Maintenance facilities explain weather policy

By Abigail Chadwick, Assistant News Editor  (Photo by Preston Morris/The Bison)

Snow days can be fun and frustrating for teachers and students, providing extra downtime. For administration and staff that can involve a lot of work.

Wednesday, Feb. 21 and Thursday, Feb. 22 OBU’s campus was closed due to inclement weather. Winter weather can affect multiple things around campus beyond delayed or canceled classes, in particular, the tasks and workload of Facilities Management.

One of the main considerations during bad weather is the condition of the roads. Road condition is one of the main factors in considering whether to delay or cancel classes.

“If classes are delayed due to bad roads, we use the inclement weather schedule,” Paula Gower, associate vice president for marketing and communications, said. “If the weather and road conditions aren’t going to clear up in time for the start of class times on the inclement weather schedule, we cancel classes.”

Once the decision to delay or cancel classes has been made, notifications are sent out to students and staff. These notifications are transmitted through a variety of mediums.

“As soon as a decision is made, students and employees are notified via the Rave campus alert system,” Gower said. “This system sends text messages and emails and posts to Facebook and Twitter. We also notify the news channels, so the information is added to their closing/late start list that scrolls across the screen on bad weather days. The information is also posted on the homepage at the top.”

Roads are also a priority for the Facilities Management groundskeepers. During and after bad weather, clearing the roads and sidewalks is their first step.

“What we do if we have an incident is, like for instance the ice, we start with the areas that obstruct sidewalks, streets, and things that obstruct flow of foot and vehicular traffic and our main concern is to make sure that the students can get to [the cafeteria],” Berry Nichols, grounds and athletic fields supervisor said.

“We do that and then we work our way up to administration, then the educational buildings, those are kind of the last.”

Oklahoma weather can be unpredictable. Preparing for bad weather and deciding whether classes need to be delayed or canceled can be difficult.

“The difficult issue is that in Oklahoma you can have snow and freezing weather one day and a sunny, warm day the next,” Gower said. “It is difficult to predict precisely what the weather will do, when inclement weather will hit this particular part of the state, or even if it will hit here. It is also difficult to predict what the conditions of the roads will be the next day. And the amount of precipitation isn’t usually the issue; the form of the precipitation is the issue. We can get a little bit of ice on the roads and end up with travel conditions that are much more hazardous than several inches of snow.”

Groundskeepers do a lot around campus. Their day-to-day tasks involve caring for a large area, which is made more difficult during bad weather. This difficulty is mitigated some by careful preparation.

“We take care of all the landscaping, the trees, beds, athletic fields [and] turf, from Kickapoo to Airport and from Franklin to 39th street, which is north of the baseball field,” Nichols said. “We prepare [for bad weather] by having a stock of ice melt and having certain pieces of snow and ice removal equipment ready to deploy.”

The stock of ice melt consists not of a few bags worth, but of several thousand pounds.

“We might have five tons. It’s not a lot, but it’s pretty much all we need,” Nichols said. “Last year I hardly [used] any and this year I consumed quite a bit. We consumed about 3,000 pounds this last little incident.”

The equipment must be prepared beforehand as well. This requires close attention to the weather as the preparations for snow and ice limit the regular uses of the equipment.

“Up until the first of February I was utilizing the equipment in other ways because once you put certain pieces on that’s all you can use it for,” Nichols said. “So, I really monitor the weather all the time and if I see a pattern coming then I’ll make sure that we get those pieces of equipment prepared and ready to go, just in case.”

The administration also monitors weather conditions, so they can decide if classes need to be delayed or canceled. They consider the effects of current and forecasted weather conditions on the roads.

“Multiple people are involved in the decision,” Gower said. “Usually the executive leadership team consults together to make the decision… Weather forecasts and the current condition of the roads are two of the major factors taken into account.”

Announcing an inclement weather schedule or canceling classes is not unheard of at OBU and this is not the first time several days of classes were canceled, nor the record. Even so, multiple cancellation days is unusual.

“It seems like one day [of canceled classes a year] is probably the average, but I can’t say for certain because some years we don’t have any,” Gow-er said. “Most years it has been no more than two days.”

Tornado season is expected to bring storms and bad weather. This may cause more damage around campus, but it is unlikely that it will cause canceled classes.

“It isn’t likely that a tornado warning will last long enough to cancel multiple classes,” Gower said. “However, with Oklahoma weather, we can never say something won’t ever happen.”

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