Not all OSU employees get a day off
when the university has a snow day
By Jeff McCallister
Jan. 6 was supposed to have been the first day of classes after winter break at Ohio State; instead, a “polar vortex” brought dangerously cold temperatures that forced the university to close for two days.
But while the closure meant most of the university community was granted a slightly extended holiday, that wasn’t the case for everyone.
“We knew as soon as we saw that weather forecast that it was going to be a real busy time for us,” said Lance Bloomfield, a maintenance crew leader in Facilities Operations and Development. “Extreme cold means frozen pipes, especially in older buildings, and we have lots of those on campus.”
Bloomfield and his team, as well as maintenance teams all over campus, along with housekeeping crews, utilities workers, Service2Facilities, OSU Police, some Student Life staff and CABS drivers, Athletics staff and, of course, Wexner Medical Center staff all had to report to work as usual even as the university was officially closed. CampusParc also had crews out in place and provided support and flexibility for those employees who had to brave the conditions.
“I have to hand it to the people who came in to work on those two days because there was a real sense of working together to make sure everything was OK,” Bloomfield said.
For his part, Bloomfield clocked in about four hours earlier than normal at 2:45 a.m. that Monday as the thermometer was still a relatively balmy 16 degrees Fahrenheit.
Immediately, he and team member Dennis Wolfe went out on patrol in their district, which includes nearly a dozen buildings on the northeast part of the Columbus campus. They got their first dispatch from Service2Facilities almost immediately, and it was a doozy.
An OSU Police patrol had noticed water coming up out of the ground from a sidewalk near Macquigg Lab on Woodruff Avenue and called maintenance to check it out. Sure enough, a water line had ruptured and was quickly turning the entire stretch of Woodruff from College Road to Tuttle Park Place into a solid sheet of ice.
Crews from Roads and Grounds responded quickly to shut off the water and repair the break.
It was an auspicious start to a busy day. Across campus, FOD crews responded to more than 100 calls to repair heat or other issues caused by cold.
“As fast as the maintenance crews came in to fix the problems, there were housekeeping crews right there to clean up the mess,” Bloomfield said. “It really was a model of teamwork.”
FOD associate vice president Lynn Ready later praised those crews for significantly reducing both the damage that could have been caused by the cold and the impact to staff when the university returned to normal operations on Tuesday night. “Examples of outstanding individual efforts are too numerous to list,” Ready wrote in an email to FOD staff. “I really do not have enough good things to say about how everyone has responded.”
Maintenance crews walked the campus 24 hours a day during the closure to look for any openings in windows or other areas that could cause pipes or other systems to freeze inside the buildings or cause damage in mechanical rooms.
They also monitored the sites of eight major construction projects to help ensure there was no negative impact to the sites’ ongoing progress.
Meanwhile, Transportation and Traffic Management added buses and shuttles in the Wexner Medical Center area to transport staff from the Polo lot parking areas to hospital buildings to minimize their time in the cold. It provided more than 550 rides in 45 hours of service during the closure.
Much of that was made possible by Transportation and Traffic Management’s third-shift mechanics, who proactively cleared all non-essential equipment out of the garages on that Sunday night. Doing so allowed as many buses as possible to be stored in the garage overnight Sunday and Monday to ensure they would be ready to roll and provide that service in the early morning hours.
“The efforts of not just the Administration and Planning teams, but partners from all over campus, were outstanding,” said Jay Kasey, senior vice president for Administration and Planning. “Our campus never really closes, and our recent weather meant long, cold, difficult days for those who braved the cold to keep our essential services operating. I can’t thank these employees enough for rising to the challenge and fighting back against our harshest elements to keep campus moving safely.”