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Record snow, accumulating costs

More than 50 inches of snow causes facilities headache, multiple closures.

Jim Creedon, senior vice president for construction, facilities and operations, takes one look at the upcoming weather forecast, checks outside of his window and shoots a text to Virginia Arnsberger, director of support services.

“Do we have a plan?”

Creedon and Arnsberger, along with representatives from the provost’s office, human resources, campus security, communications, housing, food services, domestic campuses parking operations, the Health Sciences Center and Temple University Hospital decide whether the Temple campuses will shut down, have an early closure or late start.

And so far this school year, with a little more than 50 inches of snowfall accumulated throughout the Philadelphia area, which is more than the region has seen in about 20 years, Main Campus has seen three closings, three late starts and three early closures.

In comparison, during the 2012-13 school year, the university only shut down once – for two days – due to inclement weather conditions from Hurricane Sandy.

“This will have a financial impact,” Creedon said. “In particular because we’ve been lucky the past two years.”

In the facilities budget for Main, Ambler and partial areas of Center City campuses, which include campus planning and design, construction management, campus security, parking, service operations, real estate, environmental health and radiation safety, facilities management and operations cost an estimated total of $120 million with 824 employees and 130 student workers.

And so far this academic year, the amount of snow the area has gotten has cost about $193,000 for Main Campus, not including machinery repairs. To put things into perspective, the snowstorm on Feb. 3 cost Main Campus $32,000 alone, Creedon said.

However, snow removal costs are allotted in the budget, for the most part.

“Those costs are inclusive,” Arnsberger said. “So anything that’s overtime or the additional costs would be the salt products [and] the actual individual machinery that we have to maintain.”

Main Campus has used a total of 200,000 pounds – almost six tractor trailers full — of salt from December to now, costing a total of $48,000. Each year the university prepares with at least three tractor trailer loads, but last year, they didn’t even use one.

Aside from salt and machinery repair, the main issue that accounts for additional costs outside of the budget is overtime hours for the snow removal crew. So far, there has been around 1,000 hours of overtime, or 125 man-days, just on Main Campus.

The university doesn’t have an actual snow removal crew. Instead, it’s in the job description for housekeepers, truck drivers, bus drivers and the grounds crew to conduct the snow removal operation.

“So in other words, if they’re planting flowers, they get eight hours of pay, if they’re removing snow, they get eight hours of pay,” Arnsberger said. “So that’s built in, it’s just not planting flowers at that time. So the housekeepers aren’t in cleaning, they’re outside doing what they need to do to help with the snow removal.”

What costs the university additional dollars is overnight snowfall, when cleanup bleeds into clock-out times.

Glenn Eck, grounds superintendent, said the crew takes the extreme amount of snowfall this year with a grain of salt.

“Generally, everyone in the department knows and accepts that it comes with the job,” Eck said. “We do long days and short breaks. We’re pretty straight with people when hiring about the expectations of snow.”

During the snowstorm last Wednesday into Thursday night, the third shift crew shoveled off and on throughout the night and refrained from clocking out during their usual time of 6:30 a.m. to shovel snow until first shifters came in at 8 a.m., working overtime.

“We haven’t gotten any [snow] the last two years, so this is our time,” said Antonio Lamb, who usually works as a housekeeper at Klein Hall, but this time was shoveling snow on the steps leading up to 7-Eleven on Liacouras Walk.

The crew members wore their AlliedBarton and typical navy blue uniforms, some with additional hats, gloves and sweatshirts and even a trash bag, but Ken Chinn, who works as a custodian in Anderson Hall, seemed more prepared than the rest with army pants, a bright red vest and goggles.

“I actually like it,” Chinn said while removing snow on the handicap ramp next to Maxi’s on Liacouras Walk. “If I can make a path for students to learn, it’s great.”

All the while, students who usually attend classes on Main Campus slept in. The night before, they got a TU Alert announcing that the university was closed due to the incoming foot or more of expected snow that would hit the area.

It was Creedon and his team that decided to take those precautions. Together, they take part in a large conference call and are briefed by AccuWeather to make a decision. And for any snowstorm, Creedon said he looks at weather conditions, timing, SEPTA and what surrounding schools – the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, La Salle and Villanova – are doing.

“We look at all this and decide, ‘OK, what’s the best thing to do?’ And what we’ve been trending toward is the concept of the late start or the early dismissal because it at least gives you a little time in the morning to potentially not be in a rush hour,” Creedon said. “It allows for things to warm up a little bit. Plus, it gives us the ability to assess things in the morning and say, ‘You know what, we just shouldn’t open at all.’”

However, Creedon said he’s seen the reaction those decisions have gotten on Facebook, Twitter and even through personal angry emails and phone calls he’s received.

“The view is, ‘If you knew you were going to let us out early, why didn’t you just tell us to stay home?’” Creedon said. “The failure with that logic is that we didn’t know we were going to let you out early. The conditions we were looking at were ones that could have changed.”

Whatever their decision is, it won’t impact the costs. Professors, researchers and other faculty are salaried and will get paid regardless. It’s the issues out of their control that are the ultimate problem costing additional dollars outside of the allotted facilities budget.

“See, I like snowstorms that run overnight,” Creedon said. “Where everyone sleeps. They clean up, you come in in the morning, and everything’s cleaned up and operating. And those are the least expensive snowstorms.”

Patricia Madej can be reached at patricia.madej@temple.edu or on Twitter @PatriciaMadej.

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