How is a campus snow day decided?

GVL / Nickolas Peters
Rapid running in a snowstorm

GVL / Nickolas Peters Rapid running in a snowstorm

Duane Emery

One of the most unique aspects of the winter semester is the tense moments spent waiting for email to load, text to come scrolling across the bottom of the TV or notifications to set off the phone. Then the sigh of relief comes: it is a snow day, and Grand Valley State University students can go back to bed.

Not having to face the harsh weather to get to class may be a warm feeling, but the realities of adulthood can often mean a snow day is not exactly a day off.

“I usually catch up on homework,” said GVSU student Rose White. “You can get ahead or catch up instead of having to go to class.”

GVSU administrators are also aware that students do not stop when classes do. Because of this, even in the worst conditions, the university stays open to provide the services students need.

“When we close the university, then only essential staff report to work,” said GVSU Police Capt. Brandon DeHaan.

Essential staff consists of workers from facilities, the Fieldhouse, field service, the library and law enforcement. These facilities remain open to cater to the thousands of students who live in and around GVSU who rely on these services both to get work done and also to keep from being snowed in.

“It’s good that they have a place to go to engage in some other activities,” DeHaan said. “The library gives them the opportunity to get out of where they are and study.”

Though snow days can provide extra time for studying, there are often consequences in classroom application that cannot be made up when school is called off.

“Students miss the classroom time, class material still needs to be covered, events rescheduled, etc.,” Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president of facilities services, said.

Still, the decision to close the campus is not one that is taken lightly, and many factors have to be considered.

“We have students that commute from a wide geographic area,” DeHaan said. “We try to arrive at a reasonable decision that considers the safety of students and their right to receive instruction.”

According to Thimmesch, four to five administrators from facilities services, public safety, administration and news and information services are involved in the decision to cancel classes.

“Administrators look at forecasted weather conditions, the ability of the grounds staff on campus to clear and maintain parking lots, sidewalks and entrances and road conditions in Ottawa County and into Kent County,” Thimmesch said.

Snow removal begins at 3 a.m., so the decision to close is targeted for 6 a.m. for morning closings and 3 p.m. for afternoon closings, Thimmesch said. While November set a record for snowfall, December presented a break in snow removal, and January is looking to be on schedule for snowfall, Thimmesch said. Compared to this winter season, last winter was costly and challenging for GVSU.

“We doubled our typical winter snow removal expenses,” Thimmesch said. “Supplies of ice melt products and salt for treating roadways had run out by the end of February.”

In light of recent weather based cancellations, only time will tell how many more times the word “canceled” lights up the screen, and coats and gloves are tossed aside for the warm embrace of flannel sheets and a few more hours of rest.