The complaints started rolling in early Tuesday morning. Students, waking up to three inches of snow, were unhappy with the state of the roads around campus, about having to go to class and the general weather in Ohio during February.
Five hours before classes were scheduled to begin, several hours before anyone arrived on campus to phone in their complaints, the Youngstown State University grounds crew took to the roads and sidewalks across campus.
“We’ll probably get 30 to 40 complaints this morning,” said Dave Ewing, the associate director of grounds, while plowing on Tuesday. “It seems if there’s a slippery spot on campus, someone will find it.”
Ewing uses a weather service application on his phone to determine if and when plowing will be necessary. After most overnight snowstorms, he has the grounds crew ready to roll out and plow campus at 3 a.m.
All nine full-time employees, not including Ewing, and two students will pilot the three dump trucks, six pickup trucks, two Skid Steers — small front end loaders that are used for clearing sidewalks — and a Jeep, all equipped with plows, through YSU’s parking lots, sidewalks and, if necessary, some of the roads, mainly Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Avenue.
Because of Tuesday morning’s relatively warm temperatures — it was right around freezing at 5 a.m. — producing wet, heavy snow, Ewing knew that he and his crew had their work cut out for them.
“It slows us down. It’s hard to push it around,” he said. “But nobody moves snow like we do. If you go to Kent [State University], it’s snow-covered.”
The biggest problem with the snow Tuesday morning was two bouts of blizzard-like conditions: one around 4:30 a.m. that produced lightning and another around 7 a.m. that blanketed the campus.
“When I first started, we had snow like this all the time and then we had all those mild winters,” Ewing said. “It’s easy to get used to [mild winters].”
This year the facilities department has used almost 600 tons of salt by Ewing’s estimation. In the previous two years, they’ve used half of that each winter.
The timing of the second downpour of snow was an issue for the grounds team. On one of his laps around campus, taking care of parking areas and streets that needed attention, Ewing and one of his drivers faced the dilemma of the campus core being covered with snow faster than it could be removed. With just half an hour before they had to stop because of pedestrians on campus, Ewing made the call to get sidewalks as clear as possible using the department’s Jeep and rock salt around building entrances.
“We bought about 1,800 bags of salt this year and out we salt around buildings,” Ewing said. “We put buckets of it at entrances so people can use it if they need it.”
Four and a half hours after starting their morning, which included clearing campus three times, the plow team returned to the garage to wait for the morning rush on campus to finish. Then, Ewing said, they would await the complaints.
“We’ll take a break at 7:30, let people get to class and then we’ll go back out and do our best to keep paths open around campus,” he said.
In addition to typical complaints, plowing puts pressure on parking around campus. One snow pile that Ewing pointed out in the M24 parking lot near Taco Bell on Fifth Avenue took up about eight parking spaces.
Even with the rough conditions on Tuesday, it could have been much worse.
“Snow, to me, anyone can walk through snow,” he said. “Ice is the worst.”
As his routine came to an end Tuesday morning, Ewing praised the people he works with, who were awake in the middle of the night to make the YSU campus as clear as possible.
“My department is a hard-working department and my guys care. A lot of people couldn’t be bothered with this,” Ewing said. “You can do all the cleanup you want, but if you get [snow] at the wrong time it’s like beating your head against the wall.”