Safety No. 1 priority during winter season

Count the hours: Snow and ice froze VCU activities on both the Academic and Medical campuses for 21 hours this semester, and that’s just the daytime classes. Administrators also canceled 15 hours of evening classes because of inclement weather. That’s 36 total hours.

Cleaning up the wintry mess has cost nearly $120,000 this academic year, said Brian Ohlinger, associate vice president for facilities management.

Inclement weather cleanup on VCU campuses excluding parking areas cost nearly $85,000 since January, a figure significantly greater than the $50,000 allotted to the facilities management department’s operating budget for snow removal.

Nonetheless, Ohlinger emphasized that these costs represent only a small portion of the physical plant’s total $23 million budget.

Ohlinger estimated that clearing snow in parking areas alone cost nearly $35,000 this year. VCU Parking and Transportation department uses a portion of collected parking fees to reimburse facilities management for this expense, while the city pays the cost for clearing its streets.

Regardless of the cost, clearing sidewalks so students, faculty and staff can access every building by at least one route ranks as VCU’s No. 1 priority. Thus, Ohlinger recommends that students and faculty park in a parking deck instead of on the street during inclement weather.

“The key for safety,” he said, “is that someone can park (while) in their car and walk on a sidewalk to class.”

To ensure the sidewalks are safe, Ohlinger said VCU crews, most of whom are physical plant employees, work in shifts as long as 12 hours to clear the sidewalks and other sections of the campuses.

Landcrafters, a private contractor, clears parking decks and lots. Faculty, staff and students can go to the inclement weather link on VCU’s Web site to determine where they can park if their assigned lot hasn’t been cleared.

“As long as we can get the snow moved,” Ohlinger said, “then we open those lots.”

Eugene Trani, VCU’s president, reiterated that safety instead of finance remains VCU’s primary concern when deciding to cancel classes.

“It costs more money to do things we ordinarily do not do,” Trani said. “But that’s not a major decision. We want to be safe.”

Besides Ohlinger, Paul Timmreck, senior vice president for finance and administration, and Sue Messmer, vice president for university outreach, collect information on everything from parking to weather forecasts before making a recommendation to Trani. The president then makes his final decision about canceling classes and closing the health system clinics.

“We just have to take the best recommendation where we believe it’s safe for the vast majority of people who can get here,” Trani said.

Still, Roderick McDavis, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said parts of VCU, such as the MCV Hospitals and the dining services, typically remain open even during inclement weather.

So far this year, no university official, including Marian Bouldin, the VCU police emergency coordination manager, and Cindy Holmes, the assistant director of clinical operations at VCU Student Health Services, had heard reports of student, faculty or staff injuries directly related to the inclement weather.

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