A lot happens behind the scenes to ensure the UCCS campus and community remains safe during harsh winter weather.
Kathy Kaoudis, vice chancellor of administration and finance, and her team have to decide when conditions are dangerous enough to close or delay the opening of the campus. Kaoudis and her team observe the weather 24-48 hours in advance when the weather could affect the normal operations of campus.
“It’s judgment based around the circumstances,” Kaoudis said. “It really is a matter of watching the weather, understanding what the weather’s going to do and thinking about what keeps our students safe.”
Aside from Kaoudis, the team in charge of these decisions includes Executive Director of Facilities Services Jeff Reed as well as Mark Ferguson, associate vice chancellor of campus planning and facilities management.
Kaoudis said Reed monitors the National Weather Service updates as well as a variety of weather sites to inform their decision making. They try to announce a decision the night before, so the campus community knows ahead of time and has time to plan.
“We have a lot of commuter students. We know we have both staff and students who have students in local school districts, so we usually reach out to the local school districts and find out what their plans are and try to take that into account,” Kaoudis said.
If a decision can’t be made the night before a weather event, the weather team begins monitoring conditions at 4 a.m. Kaoudis said Reed arrives on campus at 2 or 3 a.m. to begin evaluating what the roads and conditions on campus are like.
During heavy snow, the facilities team works overnight to salt, scrape and put Ice Slicer on the roads and walkways on campus to melt the ice.
“If we can’t get folks here safely in the middle of the night to shovel everything, plow everything and make sure the shuttle buses are safe by 8 a.m., those are the times that we would open campus a little bit late, usually at 10 a.m.,” Kaoudis said.
The facilities team is also responsible for preparing campus in cases of extreme weather. “They walk through the campus ahead of time and try to proactively protect equipment and structures,” Kaoudis said. “They’ll shut things off if they can without impacting occupant comfort or safety.”
Despite these precautions, damage still happens. During the extreme cold temperatures on Jan. 16, areas in the University Hall, The Lodge, San Juan House, Alpine Garage and the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center were damaged.
“We had some offices in a conference room that flooded when a pipe burst due to a mechanical failure of a heating unit. We had a walk-in freezer that failed in the Lodge due to sub-zero temperatures that caused the rooftop cooling unit to fail, so all of the food inside was lost. In San Juan, we had one student we had to move to a different room after an exterior water spigot froze,” Kaoudis said.
Kaoudis said the damage could have been much worse had Facilities Services and the Resident’s Life and Housing staff not acted quickly. Weather-related damage that did occur was covered by the university’s insurance.
Many costs come with winter weather, including the cost of the products used to de-ice the roads and walkways and the cost of shift labor. The largest costs come from shift labor because they pay overtime and shift differential to people who work outside of their normal hours.
“That doesn’t enter into the calculus, though, because we have budgeted for weather events,” Kaoudis said. “If we had, for example, weeks and months of below zero temperatures, we have funds set aside to address the campus needs.”
The funds budgeted for weather that don’t get used either get moved to reserve or are used for another priority during the year.
Photo via UCCS Photography Database.