansion of campus, expectations for the Grounds crew have increased.

Detloff said, “Getting up at 3:00 a.m. is rough, but the guys like what they do and don’t complain. Students are the reason we’re here. Every once in a while someone will stop and say ‘thanks’ and I’m grateful for that.”