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Snow no match for removal team

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, February 8, 2007

While students are often looking for a reason to cut class, snow is not a viable excuse at Notre Dame. Within hours of any snowfall – heavy or light – walkways and roads on campus are cleared to make cross-campus travel as safe as possible for students.

That snow doesn’t clear itself, however. The work is done by Notre Dame’s Landscape Services Department, which employs 30 people who work three different shifts for campus snow removal, said Bill Thistlethwaite, superintendent of landscape services.

Three employees work from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m., using any of the department’s four brooms, three Bobcat machines with buckets, three pick-up trucks with plows, four small dump trucks with plows and three big dump trucks with plows, Thistlethwaite said.

Four employees work from 3:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., and if snowfall isn’t too heavy, Thistlethwaite said the department operates on a third shift from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During that period, the most workers are employed.

There are always exceptions, though. Precautions are taken for every scenario as soon as flurries begin.

When there’s more than two inches of snow, Thistlethwaite said, additional people join the second shift, which then runs an extra four hours to end at 2 p.m.

The current bitterly cold temperatures only complicate the matter. When the thermometer drops below zero and snow falls during the day, the removal process slows down.

In subzero temperatures, chemicals used to remove the snow and break down ice are less efficient than in warmer weather, Thistlethwaite said.

“When the temperatures are in the twenties, we can have the walks down to bare pavement and dry by the end of the day,” he said.

When snow falls at a rate of over two inches an hour during the daytime, the removal process becomes more cumbersome. But areas of campus that require snow removal are prioritized to make the process more efficient.

“The walks and the roads are the top priority,” Thistlethwaite said. “But along with that are the parking places for faculty, staff and commuting students.”

Although Thistlethwaite realizes that it may irritate students, student parking lots are the lowest priority for snow removal, he said.

Thistlethwaite said workers plow the student lots last because most of the cars are already there and most students are already on campus. While Landscape Services does the best they can to clear parking lots, they do not intend block people from their cars, he said.

“Contrary to popular belief, we don’t really try to plow people in. That’s not our goal,” Thistlethwaite said. “Sometimes this is just something that happens when cars are left in lots that need to be plowed.”

Landscape Services is also trying to cut the use of salt by using other compounds, he said.

“We like to think we’re one of the leaders in using the environmentally friendly chemicals,” Thistlethwaite said. “These chemicals are byproducts of ethanol that are not corrosive and do not harm plant life.”

While several tons of salt are still used on average each year, its use has been greatly reduced at Notre Dame.

“We still use salt because we have to, but over the last six or seven years, we have cut our salt use by about 40 percent and [we] still keep our roads better than everybody else in the area,” Thistlethwaite said.

Since shifts are long and weather conditions harsh, those operating snow removal equipment need to stay focused.

“It’s very mentally taxing,” Thistlethwaite said. “You have to stay alert all the time. When you work long hours and you can’t see because of the snow, things can get hairy.”