Bracing for the elements


Jackson Liebler, a fourth-year political science major, shovels snow behind Bierce Library as part of the UA grounds crew.

By Spencer Skolnick, Writer

UA’s Grounds and Special Services team braces for recent snow storms to ensure safety and accessibility on campus during the frigid months of winter.

During winter, UA’s campus gets covered in layers of snow and ice. Dropping temperatures, along with snow and ice on campus, make it difficult to get to class and other places on campus.

The Physical Facility Grounds workers shared some facts and stats regarding their jobs of maintaining safety on campus and clearing paths of access to campus buildings and surrounding areas.

The grounds workers work seven days a week, with a maximum of 20 employees on campus each day, and a minimum of nine.

There are 63 acres of parking at UA that get plowed and salted.

There are 15 miles of public roads that get attention from the grounds workers including Carroll Street, Buchtel Avenue, Vine Street, and Union Street.

To determine where the workers begin their plowing and salting each day greatly depends on areas of priority. The groundsmen have the campus and surrounding areas broken up into zones. The workers divide into teams and cover specific designated areas. The locations with top priority plowing and salting are those buildings that open earlier than others. Student Recreation and Wellness Center and the Student Union are typically the first to be treated.

A worker plows and salts the sidewalk at East Buchtel Avenue and South Union Street.
A worker plows and salts the sidewalk at East Buchtel Avenue and South Union Street.

The workers get started on a typical work day around 6 a.m., but during extreme weather and snow storms, workers will begin covering campus as early as midnight the night before or 2 a.m. that morning, usually working no more than 16 hours per day.

During a mild snow storm or cold temperatures, the workers get campus cleared in approximately five hours with 20 employees. This is when there is anywhere from one to three inches of snow on the grounds.

It’s circumstantial and hard to determine how long it takes to cover campus during severe snow and ice storms, but it takes a significant amount of time and effort.

It takes approximately 25 to 30 tons of salt to cover all of campus, but it typically varies how much the workers use on any given day.

The Physical Facilities Operation unit has five plow trucks, two de-icing machines, five tractors with snowblades varying in size, two salt trucks, five utility vehicles for snow, snow blowers for the sidewalks, and other various machines and trucks with snow blades and salt boxes to spread salt.

UA also has what is called a Salt Barn, which holds up to 300 tons of salt. The salt is bought in bulk to save money after the increase in prices and demand.

One of the grounds crew's trucks equipped with a snow plow.
Spencer Skolnick
One of the grounds crew’s trucks equipped with a snow plow.

With an estimated 14 severe snow events every winter, which require the workers to plow and salt campus, the team preorders roughly 120 tons of salt in preparation before each snow event. Each snow event can last any number of days. On average after the snow event concludes, management purchases more salt.

The grounds workers start preparing for the winter in the summer. They keep up with the maintenance of the vehicles, ensuring everything is in order for when the cold hits. Since the weather is so unpredictable, the workers expect themselves to have everything in order for when the snow starts coming.

“We do everything we can for safety. It is our top priority,” manager of Grounds, Special Services, and Recycling Andrew Henry comments. “The workers care about the students.”