Physical Plant Battles Ice and Snow

By Christian Stark

Coming to college, students are often unprepared to face the reality of (practically) no more snow days. Many students can relate to the struggle of waking up for an early class and having to trudge through the snow and cold. Students also may have to adjust their schedule to account for cleaning off their car or walking through the snow, as many are responsible for traversing the winter weather and getting to class on time for the first time in their lives. 

“I feel like I have to adjust slightly so that I’m not trying to power walk through ice and end up slipping and sliding everywhere,” Reed Miller, freshman nursing major, said.

When getting up on snowy days and heading to class, however, Malone students might not even stop to think about those who do their best to make the commute to classes as normal as possible. 

Malone’s physical plant takes care of campus maintenance, and in the wintertime, a huge part of their role is to clear snow and ice from traffic ways and make campus commutable again.

Some workers for the physical plant like Eddie Johnson, freshman ministry and creative writing double major, may wake up as early as 4:30 a.m. to help clear snow across campus. 

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the snow is packed down hard so you can’t use the snowblower; you have to shovel it by hand, and that takes forever.”

During his typical work shifts in the winter, Johnson works on salting the sidewalks to melt the ice that has built up. In spite of this effort, he can’t cover all the sidewalks in just a couple of hours. 

“If we want everything salted, it’s either going to have to be two people doing it one day, or it’s going to have to be spread out [over] a few days,” Johnson said. 

Bill King, a worker at the physical plant for over a decade, explained the process of snow cleanup. Typically, the physical plant has two plow trucks running, a brush or smaller plow for the sidewalks and sometimes a snowblower or shovels.

“Generally, it’s about a four- to five-hour process from start to finish,” King said. “It doesn’t even matter if it’s one inch, two inches, or five inches because you’ve gotta cover the exact same amount of space geographically, no matter how much it is.”

King and his coworkers at the physical plant have had 12-hour days to clear the campus’ sidewalks and roadways. King has routinely woken up as early as 2 a.m. to clean up the snow and ice. 

In order to stay within their budget, the physical plant also has to be conscious of how much salt they use on the sidewalks. 

“We don’t want to be conservative with it because it’s definitely necessary, but we can’t just dump, ya know, ten tons of salt every time it snows,” King said.

In addition to the salt constraints, the physical plant is consistently understaffed. There are only three full-time physical plant staff members that focus on snow cleanup in addition to three student workers that work part-time. 

“We could use a few more hands,” King said. 

It’s challenging for the physical plant to keep workers motivated through the hours required to clean up the snow on Malone’s campus. It’s grueling hard work in bitterly cold temperatures, and usually has to be completed at ridiculous hours of the morning to ensure others a safe, comfortable commute to work and class.

However, students recognize that physical plant workers do a good job keeping Malone’s campus safe and clean. 

“The physical plant is doing the best they can with the limited staff,” Miller said.

The work members of the physical plant do through the winter is critical to campus safety and smooth operation. Despite understaffing, little thanks and countless other hardships. A kind wave or a grateful word would go a long way with any physical plant staff. Any student interested in serving Malone and its students, faculty and staff by working for the physical plant should reach out to Russ Thorn at rthorn@malone.edu.

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