We’ve had a particularly snowy winter so far here in St. Louis. I love winter, so that’s perfectly fine with me, but not everyone feels the same way, and some people are really aching for spring to start already. We had a couple small storms before Christmas, then after New Year’s, we got nearly a foot of snow. It was the biggest storm in more than 30 years. That set back the start of school after the holiday by a couple days while the street crews got everyone moving again. That opened the window, of course, for a story explaining how the campus gets cleared after winter weather, and it turned out really great. There were a lot of numbers, and my inner journalist knew that meant it was time for an infographic.
“We have the monks pray, and then it all melts,” Director of Administration and Facilities Martin Fitzgerald jokes about the school’s snow removal plans. It doesn’t take a storm like the one last week that left nearly a foot of snow on the ground to show that the plan is more encompassing than that — even a small amount of snow means a lot of work for the facilities crew.
Before a winter storm, Martin says the team monitors the forecasts and stockpiles salt and de-icing chemicals. “Our process is almost identical to the highway department’s,” he says. The crew has an arsenal of 2 trucks with plows, tractors with plows, snow blowers and shovels at the ready when a storm is on the way.
“Each storm and snow type is unique,” he says. “We can make general plans in advance, but a lot depends on when the storm hits and how much snow we’re looking at.”
For example, he says normally the crew’s first priority is to have the campus ready to be open for school, but with the big storm last week starting on Saturday night and continuing through the day on Sunday, they had to take action to make sure St. Anselm parishioners could get in and out of Mass.
“We try to wait until it’s done snowing to start plowing, if we have that luxury, but in this last storm we were just hammered. We plowed all day,” he says. With Masses at 7:30, 9 and 11 a.m., the team was tasked with plowing the snow as it fell to make sure people could get into the parking lots before church, then to plow around their cars so they could get out once Mass was over.
“It was a challenge with cars on the lot,” he says.
Another factor in snow and ice removal is trying to minimize the use of salt and de-icing chemicals. The salt and chemicals can hurt the concrete if they’re used too much. As the school tries to minimize pollutants, the facilities team tries to keep the salt and chemicals from running off into the drains and storm sewers. The water that carries them there eventually flows into the local creeks and rivers, and later into the Gulf of Mexico. For those reasons, facilities has switched to using magnesium chloride on the sidewalks instead of salt, because it is better for both the environment and the concrete.
Finally, capacity offers yet another challenge. The storage capability of the facilities crew is limited, and sometimes getting more supplies in the middle of winter can be difficult.
The team plows as much as they can to avoid using salt, but there are considerations that have to be made when plowing also. Where the snow ends up is one such factor. “You have to be careful of melting and re-freezing so you don’t end up with black ice,” Martin says. Because of the volume of snow in the last storm, places Priory would normally put the snow were already being used by MoDOT as they removed snow from the streets around campus. That complicated things further, since the team had to make sure the entrances and exits were clear and drivers could see oncoming traffic around the snow piles.
A request from the Facilities Department that most students will be happy to follow: “If the Headmaster calls off school, don’t come in early,” Martin and Facilities Manager Adam Whitman both stressed. “Do us a favor and keep your cars of campus until we can get things cleared.”