Did you 'snow?'

Mount Royal’s updated snow-removal plan targets high-volume areas of campus

Ruth MylesMount Royal University | Posted: January 30, 2023

Snow removal at the West Gate entrance.

Mount Royal’s updated snow removal plan prioritizes high-traffic areas such as the West Gate entrance.

Some things are constant: death, taxes and, if you’re in Calgary, snow. Still, there are steps everyone can take to mitigate the risks that come along with the white stuff (aka the Devil’s Dandruff).

That’s where Mount Royal University’s updated snow-removal plan comes in, which clears high-volume areas of campus more quickly and effectively. Launched Jan. 16, the plan reallocates existing resources in a prioritized framework that responds to weather conditions.

“The updated plan directs more resources to higher traffic areas in a more timely manner. Every snowfall is different, and so our response has to be responsive and flexible while prioritizing those high-traffic areas,” says Peter Davison, chief safety, risk and employee wellness officer at Mount Royal University who is also acting associate vice-president, Facilities Management.

“We also want to ensure that the campus community plays its role in contributing to safety by making informed decisions and using good judgment when faced with winter conditions. Everyone needs to be aware of their environment and navigate it appropriately.”

Facilities Management’s Grounds department maintains Mount Royal’s nearly 120-acre campus, including 13 kilometres of sidewalks, 330 doorway entries, 16 accessibility ramps, 225 sets of stairs (including Residence) and more. Clearing these areas requires a carefully orchestrated and informed response plan. It’s an interconnected process that has to be adaptable to ever-changing weather conditions.

Under the updated plan, all areas of MRU’s grounds — including entrances, pathways and parking lots — have been categorized in terms of priorities. A hierarchy of snow-removal stages frames what work will be done and when. Existing resources have been reallocated to provide more coverage over a longer period of time.

The snow-removal stage planning has detailed information on scenarios from a light dusting of snow to a dump of 20 centimetres and up, as well as a plan for freezing rain. There are guidelines for timelines for removal depending on priorities, as well as recommendations for when to consult with MRU’s Emergency Operations Centre in cases of high impact to the campus community.

“We saw a need for resources outside of traditional Grounds hours, including afternoons and weekends. Under the new plan, people will see a presence more often over longer hours,” says Shane Williams, Grounds manager. “At the same time, this means we won’t be able to get to some lower priority areas on the same schedule we did before. For higher levels of snowfall, where you have always walked might not be cleared on the same timeline as it was in the past. You might have to change your usual access to provide safer access to buildings.”

Getting the word out

A focus on timely and relevant communication as part of the plan means community members can make educated decisions on how they access the buildings and areas on campus. A new webpage at mru.ca/Snow features current conditions and detailed information. Outdoor signage will be placed on sidewalks highlighting stages and conditions.

In cases where a weather event has a significant impact on campus — such as closed pathways or access points — the campus community may also be alerted via social media, notifications on MyMRU.ca, alerts on MRU Now and emails. It’s all part of being informed and using good judgment in navigating your environment, says Rob Siklodi, manager, Environmental Health & Safety.

“Everyone has a role to play in safety on campus. If there is a heavy snowfall, use your good judgment in walking around, just like you would if you were driving: adapt to the conditions and take it slow. Walk like a penguin might sound silly, yet it’s really effective,” Siklodi says. “Also, you can contribute to safety on campus by reporting areas of concern by  calling 403.440.6417, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also report it on MRU Now under Frontline Request.

“The forecast doesn’t always align with the weather we experience, so be prepared and be aware of your surroundings.”

Getting the work done

When someone walks from their parking spot to the East Gate entrance, they only see the tip of the snow removal iceberg, Williams explains. There is a lot going on underneath the surface that the campus community isn’t always aware of. For example, Dec. 23 was the last day campus was open before the holiday break. A prolonged cold spell had complicated snow removal. When the mercury dips to -30°C, the diesel that fuels Mount Royal’s snow-removal equipment gets sticky. Pumping 40 litres of fuel usually takes minutes. When the diesel is sticky, crews can wait 20 minutes to get 10 litres of fuel pumped.

The cold is hard on equipment and it’s hard on the people operating it: they need warming breaks more frequently, they have to ensure they are wearing layered clothing, but also that they’re not sweating in those layers, because that adds to the risk of hypothermia.

Back to the last day of winter semester. It was -39°C with the wind chill and forecasters called for a light dusting of snow. That dusting, however, turned into a rapid accumulation in the order of 10 centimetres. The cold hampered fuelling the snow-removal equipment, which includes four sidewalk clearing machines, a walker with a brush on the front, a tractor, and a truck with a plow and sander attachment.

Then, add in all the other considerations in play, from how many people are on campus, to the longer-range forecast, to how long can staff hand-shovel entrances before needing a break? These are just some of the decisions that are made every time there is a snowfall. Sometimes dealing with the snow is straightforward, sometimes it’s not.

The majority of Grounds staff have been at Mount Royal for at least four years, with some longer-serving members coming in at 15 years. Having experienced staff who really know the nooks and crannies of campus contributes to more effective removal, Williams notes. Not all equipment can be used in all areas of campus. For example, there is only one machine that can navigate the tight spaces of the U-Wing courtyard and it takes an experienced operator to get the job done.

The campus community should know that no matter the conditions, the Grounds crews are doing their best to contribute to safety on campus by clearing snow and ice in the most effective manner possible, Williams says.

“Even in that -40°C weather, they are doing the work. With equipment breakdowns, weather-related delays and other challenges, they juggle those setbacks and figure out how to get it done,” Williams says. “A few years back, it was a bad one for snow: we worked 28 days straight with no  breaks. In a Stage 3 snowfall (involving five to 10 centimetres), it’s all hands on deck, myself included. We all take turns to get the work done. It’s a real team effort.”

Find out more about how Facilities Management works to keep the campus safe.