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The campus that never sleeps

Although snow suspended three days of UW classes last week, many employees still had to report to work.

Expenses such as maintenance equipment, overtime pay for essential personnel on campus, and paid time off for faculty members can raise the cost of operating campus on these days.

Norm Arkans, the UW associate vice president of media relations and communications, said though there aren’t any good numbers on how snow days affect the UW financially, the costs are marginal.

However, UW Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Clarence Geyen said that his crew in particular has to stock up on both equipment and staff for snow days, raising expenses. Plows, sand, and chemical de-icer are just some of the tools required to combat the weather.

Geyen estimated that with the gardeners alone, overtime on a snow day can cost about $120 to $150 per person. With the crew of 36 gardeners needed, it would cost more than $4,000 each day.

“We have to go by the snow schedule, not by our regular schedule,” Geyen said. “People are working 10- to 12-hour days.”

Hospital and residential staff are also included in the essential personnel who have to be on campus despite suspended classes. Other faculty members still receive regular pay on snow days since they do not receive sick leave and vacation leave through the UW.

People who have to be on campus whether classes are running or not are considered essential staff during snow days, Arkans said. That includes facilities and maintenance workers along with those working on a deadline.

“We never close — we just suspend normal operations,” Arkans said. “There are other things that go on here regardless of whether classes are cancelled.”

Because the campus itself remains open, safety is a main concern. Emergency staffs at the UWPD and UW Medical Center remain on call despite the weather.

UWPD Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser said the department usually receives more calls on snow days then during other times of the year.

“You get people who are having fun outdoors, and obviously we want people to stay safe while they are doing these things,” Rittereiser said. “I think the biggest problem we have are slip-and-fall problems associated with sidewalk travel.”

The cleanup of any potential safety hazards on campus is the main focus of Grounds Maintenance. Such cleanup is often costly, Geyen said, using the example of tree limbs broken by freeze.

“The campus is liable for whoever is out there, and part of our job is to be responsible for that liability,” he said. “We’re termed ‘essential services,’ which means, when everyone else gets to go home because it’s snowing, we go to work.”

Besides the costs of keeping the campus running, Arkans said productivity costs are another expense resulting from snow days. Although UW classes are canceled, those days are still counted into students’ tuition.

“All the offices of campus fall behind and all the classes are canceled,” he said. “We can’t make these days up.”

Reach reporter Jillian Stampher at news@dailyuw.com.

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