By Ellie Schuckman
While some grin ear-to-ear at the first talk of snowfall for the season, others cringe in anticipation of the cold, bitter weather. Some race to buy carrots to craft snowmen, yet others hustle to buy cases of water while digging out snow shovels stored in the back of garages. For those of us at the College, with the start of the Spring 2016 semester just last week came Winter Storm Jonas, thus raising the question — how does our campus handle these monster snowstorms?
According to Dave Muha, spokesman for the College, the school decided to delay the start of classes as conditions proved too difficult for students to return to campus as originally scheduled on Sunday, Jan. 24.
“We are concerned about everyone’s safety when there’s severe weather,” Muha said. “But we’re also concerned about delivering a quality education for our students.”
Before receiving an email from Muha on Saturday, Jan. 23, that alerted students that classes would not start until Tuesday, Jan. 26, many were outraged that students were still expected to return to campus on Sunday afternoon. A post, which has since been deleted, was made on the College’s Facebook page stating that move-in would remain as scheduled — students could return starting at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 24, and classes would begin on Monday, Jan. 25.
“From all indications, campus and area roadways would have been ready to receive students by Sunday morning,” Muha said. “We understand that conditions varied widely across the state and out of state, so the feedback was helpful.”
Muha noted that the decision to cancel classes in regard to weather concerns lays with Provost Jacqueline Taylor, in consultation with Vice President for Administration Curt Heuring.
“Making judgments about how to best ensure community safety in a weather event like Winter Storm Jonas are difficult,” Muha said. “In the end, (Taylor and Heuring) make the best decision possible based on the information they have available. I think the plan that was settled upon, giving flexibility to students to return on Sunday or Monday, was the right one for this set of circumstances.”
With students returning to campus, roads, parking lots and pathways had to be cleared, yet pushing the bulk of move-in to Monday, Jan. 25, allowed ample time for grounds to be cleared, according to Director of Building Services Ed Gruber.
“Obviously, it is better for us to remove snow with fewer people on campus,” Gruber said.” Move-in day brings a large number of vehicles to campus that otherwise would not be here, complicating the snow removal and access issues resulting from a storm.”
Gruber noted that by Sunday afternoon, the majority of campus was ready for students to return, however, the state of towns outside of the College varied.
“The conditions on campus are better than those in the surrounding region due to the intensity of our campus cleanup efforts and the compact nature of the campus,” Gruber said. “The campus can be perfectly accessible while surrounding roads and highways are not.”
The Grounds Department is responsible for plowing parking lots, roads and sidewalks, including clearing entrances to the townhouses and parking garages, while the Building Services Department is responsible for removing snow from building entrances and stairs, loading docks and wheelchair ramps, according to Gruber.
With icy conditions on pathways around campus, handicap-accessible areas and ramps are often of prime concern to be cleared for students and faculty alike.
“I received feedback from members of our campus community regarding areas and routes of concern and was able to alert the proper parties so that these concerns could be addressed immediately,” Director of Disability Support Services Meghan Sooy said. “We have staff working around the clock during these times, which is helpful in allowing us to address issues in real-time. We, as a campus community, are always working to improve accessibility for everyone.”
Kicking off the semester with a day of canceled class is not optimal for most, yet some believe that losing a day at the start of the semester was better than losing a day elsewhere.
“In a perfect world, I’d never cancel a class because I plan my syllabus very carefully, and when I lose a day it is hard to work it back in without cutting something out,” said Director of the Office of Instructional Design Judi Cook, who also teaches in the communication studies department. “For this term, missing the first day was a bummer, but it is also the easiest day to give up because the syllabus isn’t set in stone yet.”
Muha noted that while there is no limit to the number of days that classes can be canceled, “it’s possible that if too many days were missed… (administration) would have to consider make-up days.”
With changes in normal day schedules because of weather, dining options on campus often face changes as well.
According to Director of Dining Services Karen Roth and General Manager of Dining Services Patrice Mendes, weather conditions often factor into production planning, yet feeding students remains the top priority. As the largest dining facility on campus, Eickhoff Hall is the first eatery to be made operational, according to Roth and Mendes. They also noted that as weather conditions improve and employees are able to get to campus, more dining locations open.
None of the several major construction projects currently underway at the College were majorly impacted by the storm, according to Muha.
Snow had to be removed from both the STEM building and the Travers-Wolfe storm piping replacement sites before work could resume, Muha said. Crews only lost one day of work as a result.
In preparing for the storm, crews checked to make sure fencing was secure and that there were no loose materials around the sites that could blow away, according to Muha.
Regardless of preparations made, when snowstorms hit, College departments often work together to enact plans for the betterment of all impacted.
“The College’s number one priority is the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff,” Gruber said. “We have a well-honed process and procedures for dealing with weather and other types of emergencies on campus. We appreciate the community’s cooperation during these events, as well as their feedback, as we strive to provide the highest quality services to the campus community.”