Impacts of the Heavy Snows Will Linger at University

February 23, 2010

February 22, 2010 — This winter's record snowfall will leave a wave of devastation in its wake at the University of Virginia, long after the snow has melted.

"The damage was widespread and extensive," said Rich Hopkins, University landscape supervisor in U.Va.'s Facilities Management division.

Hopkins said evergreens – including pines, firs, hollies, magnolias and boxwoods ¬–  were hit hard because their foliage held the snow, and when the weight became too much the branches cracked or broke.

"Every evergreen on Grounds has limbs broken off or in some cases, half the tree has fallen off," he said. "There is an arbor vitae hedge between Monroe Hall and Monroe Hill House that we have lost about half of, and there is a cedar at Carruthers Hall that is so badly damaged it will probably have to come down."

The storm response is also causing damage inside buildings as people track in sand and salt.

"It tears up the floors like sandpaper," said Robert Carman, building services superintendent. "It grinds anything with a finish."

He said the damage has been extensive, even though housekeeping workers put mats near entrances and swept outside doors.

"In New Cabell Hall, the vinyl tile floors are almost white," Carman said. Normally the tiles are brown.

Vinyl floors will have to be scrubbed and a finish applied, wood floors will have to be mopped and a new sealant or finish applied, and carpets will have to be steam-cleaned. Carman said housekeepers have about 3 million square feet of building to clean.

Carman also noted that some of these workers were unable to come to work during and immediately after the storms, increasing the workload on those who did make it in.

"We have had to do as much as we could with the staff we had," he said.

Housing has shared many of the same issues, according to Mark Doherty, U.Va.'s chief housing officer.  "We brought staff in for the beginning-of-the-event snow removal, to keep up with it," Doherty said. "Our staff put in long hours."

Housing maintains its own maintenance and housekeeping teams, and is responsible for removing snow from around the residence halls.

"We had to shovel the snow off the walks and keep them open, as well as deal with more pedestrian things such as making sure the trash gets removed and the bathrooms are stocked,” Doherty said.

While trees were damaged by falling snow, damage also occurred as crews plowed roads, parking lots and walkways, pushing snow wherever there was an available space.

"Some of the shrub beds have taken a beating," Hopkins said, noting that some will just be taken out. "A lot of the material will rejuvenate, but we will have to cut it back and let it re-sprout."

The turf has also suffered under the snow plowing, and Hopkins said there are areas where grass was scraped off with the snow.

"We can't grow grass until April, so March will be mud season," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said much of the repair and pruning will have to be done by Finals Weekend, but he said there will still be places that will not have been addressed by then. He also noted the snows have delayed several projects, such as the grading and walkway work at the University Chapel.

The landscape at the University will look different after the storms and Hopkins said it may be an opportunity to rethink the planting scheme.

University landscape architect Mary Hughes said there has not yet been an assessment of how the historic gardens behind the pavilions have survived.

“There has been no comprehensive tour of the damage,” she said. “I know the magnolias have taken a huge hit.”
 
And it was not just the snow weight on the trees. Donald Sundgren, chief facilities officer, said roofs around Grounds were frequently monitored to ensure they were holding up under the snow load.

"We have to look at some of our flat roofs," he said. "They can be more in danger as the snow turns to ice. We are going to see about establishing a protocol for the roofs."

Sundgren said there were many signs around Grounds that had come down in the storms will have to be re-erected.

All the repairs and snow removal costs are coming in lean times.

"There have been a lot of budget cuts, and a lot of money has already been spent on snow removal," Sundgren said.

Since the last winter of heavy snow was in 1995-96, University crews had to improvise as they went along.
 
"There have been a lot of lessons learned about how to deal with snow," Hopkins said. "But we will have 13 years to forget them by the next snowy winter."

— By Matt Kelly