Sprint Snow Solutions

The key to keeping snow off this telecommunications campus is versatility--in management style as well as equipment.

During the harshest Kansas winters, the snow removal team at Sprint World Headquarters tackles the challenge like a Swiss Army knife. The team itself is a hybrid of in-house staff and outside vendor support that keeps the entire campus and its miles of paved areas clean and safe for traffic—both vehicular and pedestrian.

The telecommunications company based in Overland Park, Kan., utilizes everyone available when it comes to combating the worst nature can dispense in a Midwest winter. About 30 people from various facilities departments can be called on in a pinch to assist with snow and ice management at Sprint. But versatility doesn’t stop with the employees. Buying equipment with the versatility of a Swiss Army knife is part of the strategy as well.

“We want to find the right kind of tool to do the job,” says Robert Mayer, senior facilities manager for landscape services. All equipment up for consideration at Sprint needed to pass a critical test, he adds. “The deck had to be able to come off and I had to be able to put on a broom or a blade in order to support us in the wintertime to maintain these nine miles of sidewalks.”

Proactive protection

The right tools must include the right anti-icers, especially when your facility tends to get coated with ice once or twice a year. At the Sprint campus, liquid magnesium chloride is used to keep ice from making crucial areas impassable. Larry Fries is the landscape supervisor in charge of managing snow removal for Sprint. He watches the weather forecast to anticipate any precipitation. When a storm is flagged, it’s up to Fries to organize the in-house staff as well as the vendor that assists with snow removal. He directs crew members and communicates the strategy for handling the storm to the vendor so everything is coordinated. The in-house staff handles 80 percent of the snow removal duties while the vendor does the rest. With the unpredictable Kansas weather always posing a challenge, Fries focuses on safety of pedestrians and cars on the campus. Sprint Parkway loops around 18 office buildings inside an outer ring of parking garages, making for a lot of surface to clear. Fries manages the deployment of crews to put down anti-icers before a storm approaches.

“We definitely are very proactive and try to get down the anti-icing product before,” Fries says, “because if we do get that product down, we use a lot less granular.”

Snow strategy

Because of the corrosive effects of salt, sodium chloride is not used on the parking ramps. But the optimal solution for parking ramps doesn’t necessarily mean higher costs.

“We don’t use any of the exotic acetate products,” Fries says. Some of those can cost six times more than magnesium chloride. “We actually did a little test a few years ago of some free product that was made available … it did a good job but it’s terribly expensive.”

When it comes to selecting the right ice-fighting product, Mayer says, there are a lot of considerations to factor in. For instance, when use of a broadcast spreader caused some die-back in turfgrass near sidewalks, they switched to a drop-spreader to more accurately target the deicers. Sprint is also conscious of the surrounding environment and takes care to avoid negative influences on native prairie grasses. In fact, the company planted acres of buffalo grass and other native grasses when the campus was built. Now after five years of maturation, the native grass area is known as a great example of environmental stewardship in the region. So every aspect of the landscape factors into the decisions on managing snow.

“It’s not only the integrity of the concrete surface, but it’s the plant material adjacent to those walkways, it’s the runoff that goes into the lakes,” Mayer adds. “All of those are considered in our snow removal strategy.”

Too much of a good thing

The retention lake on the campus is part of a closed-loop system that provides water to 5,200 sprinkler heads for turfgrass as well as several water features. With the retention lake capturing precipitation from the surrounding watershed, the more snow that falls, the less chance there is that water will need to be purchased from the city later in the year. Still, you can always get too much of a good thing. One vicious winter required tons of snow to be removed from the parking rooftops and stored in an unused parking lot. You would like to just leave it in nearby areas that are safe, Mayer says, but that’s not feasible when record snowfall is involved. While the Sprint crew could have left it on the roof, the added weight and reduction in parking spaces meant it had to go.

“We don’t have the luxury of just letting it stay there,” Mayer says. “We have to go ahead and move it when it accumulates to that level.”

The biggest single snowfall Fries has seen in the five years the campus has been open is 12 inches. Big snowfalls are a major challenge for any snow manager, but especially when you are responsible for a large facility. Fries says getting an anti-icing product down early is the key. Beating the precipitation to the ground means less of the product is needed to keep the surface free of ice. It also means lower material cost. A third factor is the environment and less anti-icing product in the environment is better.

“We really work to try to minimize salt,” Mayer says. “Typically we will use magnesium chloride as the weapon of choice on the sidewalks. There are times when we’ll use sodium chloride / sand mix on the roadways. Especially on the areas where we’ve got steep slopes on loading docks, service drives … entrances.”

Teaming up

And, of course, the real key for Fries in keeping pavement clean and safe is the borrowed manpower from other departments that can respond to snow or ice. About 30 people from other facilities departments can assist in getting the campus ready for the morning rush hour. The majority of the campus is cleared by in-house staff while vendor support targets the garage roof decks and loading docks. Large areas of brick pavers on the campus have held up well and don’t really add to maintenance time, Fries says. For pedestrian safety, mansard roof panels protect walkways around the buildings. The panels have tabs to prevent sheets from forming, thus keeping large chunks of ice or snow from sliding off the buildings. The added bonus of many covered walkways in the campus layout means that on a snowy day, with a little planning, employees and visitors can walk from one end of the campus to the other without getting hit by a single flake.

Because the versatile equipment helps the crew get the key areas cleared quickly, it only takes about five hours to finish the job. Operations usually start about 2 a.m. with eliminating ice being the main focus. Despite the elements, by 7 a.m. the campus is ready for employees and guests to start arriving.

“We’ve got snow removal down to a science,” Fries says. “We’re very efficient.”

Michael Coleman is a freelance writer who resides in Olathe, Kan.


The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) recommends that you think about these safety points before hitting your properties with a snow thrower.

Sometimes a snow thrower’s chute will become clogged while you’re working to clear a path—especially when the snow is wet. When this happens, it’s important always to turn off the snow thrower, wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop, and then, with a stick, clear the chute. NEVER put your hands inside the chute for any reason.

Another very important safety reminder: Most snow throwers manufactured since 1975 have Operator Presence Control (OPC). An OPC causes the snow thrower to stop within five seconds after you let go of the controls. This is an important safety feature designed to help protect users, so it is crucial that no matter how often your snow thrower may clog with wet snow, never take steps to disable this feature.

In addition to keeping hands out of the chute, and not over riding the OPC, OPEI recommends that before even turning on a snow thrower users should review and follow these important safety steps:

  • Read your owner’s manual thoroughly and understand all of the recommended safety procedures before turning on your snow thrower.
  • Make sure the area of operation is clear of children, pets and all people.
  • The snow can sometimes hide objects that might clog the chute or cause other damage. You should clear the area of objects and other debris.
  • Be careful never to throw snow toward people or cars, and never allow anyone in front of your snow thrower.
  • If you have to repair your machine, remove an object, or unclog built up snow from the chute, always turn the snow thrower off and wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop. Disconnect the spark plug wire, or for electric snow throwers, disconnect the cord.
  • Keep hands and feet away from all moving parts.
  • Dress properly for the job. Be sure to wear adequate winter garments and footwear that will improve footing on slippery surfaces. Wear safety glasses, and avoid any loose fitting clothing that could get caught in moving parts. Be careful of long hair.
  • Do not clear snow across the face of slopes. Use extreme caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.
  • Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light. Always be sure of your footing and keep a firm hold on the handles. Walk—never run.

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