How the paths are cleared

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When a snowfall hits campus it is up to Plant Operations to ensure that the pathways and roads are cleared. For this task, they have a wide range of resources available to them. According to Tom Galloway, director of custodial and grounds services, they have four equipment operators that work the night shift, 10 groundspeople for hand-hoveling and salting entranceways and steps, four temporary staff hired additionally for the winter, and student snow shovelers. 

In terms of physical equipment, the department has five tractors mainly used for pathways and sidewalks and five plow vehicles ranging from dump trucks to pickup trucks for the roads and smaller parking lots. In addition to these resources the university also hires contractors to clean the larger main campus parking lots and the satellite campuses. These contractors are on a time-and-equipment contract and only come in when at least two inches of snow has fallen. The affiliated colleges — St. Jerome’s, St. Paul’s, Renison, and Conrad Grebel — are not the responsibility of Plant Operations.

The main priority for them is to keep the main access points on campus open. 

“We need to keep open the emergency routes, so we need to keep open Ring Road and the roads like the math road, the residence road, chemistry road — all those roads where a fire truck or emergency vehicle would have to go,” noted Galloway. The roads that are considered emergency routes are kept open at all times, including weekends. 

The priority when it comes to pathways is the main spine that runs down the middle of campus.  Galloway explained that “the main spine is first, and sometimes there are alternative routes that people can take easily. So that one route may not get done very quickly because over here is another one you can take so let’s do that one first.” 

While vehicles do both the roads and pathways, the entranceways, stairs, and fire exits have to be done by hand. The 10-person groundscrew’s priority is clearing the stairways, as these are the most dangerous for pedestrians. Once a path is cleared in each stairway, then entranceways and fire exits are done.

If there is a major storm and a school closing is being considered, Galloway is consulted by the provost before a decision is made. Taking the storm on Feb. 2 as an example, he asked himself,  “Is the university accessible? Yes, the university is accessible. You can get there by car, you can get there by bus, you can get there by foot, you may have to go through eight inches of snow on Monday but light fluffy snow an adult can easily get through. Will everything be done? No.” He does not expect every path to be cleared — their standard is 24 hours after a snow event, which coincides with the city bylaws. 

“We don’t have an inches standard, but eight inches is too much for a four-year-old to go through but is it too much for a 17- or 20-year-old to go through? That is where you can get into a debate,” added Galloway. 

One problem that was noted earlier this term was ice on the pathways. This was a result of a stretch of cold and cloudy days. Galloway explained that the ice normally does not melt unless the ground temperature reaches at least -8 C, although this year they have purchased coated salt that is meant to work at -10 C but comes at a premium price. So far this year, they have spread 550 metric tonnes of salt and 50 metric tonnes of sand across campus. 

Galloway concluded by explaining that keeping roads and paths safe is a science where they need to look at both precipitation and temperature.