Winter weather prep never stops for campus services

Winter fleet

Campus services mechanic Brandon Williams works on a truck that will be outfitted with a snow blade to clear streets once the snow flies this winter. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Winter weather awareness

University leaders urged all students and employees to prepare for winter weather and exercise caution when traveling to and from campus in a Nov. 10 email.

The dropping temperatures forecasted this weekend have many thinking of the snow and cold that will follow. For facilities planning and management's (FPM) campus services team, winter preparation never stops.

Readying for winter weather, keeping all the equipment in working order and clearing roads and sidewalks is a 12-month endeavor for the 40-plus team members working to keep campus streets, lots and walkways as safe as possible.

"When it was raining last week, we used that as a practice run for everyone as if it was snowing," plant services supervisor Todd Wilson said. "We had everyone put on their blades and pushers just to test everything and make sure we were ready to go."

Wilson targets April 1 as the tentative end of the winter season before maintenance on blades and sweepers begins and they can be stored "in repaired, working condition." The hibernation period for winter equipment doesn't last long. Starting July 1, employees bring it back out to ensure it will be ready by Nov. 1. Mechanics make parts lists and place orders. Campus services supervisors meet to ensure all routes on campus are covered for shoveling, sweeping, salting and sanding, and plowing.

The blades, sand spreaders and sweepers may get a few months break, but not the machinery that moves them. Virtually every vehicle in campus services' fleet is used during the winter by outfitting them with attachments.

"Everything we use in the winter is used in the summer as well," Wilson said.


How winter weather is handled depends on the situation. There are shovels, snowblowers, lawn mowers with blades, utility terrain vehicles, skid-steer loaders, Toolcats, one-ton pickups, single-axle dump trucks, front-end loaders and a road grader.

Campus is serviced by 14 large plows, 18 broom routes and 18 shovel routes. Two dump trucks and the road grader also help maintain streets, and one piece of equipment is responsible for clearing all loading docks. All the equipment is kept running by two mechanics and drivers who perform their own maintenance.

A multitude of salt and sand spreaders are used separately or in combination with other equipment in a two-thirds sand, one-third salt mixture. Wilson estimates more than 250 tons of sand is used across campus each year. More than 10 years ago, a switch was made from calcium chloride to ECOSALT, which is less abrasive on concrete surfaces. Central Stores orders about five semi loads of ECOSALT each year. It's used on sidewalks and entryways. Iowa State also purchases about 300 tons of road salt each year from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Employees receive a $185 clothing allowance every two years for bib overalls, a high-visibility winter coat and a pair of gloves.


Plant services supervisor Joel Bender said improved weather forecasting helps with planning. Employees start clearing campus when measurable snow is expected, beginning in the early morning to have major roads, parking lots and routes across campus open by 7 a.m.

"Very rarely do we get caught by surprise with the weather anymore," he said.

Crews follow six priorities for clearing snow and ice:

  • Roadways serving university facilities
  • Parking lots: Accessible spaces, then permit spaces and general spaces
  • Main walkways traversing campus and leading to main building entrances
  • Main building entrances and accessible entrances
  • Secondary sidewalks (those not in the primary route to campus facilities but instead leading to side or back doors)
  • Secondary building entrances including side and back entrances and limited-access exits

FPM is looking to hire more workers and continues to be impacted by supply chain issues, making parts for repairs or buying new equipment challenging.

Stay safe

Safety for all on campus is important, but personal responsibility also plays a key part. Dress for the weather, which includes wearing the proper footwear, Bender said.

Employees can use the online report a problem form or call 4-5100 to let FPM know about spots where ice or snow are a concern.

"If there is a slip or fall, we get together and try to figure out why it is happening," Wilson said. "That is what allowed us to add a few more sanders a couple of years ago. Environmental health and safety keeps track of those issues and it allows us to find zones where issues can be addressed."