By Chance Joyner
The first week of classes came so quickly, students may have forgotten a few things in their hasty preparation: the location of their classes, expensive textbooks, and – ice skates? A quick thaw and rapid refreeze left some sidewalks, especially the one along North Street, frozen into a solid sheet of ice during the first week of class and a few times since.
Although the ice covered only a few feet of sidewalk, for those trying to navigate the slippery pavement without falling and sliding into the path of an oncoming shuttle bus, the treacherous terrain seemed to stretch out for miles. Does this mean students should pack crampons and spiked poles in addition to laptops and notebooks?
Not necessarily, according to Jay Bry, chief operating officer of Facilities/Capital Planning and Maintenance. “We have a good system in place,” he says. “Depending on the storm, all shifts combined, roughly 50 people are responsible for treating the campus.”
The main campus alone spans 31.4 acres, so this can be a daunting task. The 50-person crew includes the five-man grounds crew and custodial staff, so during a heavy storm, they may be pulled from their usual custodial duties to plow, shovel, and treat sidewalks. “We sometimes have increased complaints about the bathrooms when this happens,” jokes Bry.
Student safety is, of course, the primary concern. If anyone sees a dangerous section of untreated sidewalk, Bry encourages them to call Capital Planning and Maintenance at 978-665-3737. “Students with disabilities can call to get their routes to class covered,” he says. There are sometimes minor injuries on campus from slips and slides, Bry said, but maintenance is aware of danger zones around campus and is committed to keeping them treated.
There is no set budget for snow removal, so running out of money is not a problem. “We have a small initial budget, which quickly goes into deficit spending,” says Bry. The expense incurred also depends on when storms happen. If a blizzard hits during vacation, when most students are not on campus, snow removal is not a priority. “The timing has been in the college’s favor,” says Bry.
While it is impossible to predict the weather, there are no problems in the forecast for the hard-working maintenance crew. The grounds team meets before each storm and coordinates its plans with Campus Police. The crew is also trying a new liquid ice melt. And, should Fitchburg receive so much snow that they run out of places to put it, the college has an agreement with a local contractor who will pack up and haul away excess slushy stuff.
Perhaps the biggest battle is not against Mother Nature, but rather against the city of Fitchburg. “We go back and forth with the city,” jokes Bry. “We’ll plow one way; they’ll plow it back.”