Campus Staff Deal with the Ramifications of “Snowpocalypse”

Photo by Jackson Webb
Sgt. Tony Brooks

After one of the largest snowstorms to ever hit Southern Maryland left the entire campus buried under more than a foot of snow, staff and administrators were left with the monumental task of getting the campus back to normal. According to Derek Thornton, Assistant Vice President of Campus Operations, it was a task the Physical Plant and other offices had prepared for. “We met [with Physical Plant and Public Safety (PS)] on several occasions before the snow came,” he said. Thornton pointed out, however, that at the time of their first meeting (Jan. 30) reports were calling for far less snow (around four to five inches), a forecast that was changed very shortly before the storm.

When it did hit during the night on Feb. 5 and continued into the next day, those employees that Thornton said were “deemed needed and essential,” including Public Safety and members of maintenance and the Physical Plant, were at first simply tasked with the challenge of getting to the school. “Physical Plant employees were very instrumental in making sure they got here,” Thornton said. “They all worked together.” According to Sgt. Eric “Tony” Brooks, supervisor of PS, many dedicated employees that helped during the dig-out stayed on campus for the duration of the weekend, taking breaks in the boat house and using the Athletic and Recreation Center (ARC)’s showers to freshen up between shifts.

Thornton said that the Physical Plant’s work started with opening up the main passages between residence halls and critical buildings such as the Campus Center, Library, and ARC. According to Brooks, this meant at times breaking through ice upwards of three inches thick in some areas. The job was so monumentous, in fact, that the College had to rent more Bobcat 4x4s and hire outside contractors with front-loading tractors to take care of the massive piles of snow.  Brooks said that even though the initial storm was more than a week ago, he and the rest of PS are still working to help students dig out their cars and still check sidewalks for melted snow that has freezed over at night.

Another major problem facing the college is the financial impact of all the extra work required to get the college up and running again. According to Chip Jackson, Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities and dubbed “the snowman” for his role in college cancellations, over 2000 man-hours were needed to get the college functioning again, costing around $47,000 in overtime pay. This figure furthermore does not include extra costs associated with hiring outside contractors and buying extra supplies. According to Christopher True, Assistant Vice President of Finance, this money will initially come out of college’s budgeted $200,000 for overtime. He said, however, that, “it is possible we could go over for the year.” In this case, Jackson said funds would come out of the college contingency budget, which comes out to $300,000 a year.  Jackson commented that the contingency account was a, “delicate balance…on one hand every dollar counts, but on the other we have to budget contingency, otherwise we would be irresponsible.” True also hinted at a possible state-wide asking for money to help with the costs of the storm, though as of now no extra state or federal funds have been delegated to the College.

Another issue that college administrators may need to face is allegations that during the first snowstorm that members of Residence Life and Professors were notified of the Feb 1 college closing hours before the all-student email was sent out. In the opinions article “Tell us (S)now” from the Feb 9 issue of The Point News, Online Editor David Chase contended that this delay was the result of the “paternalistic, patronizing attitude” of a college administration that wanted to delay the announcement until area liquor stores were closed.  In reaction to this opinion, Jackson said that the decision to close the college is “no exact science” and that the decision is a result of consultation between himself, Brooks, Thornton, and Provost (and current acting President) Larry Vote. He emphasized that, “It is absolutely our intent that when the decision is made everyone gets the information at the same time.” He added, “We don’t play favorites.”

Despite the challenge that staff faced then, and still in some ways continue to face, Brooks and Thornton both agreed that staff had high morale and worked exceedingly hard to make the campus safe. Thornton said, “Response from Physical Plant staff was phenomenal.” Even when a second storm hit on Feb 10, complicating the already difficult dig-out, Brooks said people were, “still gung-ho,” and kept working. Thornton said, “We at first though ‘oh, how many of our staff will be up for doing this again,’…[but] there was no drop-off.” Brooks himself attempted to keep morale high; “I would just get the shovel…and start cracking jokes,” he said.  Brooks added defiantly, “Let it snow some more! I want to see more!”

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