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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 26, No. 15, March 1, 2007

sNOw school
Campus closes, but services continue despite blizzard

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Cold embrace
The Alma Mater statue in front of Altgeld Hall takes on a ghostly ambiance when it is covered with ice and snow.


The UI’s Urbana campus made headlines around the U.S. and the world when a winter storm that dumped about a foot of snow on Central Illinois prompted Chancellor Richard Herman to cancel classes for two days, Feb. 13-14. Newspapers and magazines from New York to California and points in between as well as media in Australia, Canada, England and France reported that the snowstorm had forced Illinois to close for the first time since January 1979.

Blizzard-like conditions left snow removal crews from the Facilities and Services Division – as well as city work crews – engaged in a largely futile battle against high winds and blowing snow as they struggled to clear parking lots, streets and sidewalks. With sidewalks impassable in many areas and pedestrians forced to walk in the streets, administrators decided at about 9 a.m. Feb. 13 to cancel classes and reduce services so that only employees who provide emergency and direct student services were required to report to work.

At about 6:30 that evening, Herman issued an e-mail announcement that classes were canceled and services reduced for a second day because continued high winds and the heavy snowfall were making it impossible to keep streets and sidewalks clear.

Click photo to enlarge
Photos by L. Brian Stauffer

Let it snow … somewhere else
Above, a pedestrian crosses the snow-covered Quad with the Illini Union in the background. Workers in F&S and other units worked long hours clearing snow so the campus could reopen on Feb. 15.

Below, Ed Dietkus, a grounds worker in the Facilities and Services Division, uses a tractor to clear sidewalks on the Quad. Even after the high winds subsided, the excessive snowfall posed a challenge for workers who cleared sidewalks, parking lots and streets.

“On Tuesday morning (Feb. 13), I was out shoveling snow at about 6:30 and got a call that my boss, Jack Dempsey, and Richard Herman were in discussions about what could be done,” said Carl Wegel, director of maintenance in Facilities and Services. “And at that point, it was pretty apparent, because of the winds, that we just couldn’t keep up. In areas that we cleared, many of them were blown in again in two to three hours.

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

The weather outside is frightful
Passengers board an MTD bus at the Transit Plaza on Wright Street during a Feb. 6 snowstorm that dropped 4 1/2 inches of snow on Champaign-Urbana. A week later, a blizzard dumped an additional 13 inches of snow. High winds and blowing snow made streets and sidewalks impassable, prompting the UI to cancel classes for the first time since 1979.

About 20 drivers, 20 grounds workers and 100 building service workers from Facilities and Services removed snow. Four of the drivers worked round the clock, as did about 11 operating engineers. Some of the grounds workers cleared snow in 12-hour shifts.

“Parking lots were our most difficult nemesis,” Wegel said. “Because we were focusing on streets and sidewalks initially, and clearing parking lots was delayed, motorists who came to work on Tuesday drove into lots as far as they could and just left their vehicles. There were some lots that we were completely blocked out of clearing because of vehicles. Because we hadn’t cleared lots before people got to work, it was just a nightmare in that regard.”

Even when the winds subsided, the extraordinary accumulation of snow forced plow drivers to push snow to all sides of parking lots, burying some parking spaces under mounds of snow.

Two days after the storm, maintenance crews were still struggling to clear some lots, Wegel said.

“We received a fair mix of (feedback from) people who were dissatisfied and people who were satisfied with our service,” Wegel said. “And I like to think that the satisfied customers really appreciated the gravity of the situation, and those who weren’t, just didn’t realize how extreme this situation was. The last time we had a big snow like this was when we got 15 inches of snow on Jan. 1, 1999, and on Jan. 1, the students were still away from campus for another three weeks.”

The weather outside is frightful Passengers board an MTD bus at the Transit Plaza on Wright Street during a Feb. 6 snowstorm that dropped 4 1/2 inches of snow on Champaign-Urbana. A week later, a blizzard dumped an additional 13 inches of snow. High winds and blowing snow made streets and sidewalks impassable, prompting the UI to cancel classes for the first time since 1979.About 150 of University Housing’s 225 dining services personnel, more than 80 Housing Facilities employees and a number of other staff members worked during the closure. Housing used a truck to pick up about 10 staff members at their homes in Urbana and Champaign and take them to work. About 12 of Housing’s dining services staff stayed overnight in guest housing at Orchard Downs, and other staff members stayed overnight in the residence halls. Live-in Residential Life staff members also helped ensure that services weren’t interrupted, and student employees worked extra shifts.


“It’s tough if you’re asking someone to come to work, and they choose to spend the night so they can get to work at 6 a.m. the next morning instead of going home to their families. I think that’s real dedication,” said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of marketing in University Housing. “We were very fortunate that we’ve got such dedicated staff members who were willing to take those measures.”

Housing crews also had to clear sidewalks so that residents who had to could walk to their dining facilities, and they had to keep the docks cleared so that delivery trucks could make their deliveries.

“It really was a group effort,” Ruby said. “Although the campus shuts down, the residence halls and apartment buildings don’t. Sometimes people forget that we still have 10,000 people living on campus, and we need to make sure that we’re there for them. We still need to feed people, take out the garbage and make sure that the facilities are clean and in good repair.”

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