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Snow keeps building services occupied

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Published on February 4, 2009 in The Huntington News

Snow, sludge and salt. This makes up the usual combination lining the sidewalks of Boston this season, creating hurdles for some, and larger obstacles for others.

And while some students may pray for canceled classes at the first sign of stormy weather, Northeastern Department of Building Services says it is making sure to maintain clear walkways to campus.

Overall, Building Services is responsible for clearing snow from 70 acres of property, including about 80 buildings. Additionally, the crew of about 40 workers clean local sidewalks that aren’t technically the school’s property like Forsyth Street, Columbus Avenue and St. Stephen Street.

“All of the sidewalks are owned by the city, but we still clean them,” Director of Building Services Mark Boutler said. “We are just trying to be a good neighbor to the community. We try to make it possible to help get people through and also to those with mobility issues.”

Organizations are beginning to strongly advocate proper snow removal, including WalkBoston, a non-profit organization that has worked since 1990 to improve walking conditions in Boston and other cities in Massachusetts, and in the past three years has begun to campaign for better snow clearance practices.

Wendy Landman, the program’s executive director, said there are a lot of problems with snow clearance in the city.

“For people with mobility problems [poor sidewalk clearance] will keep them from getting around,” she said. “I know people that are stuck in their homes for days at a time because they can’t get out of their homes onto sidewalks safely.”

About a year and a half ago, WalkBoston created seven basic recommendations as a guideline of what needs to happen to improve sidewalk conditions, like appointing a municipal figure to help with the reporting of uncleared sidewalks.

“We created [the recommendations] by doing a lot of research on conditions, how snow clearance is done and what seems to be best practices,” Landman said. “I think it’s going to take time, but we’ve provided the recommendations to different communities and we think there is a building awareness of an issue, but I wouldn’t say it isn’t put into place yet.”

Last year, Northeastern was cited by the Neighborhood Access Group (NAG), which advocates making sidewalks and crosswalks accessible for disabled people, for two violations on Hemenway Street.

However, Building Services has methods of its own, such as machines to clear the snow as well as shoveling by hand. Boutler said the key to snow removal is knowing when the snow will hit.

“The timing of storms is always different and we’re here as soon as it starts snowing and we’re here until hours after,” he said. “If we know there’s a storm, we try to get there before it starts.”

In addition to the 40 members of the snow team, there are contractors who operate the equipment.

“They work extremely hard and we are here sometimes for two days straight, and we’re away from our families for 24 or 48 hours at a time,” he said. “The crew takes a lot of pride that the job gets done well here.”

Additionally, about 25 students, mostly football players, help with snow removal as well, as part time work and work-study.

“I can tell you one thing, they get a good workout,” Boutler said.

These practices have proven effective this year. Northeastern has not received any violations, and students say they are pleased with conditions on campus.

“On campus is really nice; building services are really on top of cleaning everything,” said junior biology major Lyndsie Mannix.

However, this differs from her residence in Mission Hill, she said.

“It’s awful,” she said. “Some houses are really bad. I actually fell walking yesterday. My roommates and I fall all the time on the ice, especially going down the hill.”

In order to maintain safe conditions on campus this season, Boutler said they are in jeopardy of going over the snow budget designated by Northeastern, but there are ways to get more funding to maintain campus.

“It has to get done and it has to be funded,” Boutler said. “Just because money runs out we can’t stop clearing the snow.”

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Written by jdunccc

February 4, 2009 at 12:00 am