Behind the scenes: A snowy day at IU Bloomington

Jan. 22, 2015

When the rest of us wake up to snow on the ground, employees with IU Bloomington's Campus Division have already been up for hours. The division, part of the Physical Plant, is responsible for maintaining campus grounds, among other tasks, and works with Building Services Division and other Physical Plant divisions to clear campus.

"Our snow response is, honestly, just like predicting the weather," university landscape architect Mia Williams said. "You do the best you can with the information you have at the time, but just have to keep in mind that everything can change very quickly. We do whatever it takes to keep campus safe."

snow graphic

Campus Division is responsible for clearing streets, sidewalks and parking lots, while Building Services is responsible for clearing areas surrounding each campus building.

"The severity of the weather dictates the amount of time it takes our staff to get the campus cleared," Building Services Division assistant director Greg Fichter said. "By using good communication and collaboration between the divisions of the Physical Plant, the job gets done in an  effective and efficient manner. We take a lot of pride in our work and  try to do an outstanding job on each snow event."

Here's a peek at what happens when it snows:

Tracking: Campus Division administrators regularly monitor the forecast to determine when it will snow and how much. If a lot of snow is expected or there are extenuating circumstances -- a power outage at a major campus building, for example -- administrators will schedule a conference call (as early as 4 a.m.!) with the Emergency Operations Center and IU Police Department to determine how to proceed.

Preparedness: If snow is forecast, Campus Division will ready its trucks and equipment by the end of the preceding work day. Workers will be called in after division administrators get a call from the IU Police Department or the IU Control Center that weather is worsening.

Action: Eighty full-time, part-time and hourly employees are responsible for snow removal. Not all are typically called in at once, unless a major snow or other weather event is predicted. Another 250 people work with Building Services.

The job: Campus Division clears 23 miles of streets, 52 miles of sidewalks and 150 acres of parking lots on the Bloomington campus, as well as various bridges, steps and other walkways. Building Services clears steps, landings, ramps and sidewalks from the building to the curb for about 150 campus structures.

Equipment: Campus Division workers use 40 pieces of equipment to clear campus, including backhoes to push or stack snow and four lawnmowers outfitted with brooms to push snow from the brick sidewalks. At any one time throughout a shift, 20 employees are shoveling some areas by hand. Building Services employees use shovels and snowblowers for the areas they clear.

Treatment: Roads are salted, while bagged ice melt is used on sidewalks. Last year, Campus Division began using brine, a mixture of water and road salt that can be used to pre-treat roads to help prevent ice from forming. That's reduced the use of salt by 25 percent.

On the clock: It typically takes about 12 hours after it snows for workers to "touch" every part of campus. "That doesn't mean everything is necessarily clear," Williams said. "That means it takes us 12 hours to get everywhere, and then we just start over again. A typical 4-inch snow requires about four days of steady work to get the campus back to 'normal,' due to re-freezing and the need to move snow and treat difficult spots."

Priorities: In general, Williams said, emergency areas and facilities that operate 24/7 are cleared first, including IUPD; areas around residence halls; loading docks where RPS can receive food deliveries; and routes for emergency vehicles to access campus if needed. Division administrators stay in touch with others on campus about specific needs for the day, such as a basketball game at Assembly Hall or a performance at the MAC.

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