Grounds workers adapt to budget cuts

By Caryn Rosenberg

As the temperature drops quickly and the budget remains frozen, NIU grounds workers struggle to work within their budget in order to prepare for the year’s first snowfall.

Physical Plant Director John Gardner said the budget for the grounds department is approximately $840,000 this year, which is about the same amount as last year’s budget.

Gardner said individual responsibilities have increased. “We’re doing more with the same number of people,” he said.

Another problem resulting from the budget crunch is equipment maintenance, said Grounds Superintendent Tom Anderson.

“With the budget, there’s no money to buy any new equipment so we have to make do with what we’ve got,” he said.

However, despite the limited budget, maintenance checks on the equipment are still done twice a year, Anderson said.

“We check all our equipment out and make sure everything is in working order,” he said. “Equipment checks take a couple of weeks—usually right after we get done with the winter season. We double check in October and make sure there are spare parts.”

Physical Plant Accountant Rich Klages said the department does its best to manage the money it receives while trying to keep the students’ safety in mind.

“We have to stay within the grounds (department) budget,” Klages said. “We just try to use our resources as best we can to maintain the campus.”

Fortunately, keeping within the budget hasn’t been extremely difficult for the past few years, Klages said.

“It’s been easier to stay within the budget because of mild weather,” he said.

However, Gardner said the uncertainty of the winter weather still presents problems.

“Generally speaking, it could be a disaster if we had a succession of heavy snowfall.” Gardner said. “That’s a budget buster for both people and equipment.”

Klages said if there is a hard winter the grounds department will have to go elsewhere for supplemental funding.

Operations in other departments of the Physical Plant may be cut back to compensate, Klages said.

The university puts out a bid each year with outside contractors for emergency snow removal, Klages said.

In addition, the grounds workers must take on added responsibilities during the winter.

“All my help’s on 24-hour call all winter long,” Anderson said.