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Eastern’s unsung Warriors of winter

Published on February 23, 2024

Eastern’s unsung Warriors of winter

When snowy weather arrives, this team keeps campus running

Staff from the Office of Facilities Management and Planning are tasked with keeping campus safe when snow falls.

When a snowstorm is on its way to Eastern Connecticut State University, the first thought that enters students’ minds usually involves having a day off from classes. While the students relax on snow days, however, members of Eastern’s facilities staff are hard at work clearing snow and ice from walkways.

Something students don’t think as much about is what makes this job difficult. “Half our job is trying to put snow where it doesn’t really go,” said John Wylie, maintenance supervisor and 25-year veteran of Eastern’s Department of Facilities Management and Planning.

While the job of preparing Eastern for snow requires many hands on deck, there are only seven members of the grounds department. Employees from other departments around the University often volunteer to lighten the task. “The housekeepers are our largest group, and we draw most of our power from them,” said Wylie.

“We provide them with a shovel, rain gear and snow gear,” said Wylie. The facilities department often pays for meals for these snowy-weather volunteers as well.

Wylie also stressed the importance of breaks for vehicle operators and a common misconception about their job. “People think that’s the easiest job,” he said. “When you’re operating a vehicle, your head is on a swivel, especially when the activity on campus is alive. It’s taxing on the operator.”

Aside from specialized equipment and dedicated staff members, what does it take to keep Eastern moving through winter? “250 tons of salt are what we book for the season, just for the sidewalks,” said Edward Figiela, plant facilities engineer. “Then, there are 350 tons that we book for the roadways on campus.”

Of all storms in recent memory, the one that occurred Jan. 26–28, 2015, stands out to Figiela. “We used 1,057 regular hours and 726 overtime hours for that one storm,” he said. During this time, staff members slept on the cots in the facilities building three nights in a row.

Facilities staff members often make personal sacrifices to prepare the campus for winter weather. “We spent Christmas Eve here together one year,” said Figiela.

Facilities Management and Planning staff members Noemi Hernandez and John Wylie

Facilities Management and Planning staff members Sean Paymen, April Campbell and Ed Figiela

(left to right) Nate Lyons, Will Rivera, Derek Hoss, Sergio Aroste and Trudy Green

“We’ve seen the Super Bowl three years in a row here,” said Dan Barrows, landscape technician. “We’ve been here Thanksgiving morning and Christmas morning.”

Keeping the campus safe in icy conditions often means sacrificing family time. These memories are often enjoyable to look back on, though, even if staff members were not the ones having fun.

Such was the case on Halloween a decade or so, according to Wylie: “There was a good three inches of snow on the ground, and students were going around campus with Halloween costumes on. They were having fun, and we were out there doing (our job).”

To do their jobs, facilities staff members need cooperation from students. “When there’s a parking ban, please don’t park in the parking lots,” said Barrows.

Written by Noel Teter

Categories: Facilities