Campus News

Plowing through: Snow-removal crews dedicated to making UB winter-safe

This student's walk near Davis Hall on the North Campus is unobstructed, thanks to Facilities Operation's snow-removal efforts. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published December 13, 2017

“A safe and clean campus is the goal for University Facilities grounds crews.”
Christopher Donacik, assistant director of buildings and grounds
Facilities Operations

There is good news for the UB community bracing for the inevitable challenge of carrying on business, classes and life surrounded by a Western New York winter.

The intrepid and resourceful people with the responsibility of clearing out that snow are on the case. They have put into motion an improved plan for the snow season, which — apparently, based on this past weekend and week — has arrived.

With the recent purchase of five pieces of snow equipment to replace obsolete units, UB now has more than 50 pieces of equipment. And the crews have plenty of tips that could make everyone’s lives a lot easier, as well as the experience that anyone who has faced the snow-removal task knows can be essential.

So for everyone who has gotten through this moderate snow situation and understands more will follow, there is hope.

Christopher Donacik, assistant director of buildings and grounds in UB’s Facilities Operations, sent out a university-wide memorandum last week that turned out to be spot on.

“Winter is just around the corner,” he wrote to the university community days before the campuses’ first snow event hit. “Snow-covered fields and trees present a pretty picture around the holiday time. With a few precautions, the winter wonderland can be enjoyed someplace other than bed.

“A safe and clean campus is the goal for University Facilities grounds crews.”

Donacik has more than encouraging words. University Facilities has made improvements for this snow season, and it’s clear and transparent Snow Removal Plan and Procedure could serve as a SUNY best-practice seminar.

This plow working in front of Fronczak Hall on the North Campus is one of the more than 50 pieces of snow-removal equipment in UB's arsenal. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“Snow will be cleared in a prioritized manner,” according to another Donacik campus communication. “Emergency access routes are the first priority. Primary pedestrian routes, vehicular drives and parking lots, including overnight parking areas, are the secondary priority.”

After those areas are clean, walks and roads that are utilized minimally — and other secondary lots — are the next priority and will be cleared last, according to Donacik’s game plan.

“Fire hydrants, storm drains and mechanical room access will be cleared the day following the storm,” he wrote. “Anti-icing and de-icing procedures will be performed as deemed necessary by the University at Buffalo Police Department and Facilities’ Landscaping Service Department.”

UB stores much of the salt it uses on the North Campus in this salt barn on Service Center Road near Maple Road. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Overall, there are 36 team members working those 50 pieces of equipment, including a 24-person day shift crew on duty from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from mid-November through late March.

UB also will have an eight-person snow/ice removal crew working on campus Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and a two-person crew working on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. From Jan. 2 through late March, an eight-person, third-shift crew will be on duty from 11:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Donacik stressed the work of the Fleet Maintenance and Custodial departments.

“The backbone of the Facilities Landscape Service Department’s successes resides in the productivity and output of our team,” Donacik says. “This includes the valuable work of the university’s custodial staff (first and third shifts), who clear entryways at their respective buildings, and Fleet Maintenance, which repairs units during the season.”

And to satisfy the interest of a real Facilities Operations devotee, the ice-melt compound is ordered six months in advance. The vendor stores it, Donacik says, and delivers it as needed.  

There is more to the job than numbers on a flow chart. Students, staff and the rest of the UB community can play a key role in making the Great Snow Removal Saga easier on everyone.

When asked what the campus community can do to help the snow-removal cause, Donacik doesn’t hold back.

