Arcadia’s Snow Brigade: How Facilities Battles Winter Storms

By jretter | February 23, 2015


Snow day. For many in education, these two words provide a silver lining to a winter storm, offering a leisurely day without classes (for students) and work (for some staff and faculty). But while many may spend the day lounging in pajamas, warmed by hot chocolate and curled on a couch with Netflix, for the Facilities team at Arcadia, a snow day is anything but relaxing.

Working through the night

When a winter storm is on the horizon, Tim Gallagher, grounds lead supervisor, coordinates by phone with Public Safety and mobilizes Facilities members. Their goal? To ensure that campus remains accessible and safe, no matter what Mother Nature brings.

If a storm is predicted to hit the area at 1 a.m., approximately 10 people from Facilities are on campus by midnight to start salting pathways, parking lots, and roads. While they use machines for major snow removal, there is plenty to be done by hand, such as clearing stairs. During some storms, Facilities has had to use as much as 30 tons of salt.

“We don’t leave until we’re done,” says Gallagher. “We could be here two or three days straight, working through the nights. You actually have to tell some of these guys to go and get some sleep. They never complain. It’s always, ‘No, I can do more.’ They’re unbelievable.”

The team works in shifts, grabbing a few hours of sleep in Oak Summit or on a cot in the Grounds House behind Stiteler while a skeleton crew keeps campus open for emergency vehicles. Athletic Facilities/Special Events Coordinator Mike Saloma, who has worked at Arcadia for 20 years, remembers sleeping on campus for three nights straight during a blizzard in 1996.

“If we’re in an emergency situation, we’ll grab three or four hours of shut-eye and a cup of coffee and be ready to roll again,” says Saloma.

Though the job requires staggering work hours, Gallagher feels that improvements in the process have been made and much of that can be credited to Tom Macchi, associate vice president for Facilities and Capital Planning, who joined Arcadia 10 years ago.

“Tom looked at the equipment and saw that we weren’t properly equipped to handle major storms,” says Gallagher, who points to Macchi’s leadership in terms of acquiring several machines as a major reason why Facilities can respond quicker and more efficiently to winter storms.

Ice watch

Facilities must be prepared for several issues that complicate operations: fallen tree limbs, power outages, flooded basements, and snow-packed gutters. What presents the biggest challenge, though, is ice.

“Once ice is introduced to the forecast, all bets are off,” says Ed Adams, special assistant to the associate vice president for Facilities and Capital Planning. “It is the hardest thing to control. A thin coating cripples us and makes this place treacherous.”

The Walk of Pride, lovely to stroll in warmer months, is especially difficult to maintain. When temperatures rise and precipitation transitions from snow to rain, the sand-based pavers won’t warm up for another five or six hours. Ice also forms as snowmelt flows down the hill, washing away the salt. Every 20 minutes, someone has to reapply it to the pathway.

Facilities also anticipates snow that melts off of curbs during the day to freeze in parking lots at night. With a campus that changes in elevation by 400 feet from the Castle to the Pit parking lot, streams of ice form easily.

“We call it ‘Ice Watch,’” says Gallagher. “Public Safety will give us a heads-up and say the area’s icing up, so we’ll send a small crew down. We’re here into the night and will have to come in at 5 or 6 in the morning to deal with more refreezing.”

Last winter’s succession of severe storms depleted the salt supply and left Facilities and most others in the region scrambling. A contractor was even sent to Delaware on Arcadia’s behalf to pick up more than 90 tons of salt.

Safety, snowmen, and sledding

Facilities’ work stretches beyond the center of campus. Team members clear pathways and parking lots of nearly two dozen off-campus properties, as well as sidewalks along Easton Road down to the Sunoco gas station. When Cheltenham Township gets tied up treating other areas, Facilities will salt a portion of Easton Road so that campus remains accessible.

Facilities also accommodates sledding or snowman-making students on Haber Green and in the Pit. They remain a safe distance away to ensure that if someone is walking inattentively (e.g., focused on a cell phone), there are no injuries or surprises. Even when Facilities plows at two or three in the morning, chances are they may not be alone.

“When I’m doing the ring around Haber Green, students will sled down the AU hill,” said Adams. “So when I go through with the machine to clear the sidewalk, I’ll lift up and leave them a little strip. After everyone goes away at three in the morning, I’ll go back and clear that area. We don’t want to wreck anyone’s fun. They’re the reason we’re here.”