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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities
Darryl Taylor, landscape gardener I, drives a Toolcat with a broom attachment to remove snow from the sidewalk near the Natural Science building.

Darryl Taylor, landscape gardener I, drives a Toolcat with a broom attachment to remove snow from the sidewalk near the Natural Science building.

Icy winters don’t stand a chance

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Feb. 29, 2012

Snow removal is a 24/7 job for Landscape Services. Whether it’s late night or the wee hours, employees are devoted to keeping MSU navigable and safe.

Early morning is normally quiet on campus, but the story changes in the face of winter weather. Drivers are usually the first to be called in to take care of the roadways and intersections on campus in the pre-dawn hours. Large loaders and plows join to take care of parking lots; Toolcat and tractor operators remove the snow from the campus sidewalks and the tops of parking ramps. All of this activity happens before the sun rises.

Landscape Services’ emergency response teams (ERTs) take charge at the threat of snow. Three ERTs take turns being on-duty one week at a time. Each team is composed of six to seven people including an on-call mechanic to repair equipment if needed.

A rotating system of snow supervisors directs the ERTs. Landscape Services Coordinators Paul Swartz, Fred Kester, Bill Ratliff, and Roger Thelen as well as Landscape Architect II/S Adam Lawver take one-week turns making action decisions.

These employees are on-call after hours on top of working a regular shift. Heavy snowfall on the night of Jan. 12 brought in an ERT at 7 p.m. for the women’s basketball game as well as 10 p.m. for an event at the Wharton Center.

Timely snow removal is crucial for urgent tasks on campus. For example, the MSU Radiology Clinic must deliver isotopes across the state at specific times. “They’re out at the radiation lab until 3 a.m. It wasn’t until the first heavy snowfall that vehicles started slipping,” Swartz said. “For a time-sensitive mission they had to accomplish, it was really important for that area to be clear.”

Apart from scheduled coverage, campus customers can call Dispatch at any time to report trouble spots, which sends calls to the snow supervisor on duty. If an ERT is already on campus, Dispatch contacts the team directly to facilitate a faster response time.

Snow removal responsibilities are shared with Custodial Services, another Physical Plant* crew. These employees clear building entrances, stairs, and barrier-free ramps as well as provide ice-melt compound to help prevent slips and falls. On top of that, the Physical Plant combines efforts with Residential and Hospitality Services, the Land Management Office and the MSU Police Department to ensure the most complete care of students, faculty and staff.

The Physical Plant’s snow removal techniques are innovative and environmentally friendly. The crew pre-treats the ground with a brine solution made from beet juice with water and salt solution. While the brine still contains salt, the water dilutes it to be more evenly distributed and to get a head-start at melting snow.

Kester credited the efforts of Landscape Services employees for the efficiency of the program. “There is a spirit of teamwork here.”

To report an area in need of snow or ice removal, call (517) 353-1760.

January/February 2012

*Prior to the creation of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities in January 2013, several IPF departments were a part of the now-dissolved MSU Physical Plant. Some historical articles on this website reference that former unit.

Snow and ice removal removal:

To report an area in need of snow or ice removal, call (517) 353-1760.