Facilities Services preps for winter weather

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Jim Tenbrink; university facilities

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Jim Tenbrink; university facilities

Drew Howard

After last year’s severe winter storms led to class cancellations as early as November, officials at Grand Valley State University’s Facilities Services have already started preparing to fight the upcoming harsh weather.

Ken Stanton, grounds supervisor at Facilities Services, said the past two winters have posed some of the worst weather he’s ever seen in his 19 years at GVSU.

However, since weather cannot always be accurately predicted, Stanton said Facilities Services is preparing for the winter season similarly to previous years.

This preparation started as early as June and has continued into the fall semester, Stanton said.

“I have a punch list of about 28 to 30 items that need to be looked at throughout the fall,” Stanton said. “Part of it is getting equipment ready as well as talking to vendors to order salt, shovels and supplies. It’s a long, drawn out and detailed process.”

In addition to ordering the necessary equipment, Stanton said there are also ongoing conversations discussing how to properly handle new buildings or closed off areas of campus.

“We have the new academic research building – P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science – which wasn’t open last year, meaning that new big sidewalk on the side of the road will require extra planning,” Stanton said. “We also have to plan for not being able to get behind Mackinac where the new housing building is. Those living centers are open, so we have to get back there with a small piece of sidewalk equipment with the space they’ve made available.”

A total of 315 yards of sand, 330 tons of road salt, 54 tons of bagged salt and 98,000 gallons of liquid de-icing were used to manage the threat of winter weather last year.

Numbers will vary this upcoming semester as officials at Facilities Services will request such materials on-demand in the instance of severe weather conditions.

Despite the harsh winters of the past two years, there are no plans to hire more full-time workers to shovel and plow the snow. Janet Aubil, operations supervisor at Facilities Services, said there are actually fewer workers to shovel snow this year than last due to health concerns.

Stanton said there is no need to hire more full-time employees as additional work can be found through the use of overtime, individuals in other departments, as well as groups of students.

“We have a group of students who work for us from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. throughout the day as well as another group of students who come in from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. to shovel the entrances to the academic buildings,” Stanton said. “The early morning group works seven days a week in December, January and February. I don’t know having more people would be the answer because we have extra workers available, and we can pull people from different areas of facilities to help out.”

Recent research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the upcoming winter season to be less harsh than last year, Stanton said.

“Forecasters are saying that it’s supposed to be an El Niño winter, meaning it will be milder,” he said. “One forecaster from Grand Rapids said an El Niño year means it’s usually lighter in the beginning, while most of the snow comes in February or March. We could end up in that scenario.”