Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night…

Snow day!

The kid inside us all can’t help but be excited at the thought of a day off school, playing in the snow or staying warm inside.

But for a surprising number of CSU employees, a snow day is anything but a day off. From the administrators and police officers who monitor and evaluate weather conditions throughout the night before to those responsible for the care of living things – plants, animals and students – a lot of people work hard to keep the University operational during a storm the size of the one that closed campus Feb. 2.

How much work is it? Just for starters, 500 Facilities Management employees are responsible for clearing 4.5 million square feet of parking lots, 162 miles of sidewalks and and 15.8 miles of campus roads. Wielding everything from shovels to trucks, tractors and pickups they are joined by ROTC students and report to work at 3 a.m. with the goal of having campus ready to open, if it does, by 7 a.m.

“The Facilities Management teams are the real heroes, plowing streets, maintaining critical systems, and protecting our buildings,” said Steve Newman, professor of Floriculture, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, who is responsible for the greenhouses at the Horticultural Center. “We had alarms during the night that required action from Facilities crews, and I needed to come in to check the heat, make sure that the snow wasn’t damaging the glazing, and water the plants.”

How bad does it have to be to close campus for the day? That’s a call made by President Tony Frank, with input from the Public Safety Team, made up of administrators from across campus. They consult with emergency managers from the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County, Poudre School District, city and CSU police and Facilities Management as well as make their own personal observations out on the streets, even in the early morning hours.

“Safety is the primary concern in making these decisions,” explained Dell Rae Ciaravola, a member of the PST. The team usually comes together on a conference call at 5 a.m. to make the final decision.

Then Ciaravola and other members of the communications team from External Relations make sure the word gets out to all media outlets – TV and radio stations in Fort Collins and Denver as well as the Coloradoan, the Denver Post and campus media — before people start coming to campus. They also make sure internal and social media channels, such as SOURCE, the CSU Facebook page, and the CSU main webpage, are updated, and texts and emails go out to the campus community.

Care and feeding on campus

Students may have rejoiced at the early morning notice, but they still needed breakfast. That’s why Housing & Dining Services staff report to work like a regular day, if they can, to make sure the more than 6,000 students in the residence halls and university apartments get fed. The storeroom also remains open to take deliveries of needed supplies.

HDS Operations Management staff also come in to respond to maintenance requests and urgent work orders in the halls and apartments. Many Residence Life and Apartment Life staff work as usual to keep front desks open, provide services to students, and carry on with programs.

“For Housing & Dining Services we continue operating to ensure that the students who live on campus have warm food and support services,” said Tonie Miyamoto, communications director for Housing & Dining.

Housing & Dining’s Snow Day

by the numbers

  • 296: Staff who worked
  • 9,314: Meals served
  • 5,000+: Social media views of video of students skiing on the living slope at Pavilion
  • 3: after-hours operations calls responded to
  • Uber, taxi, and a sled: Alternative forms of transportation staff used to get to campus during the snow day

Other CSU creatures also need to be fed and watered, from livestock at ARDEC to animals in labs – even CAM the Ram.

Jerry Black, director of the Equine Sciences program in the College of Agricultural Sciences, spent a good deal of the day on a tractor digging the facilities on the Foothills Campus out from two feet of snow while others looked after the care and feeding of the horses.

“We are fortunate here that there is a large crew working here at Foothills campus under the leadership of Rick Brandes (Foothills Farm Manager) and our facility manager Wayne Miller,” Black said. “If a member of the crew cannot make it in we have plans in place for backup personnel. Some of our colt training class was here also helping as over 30 colts in training for the Legends of Ranching have recently been put in stalls for the last three months of their preparation.”

On a smaller scale, Professor Greg Florant checked in on Baby and the other hibernating marmots in the zoology building on the snowy Groundhog Day.

“Each facility has its own policy, but it is required that someone come in to feed and check the animals,” said Debbie Garrity, professor of Biology. “The feeders should have each other’s personal contact information so that in the event it is impossible for them to come in they can arrange a substitute.”

And the fish might get only two feedings — the weekend schedule — not the usual three.

Newman from the Horticulture Center pointed out that tending to plants and fish and sleeping rodents is important to protect the university’s investment in research, which doesn’t get a snow day, either.

For companion animals with medical needs, the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital remained open, although with minimum staffing, for scheduled appointments as well as emergencies, according to hospital director Dr. Tim Hackett. The ambulatory field service of the VTH was available to respond to any veterinary emergencies on the Foothills Campus, but were not needed.

And it would be wrong to leave the impression that all students spent the day frolicking in the snow. Campus radio KSCU stayed on the air, and the staff of the Collegian put together Wednesday’s edition on a normal schedule.

“Our real heroes were our delivery drivers Todd and Dave, who showed up at the dock at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning to take papers around town,” said Kim Blumhardt, advertising director for Rocky Mountain Student Media. “That’s real dedication.”

Jennifer Dimas, Anne Manning and Ashley Manweiler contributed to this story.