Facilities & Services truck plowing snow

Snow: Where Preparation Meets Hard Work

Facilities & Services was more than prepared for a winter storm—and the first few days of February represented a key organizational responsibility of clearing snow and ice from parking lots, building entrances, and other thoroughfares throughout campus.

The recent storm began as a Winter Storm Warning for Champaign and surrounding counties announced for Tuesday, Feb. 1 and didn’t end until Thursday, Feb. 3. F&S began coordinating days before, though, and began readying the workforce and treating streets and other surfaces on Feb. 1. The National Weather Service predicted up to 18 inches for the multi-day system that same day.

Departments across F&S were dispatched and readied with details and plans for this specific storm. For instance, rain had been forecast, meaning the coming cold front would turn it to ice and cause more difficulty, particularly when followed by snow over the course of multiple days in the middle of a work week. Central Illinois would total 8″-15″ of snow in those couple of days.

The Key is Pretreat

Pretreatment on lots, sidewalks, bike paths, and other large surfaces was done with a brine solution spread by Transportation department drivers. The salt-water combination is quick-acting and much more efficient than rock salt. Doing the work ahead of the event allows for immediate snow melting. Shawn Patterson, transportation manager, said during a large snow event, his department could spread just 3-5 tons of salt if used in brine form, while it would take up to 80 tons if spread as rock salt.

“We monitor the use of salt as it has a big impact on our environment,” Patterson said.

Also important: priority lots, which meant that drivers were dispatched to a few lots almost non-stop.

A University MassMail message sent on Feb. 1 outlined the lots:

  • Lot B4, Levels Four and Five (North Campus) Parking facility at the corner of University Avenue and Mathews Avenue
  • Shuttle Lot E14 (South Campus) – West of the State Farm Center, south end only
  • Lot F27 (South Campus) – Adjacent to the Veterinary Medicine Basic Sciences Building

Twelve plows were added to trucks, with four of those outfitted to spread salt, as well. Dan Hiser, automotive sub-foreperson, noted the strategy of breaking campus into five zones, with an average of 2.5 trucks operating per zone. A thirteenth vehicle was outfitted with brine-spreading mechanics. Typically these trucks would be used to perform the duties of transportation for F&S or supporting campus construction projects.

There’s no perfect solution for every storm system, though, as plenty of rain preceded the snowfall, meaning that the rain washed away some of the brine.

Soon, the temperature plummeted and rain and standing water became slick spots or even layers of ice. Snow came late night on Feb. 1 and the morning of Feb. 2 was covered in a layer of snow and ice… except where F&S had done work after dusk.

left: a BSW spreads salt outside of a building entrance during a Febraury snow storm. right: F&S workers shoveling snow in front of a building.
F&S Works. Left: spreading salt outside of a building entrance during a Febraury snow storm. Right: Shoveling snow in front of a building. Below: trucks hit specific streets in Champaign and Urbana.

Day and Night Snow

Throughout the day and the next, hundreds of grounds workers, transportation drivers, building service workers (BSWs), heavy equipment operators, and garage personnel cleared sidewalks and pathways across campus. F&S Crafts and Trades shops and other professionals provided in other realms of support like logistics, communications, and customer relations.

Grounds workers shoveled sidewalks five or even six times by the end of the day Feb. 2. Even through that tremendous effort, perpetual snowfall and gusty winds left some walks with half an inch of snow cover. Wednesday only got more snow when local, state, and county plows announced they would pause their efforts until the morning of Thursday, Feb. 3, making some roads temporarily impassable.

“I witnessed first-hand the incredible effort utilizing a cohesive team that put forth many hours to accomplish a monumental task. It was a refreshing reminder of how well units within F&S can pull together and accomplish anything.”

Dan Hiser, automotive sub-foreperson

“My favorite part during this time was the sense of pride and accomplishment, seeing progress in our action, and knowing we are keeping the campus operational because of our efforts.”

Trey Coleman, driver

“My coworkers and I feel very humble knowing we are able to make a difference. Making sure people are able to move about safely on campus throughout the winter months by either pushing snow or with our salt and brine spreads is a top priority.”

Andre Moore, operating engineer

“It was great to work closely with other departments to achieve a goal for the greater good. It’s nice to see how well the campus comes together in an emergency situation. It shows me how impressive all of the skills are for every department involved.”

Steve Hahn, garage mechanic

After enough time and effort—with rays of sun helping, too—the precipitation started to wane, more and more pathways and parking lots were cleared and stayed that way.

“Thank you” messages rolled in from across campus, from administrators to faculty, and even students. Again and again, they noted the extraordinary effort paired with professional customer service. More than 90 miles of sidewalks had been cleared; more than 200 buildings kept clear of ice and snow; and 147 parking lots had been addressed, after all. The official University of Illinois Twitter channel thanked F&S workers on Feb. 4 to their 93,000 followers on Twitter and 260,000 friends on Facebook.

F&S will be ready for the next winter weather event, whether that’s in 2022 or in the years to come, and the hard work of hundreds supports the very mission of the university.

Said Dr. Ehab Kamarah, F&S interim executive director, in a message to all F&S employees days after the event: “As evidenced by the many compliments I have received, the campus community greatly appreciates your dedication and professional expertise in this area. Again, I thank you, and so do the students, teachers, researchers, and staff who make this campus their personal or professional home.”

Chancellor Robert Jones was impressed, as well, shown here in a letter of thanks sent to Dr. Kamarah.