Snow crews working for student safety

The walk to Baxter is daunting enough in the cold, but even worse when a stubborn layer of ice covers everything and won’t go away. This Winter Study has been particularly treacherous because of a storm that hit very early in the month. The college has kept the damage to minimum thanks to the clean up efforts of the Grounds and Projects crew along with the Custodial staff.

“The sidewalks are so bad. The worst is the walk up to Goodrich. Even the handrail is covered with ice. “It is terrible!” said Iva Borisova ’02.

“I have almost fallen on my butt so many times while running,” said Jonnifer Vasse ’02. She agrees that it is dangerous to be getting around these days.

The problem with this storm is that it wasn’t a normal winter storm. Instead, there was a strange combination of snow and ice that left Williamstown frozen over. “As soon as we removed the snow, the slush froze right underneath the plow,” said Norman Quinn, Grounds and Projects Supervisor. “Unless we can get a layer of water between the concrete and ice, there is little we can do but sand and salt,” Quinn said

Quinn has a group of ten people who make up the clean-up crew when a storm hits. One of them carries a pager at all times and gets paged by security if a storm is spotted on its way. A weather pattern counts as a “storm” when there are two inches on the ground and it is still snowing. The crew has five one-ton dumptruck plows for the streets and five tractor plows for tighter areas and sidewalks. “When a storm blows up, I have guys out there as early as two a.m. to have everything safe and clear by eight a.m.,” Quinn explained.

There is also a front-end loader for moving snow out when drifts get too high. However, it hasn’t been in use much because according to Quinn, “We haven’t had a real winter storm yet.” Quinn, who has been here since 1983, remembers past years when Williamstown got five or six “northeasterners” a year. Those are storms that have at least a foot of snow and are accompanied by much colder temperatures. “Winters aren’t as bad anymore due to global warming,” Quinn said.

Grounds and Projects can’t take all the clean up credit. The Custodial staff is responsible for the interiors of the buildings and all the stairs and walks. They shovel snow and treat ice with Ice Melt, an environmentally friendly pellet that speeds up the melting process. Once the ice is melted enough, the custodial staff goes out and does its best to chop it up.

“The problem is that the insides of the buildings suffer when outside the weather is bad,” said Bea Miles, Custodial Supervisor. There is no extra staff for storms, so custodians work overtime on weekends and early mornings. Once everything is clear outside, there is extra vacuuming and mopping to do because students track in a lot of slush and salt.

It is a lot of work to clean up after storms, but the two crews working together do an excellent job, even with particularly difficult storms like this month’s. Miles points out that even other crews such as the Carpenters and Fire Safety cooperated for this one. So, though the trip to Baxter may be scary, remember that there are a lot of people looking out for you.