When The Snowing Gets Tough

by Stephanie Bailey

Horizon Reporter

“My wife elbowed me at 5:30 a.m. to ‘turn that alarm off!’” said Ray White, vice president for administrative services. He recalls the morning of Jan. 12, when he decided that all classes beginning before 10 a.m. would be canceled at Whatcom Community College.

The decision process began early for White and facilities director Brian Keeley, as they compared the condition of county roads with the surrounding area and parking lots on campus. Keeley’s 5:45 a.m. phone call to White reported 4 inches of snow still covering campus even though many areas had begun to melt away.

In Whatcom’s past, inclement weather has caused more than slick roads and school delays. Just over 10 years ago, in the winter of 2001, a sprinkler head in the entry to the Pavilion gym froze and burst, causing massive flooding.  The resulting damage was warping of the gym floor and some parts were replaced. Since this incident, heaters have been placed in this area to prevent history from repeating itself. Now, there is also a heater in Roe Studio near an exposed pipe in the clay mixing room to prevent a similar situation.

The decision to close the school when severe weather knocks at the campus doors lies in the hands of White, who has been delegated this task by President Kathi Hiyane-Brown. It is a “terribly agonizing decision” to close the school, White said. He discusses the situation with Hiyane-Brown and Keeley both the night before and as early as 5 a.m. when winter weather becomes severe. “The weather is always difficult to predict, even for the meteorologists,” said Keeley.

“Overall, it’s safety of getting to campus and home again,” explained White. Of the many factors that go into the outcome of canceling school, “the leading one is our parking lots,” which need to be plowed properly by the facilities crew before students and faculty start arriving. “The parking lots are most dangerous,” White said.

By 6 a.m. the decision is made, and White then calls Hiyane-Brown to give his recommendation. The next step is to inform the local media, and though it took seven tries to get a hold of KGMI on Jan. 12, by 6:10 all media had been notified of the delay.  Students can then listen to local radio, TV, go to www.whatcom.ctc.edu, or call the special information line for class cancellations.

One problem is that the college now offers classes starting as early as 6:30 a.m., so there is more pressure to make the decision sooner even though it is preferable to wait and see what the weather does.

Sometimes severe weather causes the school to close early. When the roads and parking lots become too dangerous from snow, or the power goes out, the decision to close the school is made with safety in mind. “As a rule of thumb, when we delay or shut down, the decision is to keep kids off campus and off the roads,” White said.

The college currently owns a small utility vehicle with a plow blade called a Kubota that the facilities crew uses along with a couple of Bobcats, ice melt, snow shovels, and sand for clearing the parking lots and sidewalks. The decision to rent an additional loader to plow the parking lots can be difficult. Keeley has to guess if this will be needed, and arrange transportation before the roads become too difficult to move the equipment.

According to Carl Adams, Whatcom’s maintenance supervisor, because of weather predictions and the snowfall the night of Jan. 11, a loader was rented at the rate of $300-a-day plus $100 for delivery and pick up. It was not used, because of rain and warming temperatures in the early morning. Only the bobcats and Kubota were needed.

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