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Crews tackle snow removal

By : By Karen Fennie

Physical Facilities grounds manager Steve Gowe’s toughest day on the job so far came on his sixth day at Binghamton University. On that day in February 2001, 19 inches of snow fell.

“I didn’t know the people. I didn’t know the campus,” he recalled. “I just watched what went on to see how they did things.”

For Gowe, winter means monitoring weather forecasts hourly and being on edge. “I can’t sleep when there is snow in the forecast,” he said. “We prepare for the worst forecast predicted and hope for the best.”

On a recent weekend, Gowe was at a restaurant with out-of-town visitors when he looked out the window and saw a snow squall. He ordered his food and then headed to campus to check in and sand the roads before rejoining his friends. “That is typical Steve,” said JoAnn Navarro, director of operations. “He is extremely hard working and very dedicated to the campus.”

That dedication has meant a 35-hour shift on Christmas a couple of years ago and countless 24-hour stretches for him and his crews. In times of inclement weather, it is not unusual for grounds crews to work more than 80 hours in a week.

Gowe manages a crew of 12 grounds workers, snow removal volunteers and redeployed custodial staff. His team begins plowing when there is half an inch of snow on the ground. This is a much higher standard than in some local municipalities, which don’t begin work until several inches have fallen.

The snow removal crew has the task of clearing 5.3 miles of roads, 3.5 miles of service drives, 22.5 miles of walkways and 30 acres of parking lots. The campus is divided into priority areas, which include main roads to maintain fire and emergency access, access to electrical equipment and the coal silo, commuter parking lots and main pedestrian paths. Large plows, smaller plows, brush trucks and skidsters are assigned to certain parts of campus.

It takes about 2.5 hours for one pass at the sidewalks and two to four hours for one pass at the parking lots. And it can all be complicated depending on the time a storm begins. “The worst time is when it starts around 7 a.m. when class is in session,” Gowe said. “It slows us down.” That’s because commuters are arriving and walkways are busy with students heading to class.

As Gowe and his crew get to work, the Physical Facilities Customer Service Center also becomes busy.

“The phone begins ringing constantly with reports of areas that need attention,” said David Stone, manager of Customer Service.

Being in the center of the storm can be difficult. Callers are frustrated because they want the snow cleared, and the grounds crews are frustrated because they are moving as fast as they can with demands for removal or salt piling up as fast as the snow. Many callers aren’t aware that the grounds crews’ use of salt is restricted because it can have a negative impact on the environment.

During a storm, Gowe can usually be found in a pickup truck equipped with a plow. While he removes snow, he also tours the campus to see if there are any problem spots or anyone who needs assistance. A four- or five-inch snowfall can keep crews busy for three of four days.

Besides the initial snow removal, crews go back and address parking lots that were full, remove piles of snow that might obstruct visibility and repair equipment.

Gowe says the “little stuff” can be time consuming. That includes clearing disabled parking spaces, walkways where equipment won’t fit and stairs and ramps.

And needs are also constantly changing as the campus grows. In the last five years, there has been a 25 percent increase in parking lot and walkway surfaces.

Even during a storm Gowe is thinking ahead. With limited space to stockpile material, he has to determine how much sand and salt to order for the next snow event.

“A brief snowfall can use just as much material as a bigger storm,” he said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08