With 15 full-time employees and their supervisor, Ed Grossman, the SRU maintenance crew has been responsible for trash pickup, work orders, delivering printing paper, and various other tasks along with maintaining 8 to 10 miles of roads and between 35 and 40 acres of parking lot during what Assistant Director of Campus Services Dallas Cott described as the worst winter in terms of small snows and ice.
Cott said that ice removal is a lot worse than snow removal and requires workers to put in more hours. For example, on Feb. 1 and 2, most of the maintenance crew worked 21 out of 24 hours when SRU was hit with a flash freeze and the temperature dropped from nearly 40 degrees to 16 degrees. With those weather conditions, the crew was required to work 29 out of 36 hours, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.
“We have to make a reasonable effort to clear ice and snow,” Cott said. “We can’t ignore it for a couple days, we are always out.”
At the crew’s disposal is a one ton dump truck with salt spreader and plow, a one ton dump truck with only the plow, a pickup truck with plow and salt spreader, which is new this year and is only used by the supervisor, two pickup trucks with only a plow, and five tractors with plows and salt spreaders. Four of the tractors are used for sidewalks and one is for smaller parking lots that the trucks do not fit into.
This equipment is operated by nine operators and Grossman; the other five full-time employees are out shoveling by hand all day. Also if the equipment breaks down then the crew will do their best to repair it, but back up equipment is extremely limited, so if a truck or tractor goes down that means other trucks and tractors have to cover that area. Even with these difficulties, the crew is working to make the campus safe.
“Our top priority is trying to provide the safest conditions as possible, given the conditions we are dealing with for the students, faculty, staff and visitors to this campus,” Cott said. “I can guarantee you that the grounds crew employees take a lot of pride in their snow removal efforts and do everything possible to get this campus cleared as quickly as possible. Mother nature does not always allow that to happen at a schedule that meets the needs of every student at all times.”
According to 15-year veteran at the campus police department, Lt. Sharkey, the maintenance crew does a fine job. Since 2011 there have only been eight wrecks on campus or Kiester Road, and only three of those have occurred in the winter. The most recent wreck came on Feb. 4 in the stadium lot, where a car tried to stop, and slid. The other two wrecks occurred on Kiester Road Jan. 25, 2012 and on Rock Pride Drive Jan. 24, 2014.
“I believe the cause of the accidents is driver’s error, not the snow or ice,” Sharkey said. “For the amount of personnel the maintenance crew has, they do a good job.”
The total area the crew covers includes 28 parking lots, all the roads on upper campus, lower campus, and roads on the outskirts. These roads are Campus Drive, Maltby Avenue, Morrow Way, Service Drive to the Boiler House, Stadium Drive, Campus Loop, North Road, Rock Pride Drive, Green and White Way, Founders Way, entrance roads near East/West Lake lots, Innovation Drive, which is the road off Rt. 108 leading to the backside of the student center, and the road leading from Harmony Road into the Equestrian Center.
Grossman talked about how the wreck on Kiester Road wasn’t a poor reflection of the maintenance crew, as that road is the borough’s responsibility. The reason students will see maintenance plowing that on occasion is because they will help the borough out to help ensure student safety, Grossman said.
“We help salt Kiester for student safety,” Grossman said. “Even though Kiester is not ours, we want to make sure the students are safe.”
Three different types of salt are used on roads, rock salt, rock salt/calcium chloride mix, and bulk salt. SRU is under contract through the state to acquire 300 tons of rock salt per year. This is the same material that Penndot uses, and SRU is required to purchase 60 percent of the salt even if that much is not used. This year is not going to be a problem using all the salt as from Feb. 1 to Feb. 6, 80 tons of rock salt were used.
“We are going to use all 100 percent this year,” Cott said. “We are looking at using possibly more than that 100 percent.”
When it comes to the rock salt/calcium chloride mix, 88,000 pounds have been used with another 44,000 in stock. This salt is used on sidewalks and has the blue color to it, so workers do not use more salt if it has already been applied. Rock salt loses its effectiveness when temperatures drop below 20 degrees, so when you add the calcium chloride mix it helps with the melting process because the mix is meant for temperatures as cold as negative 20 degrees.
Bulk salt is used on sidewalks and roads during the heaviest of ice periods. This salt cost $67 a ton, so this year SRU has spent close to $16,000 in bulk salt. The maintenance crew will also use bagged salt, a mix of rock salt and calcium said to spread better and work better for concrete sidewalks. Bagged salt costs close to $7 per bag, resulting in the SRU spending $17,000 on bagged material as of February.
Slippery Rock has had one slip and fall lawsuit since 2011. This was in the case of Mary Ann Allega vs. Slippery Rock University and McKeever Environmental Learning Center. The case is pending and has been since February 2014.
“I take it personally when people fall,” Cott said. “Safety is our main concern.”