University snow removal an important part of every winter


Tiger Media Network

At 4 a.m. on a cold, snowy morning, most people are sound asleep in their warm homes, but for members of the Fort Hays State University grounds crew, the work day has just begun. 

Director of Building and Maintenance Operations Terry Pfeifer said the grounds crew constantly watches the weather during the winter. 

“We have guys on standby and we make sure they have their phones available,” Pfeifer said. 

The storm’s severity determines how many crew members are called in to work. Lighter snows may only require one person to clear sidewalks and handicap ramps. Heavier snows, like the snowstorm that hit Hays on January 8 and 9, require all hands on deck.

Around 4:45 a.m. Pfeifer checks the snow removal progress and reports to Vice President of Administration and Finance Wesley Wintch. This report factors into the university’s decision on whether or not to open campus that day. 

In the case of the early January storm, Pfeifer recommended delaying the opening of campus until 10 a.m., but the administration ultimately decided to close campus for both the 8th and 9th. 

“For people who live out of town and work on-campus, getting back and forth was challenging because [the] interstate was still closed and a lot of the two-lane highways were also closed,” Pfeifer said. “For safety reasons and for the safety of the personnel, they closed the university. We don’t make that call. We just let them know what’s going on on our end.”

If the university closes due to weather, it makes the snow removal process easier for the crew because there are fewer cars to work around. 

“They’re very cautious about watching cars and where they’re throwing the snow,” Pfeifer said. “The streets and getting traffic lanes cleared up is difficult because it’s kind of hard to get in between all the cars.”

When clearing the snow, if classes are in session, one person goes and clears the quad and the rest of the crew works on clearing streets and sidewalks. 

“It’s mainly the dorm areas and the academics we try to get before classes,” Pfeifer said. 

Parking lots are the last priority and Gross Memorial Coliseum and Lewis Field areas are the last to be cleared. 

In most cases, the crew works until the work is complete. In the first storm of the season, the crew spent 12 hours clearing snow. 

“I told them they could take off and come back, but they decided to keep going, since the university was closed and there weren’t any cars,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a long day and it’s something I worry about because you get tired after that long, but they made it through with no accidents.”

At the last Student Government Meeting, Sen. Noah Erichsen said he was disappointed in the university’s lack of snow removal on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day before the spring semester started. He said he was stuck in the Hammond Hall parking lot, even though he drives a truck with four-wheel drive.

Pfeifer said the snow crew does not go out on days the university is closed for holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, unless there is a special event. 

“Sometimes, for whatever reason, there may be something happening at the Beach Performing Arts building and then they will come in and do sidewalks and those areas, but otherwise, if the university is closed, they will wait till four o’clock in the morning,” Pfeifer said. 

Over the last 30 years that Pfeifer has been at Fort Hays, he said the snow removal process has remained relatively the same. 

“We’ve gotten updated equipment and stuff like that, which helps us do things a lot faster, but it’s pretty much a regular routine,” Pfeifer said.

Right now, the crew is short two people and utilizes three skid steer loaders, three tractors and other snow removal equipment.