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SnowCat program to provide improved snow removal process

As reported by The New Hampshire in March 2015, the snowfall during the winter of 2014-15 nearly doubled southern New Hampshire’s usual snowfall accumulation. According to UNH Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance Officer Wendy Beckwith, it was after this winter that the university began researching ways to make the campus more accessible for people of all mobility levels.

The research by the university led to the implementation of SnowCat routes, an hourly snow removal service that clears two prioritized routes, which according to Beckwith connect all critical aspects of campus. The service has two goals: to have a piece of equipment go through the SnowCat routes once an hour, and to make sure that this service does not then sacrifice the normal snow removal program elsewhere on campus. The program was first put into effect last winter during the 2015-16 academic year, though Beckwith noted that it was an unusually dry winter, so the service was not used frequently.

“[The SnowCat program] grew out of a shared frustration with how we manage snow,” Beckwith said. “Fully acknowledging that we have a hilly campus, we live in New Hampshire and everybody has challenges with that depending on their level of mobility on campus.”

According to sophomore Student Senator Tyler Anderson, a key aspect of SnowCat’s  success is how it creates visibility and awareness for the program. If students, faculty, staff or visitors find blockages in pathways, they are encouraged to call facilities so they may do whatever is in their power to prioritize that area.

Courtesy photo Map of prioritized campus snow removal routes that will occur 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. during and after a heavy snowfall.
Courtesy photo
Map of prioritized campus snow removal routes that will occur 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. during and after a heavy snowfall.

“This program is important because every single student at UNH should be able to access every single facility,” Anderson said. “[SnowCats] is just another important step that we [UNH] are taking to make sure we comply to ADA to the fullest extent of our ability.”

The SnowCats routes are cleared 6 a.m.-10 p.m. during snowfall periods, according to Facilities Services Executive Director Larry Van Dessel. He also said that his department has purchased two special eight-foot sidewalk brooms that are valuable when dealing with the high priority routes.

Though last winter wasn’t as severe as the winter before it, the facilities team did have difficulty keeping up with the SnowCat routes as well as overall snow removal on campus. This, according to Van Dessel, is because one storm is never equal to another. Whereas one storm may accumulate more snow, another could consist of heavier, wet snow. To account for this, the Grounds Department  has already begun meeting as a unit to set up equipment and discuss strategies for the upcoming snow season.

“Taking two pieces of equipment and two operators off other routes does have an impact,” Van Dessel said in an email. “But grounds and roads personnel are really passionate about helping our mobility challenged customers.”

Beckwith said she would like to see a signage program to eventually be implemented on the SnowCat routes, so people can become familiar with what is and isn’t a prioritized route. Before the signs can go up, however, she said it is necessary for the program to run for a year or two to see if the selected routes can function as a reliable option for everyone on campus.

“There are a lot of variables,” Beckwith said. “But the intent is to have a priority snow route that connects most of the critical elements on campus that would give someone an opportunity to be on a treated surface.”

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