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Landscape Services clears path after snowstorm

Tanner Hilzer waits to plow more snow as students pass the north side of the Nebraska Union on Jan. 30. Landscape Services employees started clearning snow from campus at 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Tanner Hilzer waits to plow more snow as students pass the north side of the Nebraska Union on Jan. 30. Landscape Services employees started clearning snow from campus at 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Nestled snug in their beds, faculty, staff and students has visions of a snow day dancing in their heads Tuesday.

When morning alarms sounded with a clatter, many arose from their beds to see what was the matter — because it snowed six inches and UNL would surely be shuttered.

However, it was business as usual Wednesday, thanks to 71 Landscape Services employees who reported in the wee hours to clear snow from UNL's 30 miles of paved sidewalk, 12 miles of streets and 84.5 acres of parking lot.

"For us, that was a perfect storm," said Eileen Bergt, assistant director of Landscape Services. "The snow started to taper off around 2 a.m., and by 3 a.m. it had pretty much stopped. That allowed us to have almost everything cleared and ready for students, faculty and staff by our goal of 7 a.m."

The decision to close campus due to inclement weather is made by Chris Jackson, vice chancellor for Business and Affairs. She said a variety of factors play into the decision, including Landscape Services' ability to clear campus parking lots and sidewalks so faculty, staff and students can negotiate campus safely.

"If weather conditions are so challenging that Landscape Services is unable to complete their work, then we must close," Jackson said. "(Wednesday) morning, Landscape Services' crew began to clear snow at 2 a.m. in anticipation that campus would be open. They did an excellent job clearing the campus so quickly."

Landscape Services employees were notified about the snow-removal plan by 8:30 p.m. Jan. 29. Bergt said every worker contacted showed up ready to get to work.

"We have an amazing group of employees who are extremely dedicated to their jobs," said Bergt. "Our staff really gets excited about snow. It's something different and they get a sense of accomplishment helping clear the path for the entire university."

Most of the snow removal at UNL is done with the help of machines. Only areas too small for motorized equipment, stairs and ramps are scooped by hand. Bergt said most of the mechanical equipment that moved snow Wednesday is used at other times of the year.

"We do have a few dedicated snow pushers, but we try to purchase equipment that can be used year round," Bergt said. "We convert mowers into snowplows by putting blades and cabs on them. Cushman vehicles become sanders. Blades are put on trucks that carry mulch in the spring, summer and fall. We also use our dump trucks and front-end loaders for larger areas."

Bergt described UNL's snow removal process — which is organized by Rich Wahl, construction manager for Landscape Services — as, "a well-oiled machine." A calling tree is used to notify employees that they are needed for special snow removal. When the scooping begins, workers divide into designate areas. They use radios to talk to each other and identify areas of need.

"It really is kind of a fun process," said Tanner Hilzer, a landscape assistant. "And, without us coming in early, there's no way UNL would have been open."

But opening campus is just the first step, as the scooping, pushing and deicing continues today and Friday.

"Thursday, they'll be in early again for our normal 'second day' procedure — checking for icy spots, removing snow from areas where it drifted shut and starting the final clean up process," Bergt said. "It's a lot of work, but that's what we do."

— Troy Fedderson, University Communications