Army of workers helps York weather snowstorm

At 1pm Monday, snowplow operator Ryan Young was ready for a long winter’s nap. In one hour he could park the plow-sander he’d been driving for 32 hours since early Saturday afternoon. He’d put in two 16-hour shifts – relieved by an eight-hour sleep in a spare room in Assiniboine Apartments – to clear parking lots and roads of the 25-30 centimetres of snow that fell on Toronto this past weekend.

Flushed but bright as the noonday sun in the blue sky above, Young took it in stride. “You get used to it,” he grinned from the cab that had been his home for the past two days.

Right: Ryan Young nears the end Monday of two double shifts plowing snow

Young was not the only one doing extra duty at York because of the storm, the worst to hit Toronto since 1999, when the military pitched in to help clear the roads. As the snow accumulated, so did the grounds crew until there was a small army of trucks and loaders roaring around campus plowing, sanding and salting roads, clearing parking lots and cleaning sidewalks – working around the clock. They did not expect to be finished until this morning.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, when the rest of the world was asleep, another 13 grounds crew arrived to hand shovel residence entrances and exits, and bus stops around the Common. More than 40 custodians also turned up for duty on Sunday, the worst day of the storm, to clean floors and washrooms in time for Monday. One took a taxi from downtown when he couldn’t get his car out of the driveway.

Right: This 10-foot-wide blade and sander cleared lots and roads on York’s Keele campus from Saturday evening to this morning

“Hopefully people will appreciate the effort and fortitude of these workers,” said Bob Smith, custodial and grounds director, Monday morning. “Just imagine, it’s dark, it’s blowing, it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s snowing heavily and they’re out there working.” Smith also praised his colleague, Tony Juric, who was the “lucky one” on call to coordinate the work. “Everybody was working around the clock. These are very dedicated people.”

Meanwhile senior administrators were keeping a close watch on the weather from Friday night on. As the storm worsened, they were in constant touch.

On Saturday evening, as the storm built up force, the Registrar’s Office academic scheduling team went into action. “We communicated with all the students on Saturday night to advise them we were monitoring the coming storm," said Sherry Lewkowicz, associate registrar, academic scheduling. "We also began communicating with professors." 

At 5:30am Sunday, the administrators made the critical decision to close the University and cancel exams that day. Within minutes, five staff on standby in the Registrar’s Office notified by e-mail 1,700-2,000 students scheduled to write the exams, set for 2pm and 7pm. Seven exams would have to be rescheduled, including those offered through the Alternate Exam and Test Centre. After consulting with professors, the team followed up later with an e-mail notifying students when the exams would be rescheduled.

“We received many thank-yous from students and professors,” said University Registrar Joanne Duklas. “Because the messages were time-stamped, they could see we were working at odd hours to assist them.”

At the same time, staff in Media Relations working hand in glove with York’s Security Services alerted Toronto broadcasters to spread the word about Sunday’s closure and put the news front and centre on York’s Web site.

Meanwhile, the snowplows ground on.

By Martha Tancock, York communications officer