The KU Facilities Services is the department in charge of keeping campus accessible when winter weather hits, and with last week’s snowfall, it started it’s preparations early this year.
Although the snowfall was very light, facilities services director Shawn Harding said his department was on alert and ready for anything.
“As the event gets closer, we watch the weather closely and monitor forecasts to see what kind of response is needed,” Harding said. “When the event happens, we activate the plan and do our best to make sure campus activities are not disrupted by the weather.”
When greater weather concerns loom, Harding said his department goes through numerous steps in order to guarantee the safety of everyone on campus.
“First and foremost, our concern is for the safety of students, staff, faculty and visitors,” Harding said. “Stairs are a big issue. This campus has a lot of stairs and that takes a lot of people doing a tremendous amount of hard work to get them cleared of ice and snow. It is an ‘all hands on deck’ operation.”
Virtually every facilities services employee, including painters, carpenters, electricians and more, lends a hand in helping clear the ice on stairs and other pathways on and around campus.
Falling trees and limbs in the aftermath of inclement weather are another major concern for Harding and his staff, and preparation for that starts long before the weather hits.
“We spend some time pruning our trees in the fall to proactively remove any potentially hazardous trees and branches that could become an issue in the event of an ice storm,” Harding said. “While removing trees is an absolute last resort, we unfortunately had to remove a number of trees this year that had become structurally unstable primarily due to Ash Borer Beetles and other potentially hazardous complications.”
Facilities services also has a vital role in determining if classes need to be cancelled in the event of major winter weather conditions.
“We are not the final decision maker, but our input is important,” Harding said. “Our role is to determine, based on the best information available, if we will be able to make campus ready for students, staff, faculty and visitors.”
Navigating the walkways on campus can still be difficult even after the work done by facilities services. Junior social work major Jenna Abram would like to see more done to prevent slipping.
“The sidewalks last year were still very slippery, and it was hard to walk,” Abram said. “They could definitely do more.”
Last week’s snowfall was very light and easily manageable, but Harding said he will gladly accept snowfall rather than ice every time.
“Ice storms are difficult to manage because the nature of them typically means that you may get an inch of ice or just rain depending on the temperature line,” Harding said. “Obviously ice is much more dangerous. We’d take snow over ice any day.”
The primary treatment for ice by facilities services is liquid pretreat applications that Harding said has definitely helped, but he is always looking for better options.
“Any engineering students or other students who would like to help us think of better ways to clear our stairs, I’m all ears,” he said.
Winter weather can be unpredictable, and getting campus ready after a major winter weather storm can be a daunting task, but Harding and facilities services staff take pride in their preparation.
“Our staff puts in a lot of ‘behind-the-scenes’ work and deserves all the credit for putting a great plan together for our campus,” Harding said. “They take a lot of pride in their work, and a quick ‘thank you,’ as you pass them shoveling snow or chipping away at ice, goes a long way.”