Since Jan. 26, at least 24 inches of snow buried the University of Rhode Island, bringing three full snow days, a half day cancellation and an icy, slushy mess to clean up.
According to the National Weather Service, the blizzard of 2015, or winter storm Juno, hit Rhode Island full force last week, bringing wind gusts of up to 52 mph in Newport, and freezing temperatures across the state. As if that was not enough, on Feb. 2 another storm blew in, dropping another 6 to 7 inches of snow in Kingston, and canceled class on Monday.
Facilities Director Jerome Sidio says URI is preparing itself for a long winter season.
“In January and February, we seem to get into these patterns,” said Sidio. “But it all comes down to literally forecasting the weather. At this rate, [the snow] seems to be more on the high side than the low side this year. Our concerns are increasing.”
According to Sidio, February is always the worst month for snow.
Last year was one of the costliest winters URI has seen in several years, he said. The plentiful, consistent snowfalls were enough to cost the University at least $20,000 in contractor fees alone to help clear the snow, and deplete salt, sand and magnesium chloride resources significantly. That figure does not include the cost of materials and manpower used from University funds and employees.
In the last two storms alone, the snowfall has cost URI about $37,240 in sand, magnesium-based ice melt, and rock salt. Facilities estimated they have already gone through 150 tons of salt, 10 tons of ice melt, and 15 tons of sand.
These materials alone are expensive, not to mention the facilities staff of about 30 University employees used to plow and spread these materials around campus. In occasions where there is extremely heavy snowfall, like Juno, the University also must hire outside contractors to clear the snow. For this particular storm, it cost them another $10,000.
The exact totals for materials and manpower was still being calculated before the Cigar’s publishing deadline, but Sidio said they must also factor in overtime pay, as workers must run plows and clean up non stop through the storms.
The money for cleaning up winter weather comes from a facilities budget that varies annually. For 2015, Sidio estimates that figure is closer to $8 million. Within those funds, $2 million is used specifically for groundskeeping. The University’s winter weather budget comes out of both groundskeeping and the main budget.
“In bad years with bad winters, it comes out of every pocket,” said Sidio.
If there is a state of emergency declared like there was during Juno, the University can file a claim to Federal Emergency Management Agency to get reimbursed for materials and labor used to clear the snow on campus, but it’s a process that can take about six months.
Let’s not forget, there’s more snow in the forecast. The National Weather Service predicts a good chance of snow starting Thursday and continuing on and off through Sunday.
Sidio and Athletic Grounds Manager Brian Boesch say they’ve reordered about $60,250 worth of sand, salt and magnesium supplies to help get them through the weekend, and begun repairs on the plows and trucks used for clearing snow and distributing sand and salt. Sidio says his team is resting up before the plows could start running this weekend.
“We’ve got a very good crew dedicated to snow removal on this campus,” he said.