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Snow days "Oh, no!" days for grounds keepers and custodians

January 28, 2003

Most Austin Peay faculty and staff shout "Yeah!" and go back to bed when snow or ice-covered roads close the University's doors. But a rugged few merely don their Carhartts and yell, "Pass the salt!"

At the first hint of hazardous conditions, Angel Leasure and the other members of the roads and grounds crew prepare to battle the elements with sand, shovels and saltnot to mention plenty of strong, hot coffee.

"When it snows like it has, some of us work all night long," she says. "We work double shifts and then some.
January 28, 2003

Most Austin Peay faculty and staff shout "Yeah!" and go back to bed when snow or ice-covered roads close the University's doors. But a rugged few merely don their Carhartts and yell, "Pass the salt!"

At the first hint of hazardous conditions, Angel Leasure and the other members of the roads and grounds crew prepare to battle the elements with sand, shovels and saltnot to mention plenty of strong, hot coffee.

"When it snows like it has, some of us work all night long," she says. "We work double shifts and then some.

"We're ugly come the end of the week!"

She's wrong, of course. Nothing's more beautiful than the sight of someone ankle-deep in a bed of white, clumps of snow flying from his or her outstretched shovelespecially when that someone is clearing a path you're about to traverse.

Leasure says pre-emptive strikes are an important part of the crew's snow strategy. "We put potassium chloride down prior to the cold system's coming in," she says. "It keeps snow from freezing on the steps and sidewalks."

Note, this is not sodium chloride, the stuff we sprinkle on our food. Once a staple of winter roads-keeping, sodium chloride now has been largely abandoned in favor of its friendlier chemical cousinpotassium chloride.

"Potassium chloride isn't as damaging to sidewalks, and it can even be used as fertilizer," Leasure says. "Salt will kill grass and plants, and eat concrete." Especially aggregate concrete, she adds, the pebbly surface around the University Center and the science building.

"We want to do what's necessary to preserve these beautiful buildings."

Leasure says that in the last two to three weeks, the roads and ground crew has used almost 4,000 pounds of potassium chloride.

Because the crew has only one piece of equipment, much of the crystalline substance must be distributed by handor rather, by shovel.

Next come the snow blades, wide shovel-like devices that turn the University's riding lawn mowers into mini snowplows. "We start our designated route, clearing paths from the dorms to the UC, the library and Browning and so on.

"Then someone comes along with sand." Lots of sand, Leasure says. About 18 tons of it are spread across the University's 200-acre campus. That requires a lot of shoveling. Fortunately the roads and grounds folks can call on backup. "The HVAC folks, painters and others come in to help us," she says.

Now, as you might guess, all that potassium chloride and sand doesn't magically drop off people's shoes outside the doors to various buildings. It's dragged in two feet at a time, and what comes in must go out.

"It's a mess," says Ken Clark, a custodian who's currently serving in the Browning Building. "We'll sweep sand for three weeks after a snowfall."

Sand plus melted snow equals a special kind of mudunmoppable mud, according to Clark. "You can't mop it up. The floors look streaky." This is obviously a distasteful situation to a man who likes to be able to see himself in Browning's floors.

As Clark's reaction suggests, the aftermath of a visit from Old Man Winter is enough to make even a non-complainer complain. In fact, Clark could be expressing the views of grounds keepers and custodians everywhere when he says, "I used to love snow. Now I hate it."