Snowy Job Keeps Campus Slip-Free



    Will Terris always gets a lump in his throat when he recalls the Christmas he spent away from his family, clearing the snow off BYU campus.

    “My kids were waiting at home to open gifts,” Terris said. “I had to call my wife and tell them to go ahead without me.”

    Terris, gardening maintenance supervisor, is one of the many members of the BYU grounds crew that’s forced to clear snow any day of the week, including Sundays, because every building on campus is used for church meetings.

    “Mother nature is no respecter of persons,” he said. “Sometimes students sacrifice not going to church so others can. I even have bishops working for me on Sundays because it’s their job and it has to be done.”

    Students working on the grounds crew keep the phone by their beds in case a call drags them out at as early as 3 a.m. to shovel snow after a storm.

    If more than an inch of snow covers campus, a network for snow removal goes into action as early as midnight. The University Police contact full-time on-call workers, who then call supervisors. At about 3 a.m. supervisors call students, giving them a half hour to throw clothes on and rush to campus.

    When most students are thinking of skiing after a snowfall, student removal workers are thinking of how messed up their schedule will be for the day, after getting the dreaded call, Terris said.

    Most of the students said getting up so early is the most difficult part of their job, with some preferring to stay up all night, versus sleeping a few hours.

    “In general they’re pretty good about picking up their phone,” Terris said. “We try to give students chances, but if they miss a couple calls we have to let them go.”

    However, not all students dread the early morning wakeup call. Dave Flint, with the irrigation department of the grounds crew, said he doesn’t mind and even welcomes the early calls to shovel snow,

    “By going in early, I can get in my hours for the day so that later, I can choose to either work and get extra hours or work on homework and other things,” said Flint, a landscape management major from Syracuse. “Most of the people on my crew look forward to snow removal because it allows us more time to do whatever.”

    Student workers are the vital roots in keeping the snow removal alive, Terris said.

    “No matter how much equipment we have, if it wasn’t for students the snow removal wouldn’t get done,” he said. “They get down in the trenches and do what the machines can’t do. Even Provo City can’t keep up with how fast we clear the snow.”

    Workers can be done shoveling before people arrive on campus, but it does take a lot of work and behind the scenes effort.

    “Working on grounds has given me a better appreciation of what it takes to maintain a beautiful campus,” Flint said. “With snow removal, you always get to campus and it’s clean. It never occurs to you that people get up in the middle of the night and shovel snow.”

    Unrelenting snow can force workers to work long hours, but all day snowfall isn’t the only thing that can make work more difficult. Students can cause problems when they build snowmen in a doorway or build ramps on the stairs for snowboarding, Terris said.

    “They think they’re having fun and that we’re being mean by removing it,” Terris said. “They don’t understand it’s a safety issue.”

    He said he finds it frustrating when people don’t realize that the snow doesn’t evaporate on its own. He recalls an amusing situation when a woman at Wymount complained that her husband couldn’t sleep because of the loud snow equipment outside her apartment.

    “She asked us to raise our plows up to stop the scraping sound,” he said. “She wanted to know if we could clear the snow another time.”

    Fighting the snow can bring a lot of unexpected surprises, both positive and negative.

    “The worst places nobody wants to clear are the big staircases,” said Mark Bentley, a grounds crew worker majoring in civil engineering. “You have to throw the snow about 10 feet over the stairs with your shovel. Nobody wants to do it.”

    Bentley said there’s also a lot of things he enjoys about being on the snow removal crew.

    “I like how quiet it is,” he said. “Standing outside, just me and my snow shovel, I get to think about what I’m going to do with my day.”

    Hillary Skousen, a junior majoring in classical studies, said she finds ways to make the work less tedious, by chucking snow at other workers or shoving them into snow banks.

    She also said she loves being on a dead campus covered in snow at 3 a.m.

    “Provo is more beautiful after a snowfall than at any other time I can think of,” she said.

    (For comments, e-mail Michelle Lizon at )

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