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By Kristen Cole   Date: 2/17/11 Bookmark and Share

The Perfect Storm

Smith Endures a 2011 Snow Season Like No Other

In his 15 years in facilities management at Smith, Robert Dombkowski has never experienced a winter quite like this one.

There have been winters with as much—or even more—snow, but never a season with the storms hitting in such rapid succession, with as much intensity, during a single window of time, said Dombkowski, the supervisor of grounds.

“December 27 was the first snowfall, and once it started it didn’t stop,” agreed Diane Benoit, building services director.

This winter, snow removal machinery has been ubiquitous on campus.

Dombkowski and Benoit work together on the college’s snow removal operation. It is a Herculean task—particularly in a season like this one—that involves more than two dozen employees, four plow trucks, two tractors, two motorized sidewalk plows, and “The Holder,” a snow removal machine manufactured by a Canadian company that can blow snow 50 feet.

And that’s just at the ground level. On top of the campus buildings, other facilities management personnel from the roofing and carpentry divisions clear the accumulating mass off the flat roofs and the ice dams from gutters, said Benoit. Throughout it all, public safety officers make sure that the parking spaces are cleared for plowing.

The work begins even before the first snowflake falls.

The day before a storm, crews spread an ice-melting substance on the roads, said Dombkowski, who monitors the weather forecasts to determine when staff members should be asked to report to work.

Shifts can begin as early as 4 a.m. and stretch through the day. In 13 hours, staff can clear 6 inches of snow from the entire campus. It requires up to 20 hours to remove a foot of the white stuff.

“It’s a science,” Dombkowski said. “With one storm after another, I have to make sure that everyone is getting enough sleep.”

One of two sidewalk plows keeps the campus pathways clear.

The grounds division is responsible for clearing fire hydrants, sidewalks, roadways, parking lots and the new artificial turf field. Building services staff clear the stairways, entrances and fire escapes that provide access to buildings. The goal is to be able to open campus by 8 a.m. the day of a storm.

“It is a collective and collaborative effort,” says Benoit. “And a sense of humor goes a long way.”

This year’s running joke is about the chances of snow still heaped on campus grounds when commencement arrives in May, said Benoit. (Even if that occurred, the snow would not remain in the busiest parts of campus, she assures.)

After they plow, staff set about relocating snow mounds that clog byways to a remote part of campus. Following one storm, recalls Dombkowski, drivers hauled more than 200 truckloads, each with 17 cubic yards of snow, throughout a 10-hour period. What does 3,400 cubic yards of snow look like when it is dumped? “It’s a small ski area,” he said.

Coincidentally, a staff member in the grounds division retired January 2, missing much of this winter’s activity. To be sure, the division has missed him this season; and with all the extra work, Dombkowski has not had a chance to hire a replacement.

When he retires, he does not plan to relocate to a warmer locale, says Dombkowski. But he does plan to leisurely watch the snow fall.

And, he adds, he will plow his own driveway at his own pace.

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