  • Faculty, students and staff are encouraged to park in designated areas.
  • Work with snow-removal experts to ensure your safety. Snow-removal equipment is large, loud and difficult to stop. Avoid darting out in front of or behind such equipment, and make eye contact with snow-removal drivers before crossing the street in front of them.
  • On sidewalks: Avoid parking so close to the sidewalks that your car bumpers hangs over the walk. It creates an obstacle for snow-removal equipment.
  • In parking lots: If possible, park in plowed areas of parking lots to help snow-removal workers quickly clear the unplowed areas without navigating around vehicles.
  • In residence hall loops: Parking is prohibited in these loops. Keep loops clear of vehicles between 2-6 a.m to allow snow-removal workers time to clear them.
  • Regarding bikes: Avoid chaining bikes to sign posts. Observe the bike racks, and be aware of creating any obstacles for snow-removal equipment.
  • Regarding ice-melt compound: Give it some time to take effect. Also, while safety is priority one, using ice-melt compound responsibly is important to limit negative environmental impacts. Ice-melt compound will be provided in containers at building entrances to be used as needed. The buckets will be replenished by the custodians. Those living in residence halls should inform the facility manager of the need for ice-melt compound.
  • Workers in the Landscaping Service Department wear high-visibility outerwear for their safety. Recognize and respect their services.

That is not to say there are not challenges. Donacik has another list of these.

“Weather — Mother Nature” — is the biggest opponent, he says. After that, comes the National Weather Service. “It’s a great service,” Donacik says. “But like the weather, it’s always changing. You have to be on guard.”

After that, it’s equipment repairs and breakdowns, Donacik says. Then “personnel.”

“It is a job that can be both relaxing and stressful, depending upon the conditions,” Donacik says. “When snow falls, many of our teams work long hours.”

Then Donacik notes the finance-budget element to the job. The campus is expanding, he says, so resources are not unlimited.

A front-loader moves salt into the salt barn on Service Center Road on the North Campus. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Vehicles parking outside designated areas are another scourge of Facilities Operation. Snow-removal crews can quickly clear the unplowed areas if they don’t have to navigate around vehicles parked where they shouldn’t be, he says.

And Donacik dislikes seeing vehicles parked in different areas when there is snow-removal to be done. “Keep vehicles in close proximity and in groups,” he says. “Scattered vehicles make it difficult to be thorough.”

He also urges drivers to be aware of overnight parking spaces. Be attentive to signs in residence hall lots to follow alternate parking, Donacik says.

UB administrators have additional wise words for the university community. University officials realize that many students, faculty and staff may not have much experience with winter weather conditions. So they offer the gentle reminder that once workers clear a roadway or sidewalk, persistent snowfalls may quickly cover it again.

They also encourage members of the UB community to dress appropriately for winter weather, and to use caution when driving and walking.

Having the responsibility of keeping the campuses safe and clean comes with its own satisfaction and drawbacks. The pride and fulfilling feeling that comes from providing such an important service is something most facilities operations understand very well.

The drawbacks often come in the form of complaints. Donacik says it’s best for everyone if the snow-removal crews view these complaints as “valuable feedback.”

“Facilities responds to them in an accepting way, by thanking the complainant for alerting us to the problem,” says Donacik. “We prefer to show empathy that we understand their frustration and that Landscaping Services prides itself on responding to customers complaints in a timely manner.”


The Sherman and Diefendorf lots on the South Campus are not plowed properly at all.  Hopefully this can be corrected soon. It's dangerous to walk in the lots.


LuAnn Kaite

The lots on South Campus are in poor shape.  These should be plowed before people arrive and need to park their cars.


Barbara Mullan

It would be very helpful to have staff on call for clearing paths and lots on Sundays, too. When there's a heavy snowfall on Saturday night or on Sunday, that leaves a lot of work to be done starting at 6 a.m. on Monday. Often, there's a significant amount of snow or ice, and by the time people have started to arrive, they're confronted with a dangerous situation. In addition, the task of clearing the lots after about 8 a.m. becomes almost impossible.


Susan Udin

Parking in Diefendorf has been a challenge this week, particularly since cars don't know where the lines are on the pavement lining up with the pylons isn't all that easy, and drifting made the snow along the perimeter near Clark Hall deeper.


It would also be nice to have staff on call to come in earlier than 6 a.m. when forecasts predict early-morning snow accumulations, so every lot and walkway can be cleared in time.


Pam Rose