Grounds crew offers suggestions for winter parking

Ellen Holmes

With winter weather still upon us, the NMU groundskeeping staff continues to fulfill all snow removal needs on campus, and additionally urges students and staff to be mindful and conscious when driving or parking on campus in the coming weeks.

With recent snow days and delays, the grounds crew staff has been especially busy with keeping up on snow cleanup.

According to Jim Thams, associate director engineer and planning/grounds, the choices students make when parking and driving around campus directly affect the ability of the groundskeepers to efficiently remove snow from campus on particularly inclement mornings.

Thams said commuter lots and apartment/residence hall parking lots have priority over other lots on campus when there is substantial snowfall. However, another issue that Public Safety and groundskeepers frequently see is that of inattentive parking.

“Not all of the parking lots have parking islands that run the full length of the parking lot where you can actually pull up against a curb and know you’re there, but all the parking lots at least have islands in them and light poles,” he said. “Those are all placed in the center of parking lots so cars can line up on them. So if people are mindful of that and kind of look to their right, look to their left, figure out where they are and where they should be parking, it helps prevent things like cars being parked three deep.”

With seven full-time grounds staff, groundskeeping often begin their workdays between 3 and 5 a.m. on snowy mornings, depending on snowfall.

Plow drivers follow their specified routes on campus to clear snow for incoming students and staff, with one who is responsible for the driving areas in parking lots, one who takes care of all main roads and driveways in parking lots and a handful that are assigned to sidewalks.

“Essentially, all of the roads on campus and drive lanes are considered first priority,” Thams said. “All of the parking lots that serve an academic building or an administrative building are also first priority. For example the faculty and commuter lots that serve the academic mall.”

After these heavily used lots are cared for, the crews’ “second priority” lots are the on-campus apartments and other residential lots. However, on mornings where a snow day could be possible, those priorities change slightly.

“If school closes, our priorities change,” Thams said. “We don’t take care of academic buildings first, because if school is closed, there’s not going to be a lot of activity in those buildings. Where people are is where we redirect the plow drivers — so they’ll take care of (residence halls and apartments) first and then come back and hit parking lots that are essentially serving buildings that are closed because of the snow day.”

Either way, the typical workday for grounds crew members last anywhere from eight to 13 hours, and can begin as early as 3 a.m.

“On the typical day where snowfall is zero to four inches, first and second priority lots can be cleared in an eight-hour shift,”  Thams said. “But if we get four to eight inches, it can take the crew 12 or more hours.”

But, as previously mentioned, plowing commuter parking lots when classes are canceled is very challenging and less efficient when cars begin parking in them in the morning, according to Thams, who advised students to avoid large commuter lots in the early mornings of snow days. In fact, Thams indicated that the hardest aspect of groundskeeping was just this: beating the morning traffic.

“Once a few cars start to come into a parking lot, it’s an obstacle that the plow drivers have to maneuver around and then they can’t efficiently clean around those cars,” Thams said. “If you get a string of cars that come in and don’t line up quite right or maybe the way they’re supposed to line up, lets say they park in a drive lane or something, it makes it really difficult for the guys to clear around them. That’s one of the things that’s tough to work around, just beating the morning traffic.”

To make it easier for plow drivers, lots such as the residence hall and on-campus apartment lots are plowed on alternate Saturdays, and students are sent reminders of the plow schedule on a weekly basis, according to director of public safety Mike Bath.

“Students living on campus are instructed to park in alternate parking areas on these dates so the grounds department can plow those lots and get them thoroughly cleaned,” Bath said.

Freshman finance major and dorm resident Tim Hopp said the current Saturday rotation is the most efficient way to keep the lots clear of snow and ice.

“I think that the biggest problem with parking around the dorms in the winter is when students don’t move their cars on their designated Saturday clearing,” Hopp said. “If students would move their cars when they need to, the parking lots would be a lot safer and cars wouldn’t bottom out on snow and ice chunks.”