Extra snow calls for extra effort

“This is pretty atypical; this is not your typical New England winter,” said Director of Facilities Planning and Management Jim Brassord. The number and strength of snowstorms this winter have placed additional demands on the College community.

“It’s just nonstop in general,” said Grounds Supervisor Robert Shea. Members of essential staff, which includes Physical Plant, have worked through the night to clear snow and have been working on campus when faculty had the option to cancel class and administrative offices were officially closed. Physical Plant staff includes custodians, buildings and grounds workers, electricians and Campus Police.

Because Amherst is a residential college, the academic program is essentially never canceled due to snow. As a result, enough snow must be removed so that students can make it to their classes.

“We know from experience that we can get the school in order for academic purposes,” said Brassord, adding that clearing enough for the administration to be open is more difficult.

“I’ve been at the College 26 years and it’s always been that way,” said Groundskeeper Marlin Ball.

“We try to get in there and get the job done so students can get to class safely,” said Ball. The large snowstorm that hit on the night of March 5 required workers to clear snow through the night.

“It was the first time we had big snows like that,” said Shea. “It was a challenge.”

“As it turns out, approximately 1000 man-hours were expended in the snow removal, late Monday through Tuesday evening,” said Brassord. All physical plant staff participated in large-scale snow removal, including those who are not typically concerned with snow, Brassord added. “This is a fairly unique system. We had electricians working alongside custodians.”

Many essential personnel, those who must be on campus and working regardless of weather or other circumstances, were housed overnight in the Lord Jeffery Inn during the most recent storm.

“This is the first time they kept people overnight like that,” said Ball.

“I think there is an esprit de corps amongst the physical plant; they rise to the challenge and feel proud of their work,” said Brassord. “I am thrilled to have such a great team effort.”

Bigger storms cause greater damage and require above-average clearing. In order to maintain parking lots and have space to push new snow, “We have to go beyond plowing the snow,” said Brassord. “We have to physically remove it from the lots.” He also noted that this winter has been demanding on Physical Plant’s supplies. Brassord said that exact data are unavailable at this time.

“This season has been a fairly intensive use of supplies. We have been through substantially more materials and products than we have in the past,” Brassord said.

“We have had a lot of storm damage,” said Ball who noted, specifically damage to pine trees. “We spend three to four days, sometimes a week, picking up the branches.”

Those who contribute additional man-hours to snow clearing, sometimes even through the night, are compensated by the College. “They are eligible for extra pay or compensatory time in addition to straight time,” said Brassord. “We give [them] that flexibility because some people would like time off when the weather is a little better.”

“I think they work very, very hard. Not everyone is young. It’s an awful lot of hard work,” said Assistant Gardener Judith Atwood. “I think they should be given bonuses. They should be given awards, medals.”