Recent winter storms have inconvenienced the Ferris State University commuter demographic and challenged the campus snow removal team.
Over 6,000 Ferris students are commuters. There are also many faculty, staff and administration members who commute from surrounding areas like Grand Rapids, Cadillac and Reed City.
Ferris political science professor Christine Bailey is a case in point. She travels from Flint to Big Rapids and back twice per week.
“On those days, I drive between five and eight hours round-trip, all depending on the weather,” Bailey said. She said there are often significant weather differences between the various counties she travels through.
“I have had to cancel class before,” Bailey said. “But I also have been getting more emails from students, many from the snow-belt areas like Newaygo and White Cloud, who are unable to make it to class due to the weather.”
Whatever challenges beset commuters on the road, on campus a whole new world awaits. The grounds, maintenance and snow removal team are constantly at work within this world, striving to effectively manage the consequences of heavy snow and ice on campus roads, parking lots and walkways.
Will Gasper, Ferris’ manager of grounds, roads and walkways, said promoting safety is one of his primary concerns during the winter months.
“We understand that it is usually harder to get here than it is to get around once you’re here,” Gasper, who remembers only a handful of bona-fide snow days during his 23 years with Ferris, said. “So we have to make sure everyone can get around safely, especially those with physical handicaps.”
Ferris student Tina Van Antwerp uses a manual wheelchair and also commutes from Stanwood. She said students with disabilities can fill out a form which ensures snow removal at a specific place and time Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Overall, it works well,” Van Antwerp said. “However, I do have a late class on Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 7:40 p.m. If we get bad weather during that time, all bets are off.”
Van Antwerp cites the icy slope in the parking lot by Williams Auditorium as “practically impossible” to maneuver in her wheelchair.
Working to ensure that students like Van Antwerp have a passable route to class, a 12-member snow removal team is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Depending on the weather, the crew is sometimes required to come in early or stay late.
As much as 300 tons of road salt are used annually throughout the 880-acre campus which contains over 23 miles of sidewalks and four miles of roads.
Gasper and Jim White, Ferris’ grounds supervisor, have been in a constant communication loop with Ferris administrators and the Department of Public Safety to address concerns spurred by winter storm “Q.” They pay attention to weather conditions in nearby states, such as Wisconsin, to help predict local weather.
Under the most severe circumstances, a decision may be made by Vice President of Administration and Finance Jerry L. Scoby to cancel classes. If this happens, it is often well in advance of scheduled class meetings, on a day-to-day and morning-to-afternoon basis, in accordance with the Ferris State Inclement Weather Policy.
With about 4,000 students living on campus and with many more commuting from nearby areas that tend to be well-plowed, classes are often held at Ferris even when they are canceled at nearby public schools.
Since those living on campus are dependent on university services, such as campus dining, many Ferris employees are expected to work their assigned shifts despite