Grounds crew keeps roads clear for NIU

By Melissa Blake

During what staff meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste said was the coldest week on average at NIU, university snowplows were out in full force Thursday to combat the 1-inch accumulation of flurries.

Despite the bitter cold, this season hasn’t presented any major problems for the NIU Grounds crew, which is responsible for snow removal on campus.

“This year has been mild,” said Darryl Grayson, interim superintendent of NIU Grounds. “We’ve only had a few [storms].”

Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t unheard of for the Grounds crew to work 30 hours straight plowing snow, but the last four or five years have been more mild. Plowing can be completed in 16 or 18 hours, Grayson said.

But there has been an increase in ice this year, which requires more salt, Grayson said.

With 15 vehicles equipped with snowplows and two salt spreaders, Grounds typically plows designated handicapped areas first.

“We’re short-handed, [and] we try to do our best,” Grayson said.

When Grayson started working about 20 years ago, there were 33 people on staff; today there are 19, he said.

Grounds’ $19,000 annual budget is sufficient to cover snow removal for the winter months. Since salt is the only item the department is responsible for buying, “very seldom” does it ever exceed the budget, Grayson said.

The gravel parking lot east of Anderson Hall and the parking lot north of Grant Towers serve as the disposal areas for the plowed snow, Grayson said.

Although DeKalb saw nearly 9 inches of snow Jan. 4 and 5, the storms did not affect university operations, said Ivan Legg, executive vice president and provost.

“It was a routine snowstorm,” Legg said, meaning there were no university closings.

Some employees who live far from NIU could have taken a vacation day or half a vacation day if they were unable to get to work, but that is standard university policy, Legg said.

Sebenste expects near-average weather for the remainder of winter, with temperature highs in the upper 20s and lows around 10 degrees. Snow accumulation should also follow the 9.1-inch average for this time of year, despite already exceeding the average with 10.2 inches of snow, Sebenste said.

“The bottom line [is], we should warm up from here on out,” he said.