As another Boston winter creeps closer every day, city and university officials are taking action to prevent another “Snowpocalypse” from disrupting life in Beantown. Last year’s record snowfall resulted in mayhem: Residents and students were stranded by dangerous driving conditions and dysfunctional MBTA services. Recovery efforts are still underway, but Boston College’s facilities crew, alongside crews all over the city, is now tasked with preparing for the next round of snowfall as well—one rumored to be almost as bad as the last.
Associate Director of BC Facilities Services, Gina Bellavia, spoke on the unique challenges presented by hazardous weather: “Snow operations is a tricky business … We rely heavily on forecasting which isn’t always correct.” Despite the importance of these preparations, they occur largely behind the scenes and out of students' sight. Stocking BC warehouses with shovels, gloves and ice melt starts months in advance, and grounds workers have to perform maintenance on snow removal equipment throughout the year.
All of this is business as usual for Facilities Services, but last year’s turmoil has prompted BC to step up their game in anticipation of this winter. According to Bellavia, the university has purchased chutes that will help dispose of dangerous rooftop snow accumulation. A new and sophisticated on-campus weather tracking system will also warn BC of imminent weather, giving the grounds staff a much-needed head start.
Because additional help is needed for plowing and snow removal, BC also has to organize contracts with outside companies. Agreements with plowing services and equipment deliveries must be in place well ahead of time.
Once the snow actually falls, facilities crews will immediately begin the snow removal process. Emergency vehicles must be able to pass through campus, so clearing essential roadways of snow is the first priority. Once the roads are under control, says Bellavia, select sidewalks and paths will be cleared so that students can walk between residences, dining halls and classrooms.
Still, Bellavia and the grounds crew have learned that even ample preparation won’t prevail without enough time to execute: “The difficult part about last year was that we weren’t finished cleaning up from one storm when the next one hit.”
As far as keeping school open goes, clearing the way around campus only solves the "student" half of the problem. Last year, many BC professors cancelled classes when snow halted traffic on commuter routes and T lines. Because daily commuting is so essential to Boston’s economy, the MBTA has been performing major maintenance on railways in the off-season.
Newly installed fences will prevent snow from building up on the tracks and the city has already replaced miles of rail since last winter. Much to the dismay of BC students, these updates could allow more reliable commuting for teachers, meaning fewer cancelled classes and a smaller chance of due dates being moved back.
Many of these initiatives are part of Governor Baker’s recently announced “Winter Resiliency Plan” designed to improve MBTA services. The $83.7 million project reflects widespread concerns about Boston’s aging infrastructure. In addition to the governor’s plan, Mayor Walsh’s “Go Boston 2030” initiative aims to improve transportation in the city by receiving input from the public.
With criticisms of the T and other services becoming more and more cliché, public officials are feeling intense pressure from citizens to make changes. Even here at BC, where students hardly depend on the train to get to class, the T and its sluggishness have become the butt of countless “green line” jokes, with the B line being the source of the greatest agony.
Last year’s “Snowpocalypse” may have pushed the city to its limits, but the storm confirmed Boston’s reputation for resilience and toughness. The entirety of BC's faculty and student population count on people like Gina Bellavia and the facilities services staff to keep BC running smoothly during extreme weather. As we go about our business this winter, let’s all remember that there are people behind the scenes who make our lives easier. Should we ever see them in action, a simple “thanks” might show them how much their hard work is appreciated.