‘There is ice on Bodenheimer’ – how Appalachian’s weather watchers spring into action

A snow team led by Dr. Greg Taylor, director of campus services/assistant director for the Physical Plant, in concert with Jason Marshburn, director of environmental health, safety and emergency management, and the Town of Boone, coordinate Appalachian State University’s all-fronts campaign to stay ahead of a weather event.

According to Taylor, a detailed organizational chart is the university’s first defense during inclement weather. “If we get a call from the campus police saying, ‘There is ice on Bodeheimer. The walks are getting slick,’ we move into action. The offices of Academic Affairs, Human Resources and the Chancellor all are on alert. The N.C. Department of Transportation, AppalCART, Town of Boone, National Weather Service and Ray’s Weather all play a part, too,” Taylor said.

A snow team is on call at all times, rotating sometimes by week, sometimes by month. The teams range from a core team of two – a supervisor and a helper – up to 300 actively engaged university employees.

In case of a serious weather event, the teams work in eight-hour shifts, resting between at area hotels and motels. The fire lanes are the most critical in clearance triage, Taylor said, followed by the main thoroughfares, campus parking and the walkways.

Salt is the go-to antidote, not necessarily of choice, but for efficacy. The university maintains a yearly stockpile of around 250 tons of salt. Taylor acknowledges there are drawbacks: salt works best at or above 30 degrees, any colder and it refreezes. It is also corrosive to pavement, sidewalks and bridges, and presents both long-term and short-term detriments to water quality. But, alternatives are wanting, he said. “We’ve tried beet juice, which did not work. The city uses a brine mix and we’ve tried mixing with sand. Still, salt is by far the most effective.”

Taylor said the Physical Plant is always “looking for a greener, more ecological approach. Remember, we’re the ones who have to replant, resod, put out new flowers. We are very cognizant of the damage, let alone of our sustainable mission. We are very cautious.”

The trucks and snowplows do a good bit of the work, Taylor said, but ultimately it comes down to manual labor. “We have 38 full-time workers in landscaping and it’s an all-hands-on policy when everybody goes out and shovels. If students are here, if classes are delayed, if it’s mandatory staff only… it doesn’t matter. We’re out and working from two to 40 to 300 folks – whatever it takes to get it clear.”

Housekeeping/environmental services is responsible for clearing snow from a space of 10 to 15 feet from building entrances – without the benefit of salt, Taylor said. “We try not to use [road salt] around campus because it is so detrimental to the landscaping, brick pavers, concrete and metal railings. We are mindful of the environment and of the expenditures, but we always go above and beyond if there’s a question. Bring ’em in. Get it cleared. If we have pedestrians falling, that is a biggie.”

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