“You want a forecast about the weather?...I’ll give you a winter prediction. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be gray. And it’s going to last you for the rest of your life.”
These are the prophetic words of Bill Murray in the 1993 dark comedy “Groundhog Day,” a movie in which Murray’s character wakes up every morning to find himself stuck in the same miserable winter holiday in Punxsutawney, Pa.
While this year’s Feb. 2 has come and gone, the inclement snowy season has persisted on the campus of Wayne State.
“This has been a rough winter,” said Donald Wrench, director of custodial operations and interim director of ground operations at WSU. “In terms of salt, we’ve gone through close to 300 tons.”
Wrench said he and his crew have been working tirelessly to keep the WSU campus safe and clear from the winter elements.
“We’ve been running 12 hours a day, around the clock,” Wrench said. “You can’t do anything but (that) with this type of weather. And we just try to clear as much as we can as quick as we can.”
Wrench said the grounds department has even been handling the plowing of campus streets, which are technically beyond their call of duty.
“The streets do belong to the city, but we’ve been taking care of them this winter,” Wrench said. “We’ve been taking care of them around campus because of safety. We can’t necessarily wait on the city to plow, so we got to get it done. And that’s what we’ve been getting done.”
But the grounds crew’s workload doesn’t end there, Wrench said.
“Streets, sidewalks, docks – basically you name it, we do it,” Wrench said. “Steps, porches – you name it, because we have some houses on campus. We do curb cuts – handicapped access points to get their vehicles up to the building, front and back. The traffic light signals – we clear those areas out so people can hit the button. Safety’s always number one.”
Wrench said his crew has needed to work beyond scheduled hours to get the job done.
“Last I checked, I’m about $45,000 in overtime for snow removal (for the grounds crew),” Wrench said. “Typically that’s a whole season.”
Angela Strickland is the director of business affairs for Facilities Planning and Management at WSU. She confirmed the university is over budget on winter maintenance.
“We certainly have exceeded what we would anticipate spending for salt,” Strickland said. “The overtime (hours for the grounds crew) has certainly been more than we have anticipated. Without a doubt, this is probably one of the higher years that I’ve seen.”
While Strickland couldn’t yet quantify WSU’s budget overages on snow removal this season, she said the unexpected spending could impact other services later this year.
“Something else probably won’t get done,” Strickland said. “We just have to figure out what’s the least impact to the university. So we haven’t made any decisions on that yet, just because…with February starting out with a bang, we just don’t know at what point we’ll be at until February’s pretty much over with. And then we have to take a hard look at – OK, how far out-of-whack are we? And where do those costs need to now be pulled back in at?”
Strickland said future budget considerations would not take precedence over ongoing winter maintenance.
“I don’t think we’d risk any part of any safety issues to make sure that we compensated for what went on here, because we deal with life safety and the critical facilities first,” Strickland said. “And then you go from there.”
Wrench said there are ways students can help make the campus safer during extreme winter weather.
“It will be very helpful if people remove their vehicles from the street during snow emergencies,” Wrench said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten a call where a student or someone has to get out of their car, and it’s (stuck) in the street, because we couldn’t plow it, because there are other cars buried (in snow), literally, that haven’t been moved in days. That’s a real big problem to us. And for our handicapped students, it’s even more of an obstacle.”
Wrench said FP&M appreciates any helpful information they receive from students as well.
“We take all phone calls: (313) 577-4308,” Wrench said. “And let us know if there’s some areas that are in campus that need some attention.”
Wrench said everyone working together will yield the best results.
“You’re not going to get everything the way everyone wants it,” Wrench said. “I don’t think my mailman puts the mail in my box the way I wanted everything. But we can work together to make it better.”