Getting Your Priorities Straight

Western Michigan University Landscape Services has a plan of action when it comes to clearing snow on campus.

Whether you’re clearing snow for a few commercial properties or for an entire university, the first thing you need to do is put together a plan of action. This includes setting priorities and goals for your snow-removal activity. At Western Michigan University, we’ve done just that. Outlined in the following paragraphs is a brief written strategy detailing how we use all available tools to remove snow and ice from the university campus in order to satisfactorily meet the needs of our campus community.

We have developed this strategy through much planning, and this information is extensively detailed in our eighty-three page "Snow Book," which includes graphics of roads, parking lots and sidewalks; various schedules and crew responsibilities; special needs; weekend events; and emergencies. Our snow-removal plan and strategies are reviewed, edited and implemented every year.

At the beginning of each new winter season, we distribute copies of our Snow Book to various university administrators including the president, vice president of business and finance, chief of police, parking control, director of physical plant, Office of Institutional Equity (ADA) and legal counsel.

Street snow removal

There are approximately 23 lane miles of streets to plow on Western’s campus. These must be kept free of snow and ice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have identified two priorities for this activity. One is removal of snow from our primary streets and campus "ring roads." These roads are used to move traffic around or through the campus quickly and efficiently. The next priority involves the secondary streets or campus inner roads that provide access to the buildings and parking lots throughout the core of campus. The difference in attention that we give these roads is negligible. The ring roads may get two or three more patrols per day than inner roads, but both are patrolled dozens of times per day.

To provide effective snow removal from streets and parking lots, our heavy equipment operators have four dump trucks with highway-style front plows. Three of these trucks have deicing application equipment, as well as under-frame "belly" snow blades to scrape pavement bare. Ice-control chemicals and abrasives are applied to paved areas. These crews also use articulating front-end-loader-style machines to clean the loading dock areas, the corners of the parking lots and various smaller areas where the larger trucks cannot maneuver.

All of our heavy equipment operators have a Commercial Drivers’ License Certification (CDL), which is administered by the State of Michigan and regulated by the federal government. We require these CDLs for anyone who operates our heavy equipment. In addition, we require that our supervisory and management staff obtain CDL’s for instructional purposes and "back-up" emergency situations. During emergencies, we are ready to put equipment operators on an altered schedule to best deal with the situation. If extra equipment is needed, we have a list of local contractors we can call on to assist us.

Materials such as bulk road salt are kept at the "Salt Dome" on East Campus. These supplies are monitored continuously and replenished as needed through bulk contracts with the State of Michigan or blanket orders with local vendors. But as spring approaches, we try to let our supplies dwindle.

Parking lot snow removal

The same equipment operators who maintain the street snow removal also plow the 100-plus acres of parking lots on campus. In general, these lots are cleaned with the following priorities in mind:

  • Faculty/staff parking lots,
  • Primary visitor lots,
  • Food Service loading docks and courts,
  • Student commuter lots, and
  • Apartment and residence-hall lots.

The crew is split into teams and works more than one category at a time. Our night crew (which operates from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.) clears staff and student lots with three trucks. Additional equipment operators come in at 3 a.m. and use the front-end loaders to clean corners of lots and loading dock areas. A skeleton crew is on staff during the day and evenings to keep streets and lots open and accessible. Weekends are also covered by qualified plow and equipment operators around the clock.

During major snowstorms, we split all available operators between two 12 hour shifts around the clock. And in the fall, we identify contractors who we can call to help clear snow with their heavy equipment.

Sidewalk snow removal

The light-equipment operators handle the 39 miles of sidewalk snow removal on campus. The campus is divided into three regions, with six operators and plow equipment assigned to predetermined routes. These light-equipment operators start at 3 a.m. Monday through Friday. Two others are assigned to the night shift, and another operator works three afternoons and weekends during the day. We have also trained additional operators to run the light-equipment plows for occasions of heavy snowfall or to fill in when needed.

Areas that are inaccessible to the light-equipment are cleared by hand. The majority of these areas are steps and access ramps—more than 200,000 square feet, total. Some sections of sidewalk also have to be cleared by hand. This hand work is done by the regional groundskeepers who use students to supplement their crew. The grounds-shoveling crew works from 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The custodial staff clears most (approximately 306) building entrances to about 20 feet out. There are some buildings that do not have custodial staff early in the morning. Those entrances (232 of them) have been identified for the grounds crew to clear. Rec/Spo (Recreation/Sports) Region staff clear entrances at all recreation facilities (approximately 46 doorways). Many entrances are cleared by custodial staff just before the end of the night shift. Those entrances are monitored by the grounds crew during the day.

Staffing levels do not allow for all steps and walks to remain open. The areas that are closed generally are routes of convenience rather than necessity. On weekends, only the buildings scheduled to be open are cleared. A small crew is regularly scheduled for weekend and evening snow removal. More can be called in to help if necessary.

Disabled-needs monitoring

To better accommodate the needs of disabled students, a notice is sent out by the Disabled Student Resources and Services Office asking for information that helps us ensure their winter mobility. They are encouraged to contact our office with schedules and routes, which we can incorporate into our snow-removal plans.

For those students who respond to the mailing, we can ascertain their routes and keep them clear and accessible. If several students are using different entrances to the same building, we can assure them a specific entry will be kept clear. We also clear handicap-accessible building entrances and monitor them throughout the day for problems.

This season we are continuing an afternoon and weekend shift for shoveling and deicing these areas. Groundskeepers (two) will be on duty until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday evening and weekend mornings.


Weekend and evening snow removal will be overseen this season by two supervisors, each carrying a pager. One supervisor oversees snow removal for streets and lots (heavy equipment), and one oversees snow removal for walks, steps and ramps.

The university police will contact the appropriate supervisor via the two-way radio in the event of an emergency during normal working hours, or via the beeper after hours. The supervisor will then coordinate snow-removal activities to fit the situation.

This year, we have again contracted with a weather forecasting service to provide us with specific data on our area in Kalamazoo, Mich. We also have direct weather information access through satellite link into the offices of landscape services and the Snow Crew Headquarters at the physical plant on east campus. We believe that this will give us an additional edge to fight the snow and ice that the weather conditions bring us.

Tim Holysz is manager of landscape services for Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Mich.).

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