Date: March 3, 2014
by Eloise Ravell
“In my 10 years at Grounds, I have not been a part of any winter like this,” says Michael Villwock, grounds manager at Andrews University. “Four snow days is unheard of. The cold temperatures and wind chills have been a big part of that.”
To date, Andrews has received more than 130 inches of snow this winter, surpassing the record of 125 inches in 2007–2008, the biggest snowfall at Andrews since Grounds started keeping track in 1979 and double the average snowfall for Berrien Springs of 65 inches, according to weather records. Aside from areas where drifting has occurred, Andrews currently has around three feet of snow on the ground.
The Grounds staff members have been dedicating themselves to 50, sometimes 60-hour workweeks on a regular basis in order to keep up with managing the snow. Grounds has also been grateful for the number of student workers who are committed to coming to work at 5 a.m. to help shovel building entrances. Grounds takes care of 13 miles of sidewalks and patio areas along with 100 building entrances around the Andrews campus.
“Our morale has been good this year,” continues Villwock. “We have a great crew that has taken on the challenges this winter has provided.”
The ever-present brown slush that appears each winter on Andrews’ sidewalks is less commonly seen this season. Because the snow is affecting many parts of the United States, there have been salt shortages, making it difficult to keep roads and sidewalks less slippery. The real problem for Andrews is not where to find salt, it’s paying for it. Salt prices have skyrocketed 50–75 percent because of the demand.
Brenton Offenback has worked at Grounds for the past six years while finishing his master’s degree in music with an emphasis in organ performance.
“All we can do at Grounds is go as fast as our bodies will allow us or we will burn out too quickly,” says Offenback. “At least for me, as a student who thoroughly prefers the other three seasons, my strongest motivation is to provide a service to other people here on campus and do all I can to keep life moving as normal.”
The last two winters were relatively easy to work, according to Offenback. The snowfall was lighter and early morning calls were less frequent. This year, frostbite was a real threat and the workers have to make sure to wear the appropriate amount of clothing in the subzero weather.
Some of Offenback’s tasks include scooping the snow away at a building entrance, salting it and moving to the next area that needs clearing. This year has been much more physically demanding for all the workers. Not only do they need to move the snow, they need to lift the newly fallen snow over walls of piled-up snow that were already up to four feet high.
“Getting enough rest has been difficult, but we have been getting it when we can,” says Villwock. “The main issue for Andrews is the disruption it caused in missed classes as well as the financial cost attached to it. When all is said and done, this winter will most likely cost twice as much as what it normally does.”
Image Credit: Darren Heslop