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Landscape services attempt to keep grounds clean after serious snowfall

| Monday, February 19, 2018

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stop this crew; in fact, they’re the ones battling it.

Notre Dame’s Landscape Services team, known for clear sidewalks in the midst of heavy South Bend snowfall, may have met its match Feb. 9. According to the National Weather Service, 11 inches of snow fell on South Bend over a two-day span ending that Saturday.

The snow flew all day, creating problems for pedestrians and the crew alike.

“It’s not too often we lose the battle,” Charlie Henry, a Landscape Services crewleader, said. “Last Friday, we lost.”

Claire Kramer

Notre Dame Landscape Services crewleader Dennis Payne, a 32-year veteran, climbs into what he calls “the loader,” used to remove large amounts of snow from parking lots.

Aided by rising temperatures and a reprieve from the seemingly constant snow, Dennis Payne, another crewleader, said that a week later the situation seemed to finally be under control.

During normal weather, Landscape Services provides 22 hours of coverage to campus, Henry said. However, when a snowstorm blows through, crew members switch to a 12-hour shift schedule to have a constant effort on the ground.

“Before a storm, we will treat the roads so the snow doesn’t bond to the pavement,” Payne said, “which I think gives us a leg up as far as keeping it clean.”

Payne added that workers who operate the Toolcat machines, which clear the walking paths, arrive at 5 a.m. so as to clear the 27 miles of pathways for students and others who will soon need to traverse campus.

Each crew member has a route on campus, but Payne said that with routes each taking a few hours, sometimes the beginning of the route is snowed over again by the time a worker gets to the end of the shift.

“It’s very rarely when we leave at two in the afternoon that it’s worse off than it was when we came in at two [in the morning], and last Friday there was nothing we could do,” Henry said.

Although Payne said attempting to keep up with mountains of snow covering parking lots and constant phone calls requesting services made for a stressful week, crewleader Terron Phillips Sr. noted that it’s all part of Notre Dame’s reputation.  

“Let’s say it’s snowing. [People] know that if they get to Notre Dame campus, they’re safe,” he said.

Especially for off-campus students, Phillips noted that there is a lower level of attention paid to walkways and streets outside of campus compared to the areas under Landscape Services’ control.

“We take pride in making sure our stuff’s in better shape than what it is off campus,” Henry added.

Payne said the crew is able to clear snowfall of two to three inches, which he says is a normal snow situation. However, it’s not always smooth snowplowing even with the more moderate snowfalls. Crewmembers are cognizant of class schedules and popular walking routes, and plow while watching for students, who sometimes, they say, are too distracted by cellphones to realize the large machine in their path.

“If I get stuck in a certain spot there, say trying to go towards the law arch at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, I’m going to wait for 15 minutes while the students go, and I know that,” Henry said.

Phillips added that he places first priority on the pathways that he knows are the most popular for students, as well as areas where many employees head into work each morning. He also said navigating around students can prove to be difficult.

“My goal is, if I see students coming, I’m going to try to get in front of them so I can make a path for them. Sometimes it doesn’t work but sometimes they see what I’m trying to do,” Phillips said.

Sometimes, however, the biggest obstacles to the machines clearing the snow lie within snow piles: bright green handlebars poking through the drifts. The LimeBikes, found scattered around parking lots and lying in the middle of the sidewalks, proves to be a substantial problem for the crew, Henry said.

“We got to stop, get out, move it, then you go ten more feet and there’s another one,” Phillips said.

“When we first told LimeBike, ‘You’re going to have some issues in the winter,’ they said, ‘What do you mean, winter?’ They didn’t know what to think,” Henry said.

Henry said the damage done both to the bikes and to the larger snow equipment may result in some changes to the LimeBike presence on campus next winter.

Whatever challenges the high snowfall and bright green bikes may bring, the three crew leaders said satisfaction and pride come from the sight of snowless parking lots, wet concrete, grass on the edges of pathways and the absence of ringing telephones in the Landscape Services office.

“I’m sure that would sound very corny to students, unless you had to deal with it,” Payne said.

“The last thing I want is a kid falling in my area,” Henry said.

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About Claire Kramer

Claire Kramer is a senior staff writer majoring in American Studies with minors in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy (JED) and Theology. A proud native Kansas Citian, she never lets anyone forget that indeed, the Royals won the World Series.

Contact Claire