Landcare preps campus for yearly challenge: Snow

Sometimes, student-workers get 5 a.m. calls to shovel.
Student gardener Rachel Soika trims perennial grasses Tuesday near TCF Bank Stadium.
November 17, 2011

In the fall and summer, ground maintenance on campus is about keeping sidewalks clean, leaves raked and flowers blooming in their beds. When winter hits, it’s about making sure students can get to class safely.

Last year’s winter storms were not kind to Alex Ludwig. He spent it shoveling snow and scraping ice off of the University of Minnesota’s campus sidewalks.

Ludwig and about 55 other student workers for the University’s Facilities Management Landcare services are gearing up for the winter ahead with safety and equipment briefings until the first sign of snowfall.

Ludwig said he remembers the 5 a.m. wake-up calls from his supervisors last winter.

“We got called in all the time last year and would have to start shoveling really early,” he said.

Though it wasn’t much fun, he said getting paid time and a half for the first two hours of the shift made it better.

Lester Potts, the department’s grounds superintendent who calls himself the “chief weed puller,” said he has been extremely busy this month with preparations for the snowfall.

He’s been evaluating construction zones to plan the best way to remove snow and setting up orders for plowing contractors.

Potts said removing snow from areas under construction and nearby will be a challenge, but he isn’t too worried and feels they are well prepared.

“We had a lot of snow last year, but we handled it well, all things considered, and I’m confident that we’re going to be fine this year as well,” Potts said.

While he doesn’t know how much money they will spend on snow removal this year, Potts said it will be a significant portion of Landcare services’ $2.5 million budget for 2011.

Switching over equipment from the fall to the winter has been another primary task for Potts and other supervisors. He said it’s a long process because there’s a lot more equipment used in the winter.

During the fall, the department employs about 55 students, but that number drops significantly by the time winter hits.

“We have a fairly high turnover for our student workers,” Potts said. “The work is different during the winter and a lot harder, and some students quit because they don’t expect it to be.”

Jacob Fons, a senior political science major who has been working with Landcare services since his freshman year, said he enjoys the job even though it might not seem glamorous to some.

“It’s a solid job, and they are very understanding about our school schedules, so that’s why I’ve been coming back each semester,” Fons said.

He also likes the fact that the job is on campus and that it takes him just a few minutes to report to work.

Ryan Harris, a transfer student majoring in kinesiology, has been with Landcare since the fall and enjoys the short four hour shifts.

“I’ve worked in different kinds of landcare facilities before, so I knew what I was going into and what the job entailed,” Harris said.

Harris, who is originally from Iowa, said he’s heard the winter in Minnesota can be brutal but that he’s ready and plans to keep working for Landcare throughout the year.

The student Landcare workers are an “intricate part of the team,” Dustin Koskela, a gardener for the department, said. He gives them a lot of credit for making campus look better.

“On a daily basis, we have students who go out and check out all the asherons where all the cigarette butts are put and there’s a lot of trash-picking, especially on game days,” Koskela said.

Koskela manages a team of eight to 10 students who primarily work on the East Bank. He relies on them to help plant and prune around campus.

“They do a lot of the small things that people don’t really notice, and that keeps our campus looking great,” he said.

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