Behind the Scenes, a Small Army Battled the Snow
By Peter Tormey
Don’t fault Ken Sammons, Gonzaga’s director of Plant Services, if he has a tough time deciding where to begin explaining all the work and worry the 61.5 inches of snow caused him and the Plant Services' crews last month.
There are all of the sidewalks and parking lots that needed to be cleared on the 131-acre campus. All campus streets south of Sharp Avenue likewise had to be cleared of snow -- although the City of Spokane is “technically” supposed to handle it, Plant Services’ crews stepped up.
Why? It had to be done.
“We are not responsible for plowing our city streets but occasionally we do,” Sammons said. “The City came through once or twice but they had enough trouble elsewhere.” Did Gonzaga tow any of the students’ cars stranded on side streets?
Nope. “We just had to work around them,” he said.
Plant Services also had to determine which roofs over Gonzaga’s nearly 100 buildings should be shoveled to prevent cave-ins as dozens of commercial buildings in Spokane experienced. Ultimately, they decided to clear about 60 of the flat roofs, the most vulnerable.
Plant Services also had to find enough workers and equipment to begin work once a snow-removal plan was developed. They faced all of these problems and more while students and faculty were home for the holidays. They knew thousands of Gonzaga students and faculty would return in mid-January for spring semester and needed safe sidewalks, cleared parking lots and safe access to all buildings.
Still, Plant Services and the hired hands finished the work with aplomb and on time. For a while, however, it seemed the snow would never stop.
Was it the worst conditions Sammons has seen in his almost 40 years at Gonzaga?
“It was the most snow in the shortest period of time. Was it the worst conditions? I don’t know,” Sammons said. “I have selective memory once an incident is passed. When I wasn’t here, I was either shoveling my own roof or worrying at my own place.”
Since the previous all-time monthly record occurred in the month of January (1950; 56.9 inches), Plant Services was taking no chances the snow would simply melt before campus was again abuzz with students.
Plant Services began cutting snow-and-ice blocks off rooftops to calculate how much weight they could bear.
“It was a matter of second-guessing: Was it going to continue to snow or was it going to stop?” Sammons explained. “Everything we saw said ‘more snow coming’ or ‘rain coming, watch for ice build-up.’ Five inches of ice is equal to about 30 inches of snow.”
Ultimately, they proactively waged war against the snow. In addition to the Plant Services Staff that could get to work, they hired a contractor who brought two dozen people per day for 18 days straight.
“They worked seven days a week right straight through for two and a half weeks. They shoveled nearly all of the flat roofs on Campus,” he said. Two additional roofing crews, with four to five people each, worked a few days shoveling other buildings the first crews did not reach.
“We also had contractors here with loaders, four-wheel-drive backhoes, graders, and bobcats working to get snow moved out of the way, loaded out of parking lots and so on,” Sammons said. “At one point, we were probably down to about two-thirds capacity on our parking but we’ve got that pretty well loaded back out of there now.”
Some of the snow hills were hauled off in dump trucks to a vacant area owned by the University while some were dumped on grass and lawn areas, where spring flowers will be no worse for the wear.
“In addition, we made arrangements to borrow part of Burgans Furniture parking lot. So we have a month where we can use that for overflow parking while we continue to work our way through some of the lots,” Sammons said.
Gonzaga’s snow arsenal included 15 pieces of heavy-duty snow removal equipment such as 4-wheel-drive pickups with snow-removal blades, backhoes, a sander with a blade, five Kubota mini-tractors and more.
While the crews plowed and shoveled like mad, other workers stayed busy repairing equipment to keep the shock-and-awe against the snow going.
The Price Tag to Remove the Big Snow?
“Somewhere in the 250-thousand-to-300-thousand-dollar range,” Sammons estimated, plus the estimated $50,000 repairs to three entrance/exit canopies on College Hall that were taken out by gigantic icicles. Sammons praised the diligence and get-’er-done attitude of Gonzaga’s crews.
“Their work was exemplary,” he said. “The grounds crew works as long as it takes and they got to the point where they were just barely keeping up with it. They were plowing as fast as they could just to keep up.”
Thanks to Plant Services’ proactive proclivities, the exit/entrance canopies were the only major damage. Plant ensured those were shored up as well, safe both before and during repairs.
All the hard work likely prevented major damage, plus Gonzaga may get a break from their insurance carriers on part of the snow-removal costs, he said.
Overall, Sammons said he was pleased with the massive undertaking.
Even so, don’t expect Ken Sammons to be whistling “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” anytime soon.