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Essential Personnel Keep W&L Open, Even When Closed

When 10 inches of snow make it necessary to “close” Washington and Lee, not every employee stays home for the day—or the night. Nearly 1,000 people live on campus, depending on the University for food and beverage, health services, security, utilities and, of course, snow removal. Designated essential personnel make their way to campus regardless of the conditions, working as long as necessary to take care of the academic community.

The Feb. 12-13 storm that began late in the afternoon quickly escalated from a few flakes to heavy snowfall by early evening, creating the very conditions that require the special efforts of dedicated workers.

Some 105 facilities staffers are essential personnel. Grounds staff plan to remain on campus for the duration of a major snowstorm and take naps at their shops, if necessary. Grounds staff shifted their Wednesday work schedule from a 7 a.m. start to 3 p.m., intending to remain on campus for the duration of the storm. Other facilities employees adjusted their shifts to remain on campus into the evening to support a number of scheduled events.  After working 22 hours straight, the grounds crew had cleared the campus of snow and were preparing to end their shift when a second wave of heavy snowfall kept them on duty another six hours. All other University facilities employees were required to report for an early shift Thursday, extended into the evening hours, to keep the campus accessible, safe and ready to reopen Friday morning.

Hundreds of campus residents depend on Dining Services for food and beverage, especially when hazardous conditions make travel by car or on foot unsafe and local stores and restaurants shut down. Thanks to Dining Services employees—eight spent the night on campus or close by to ensure service during the storm—The Marketplace remained open through the storm, and Café 77 served until midnight Wednesday and again Thursday from 7 p.m. until midnight. The list of Dining Services employees who worked through the storm and closing is “huge,” says Joe Calicchio, assistant director for dining services.

All Public Safety staff—uniformed and dispatch—are essential personnel, expected to work their normally scheduled shifts around the clock, every day of the year, regardless of conditions. Eighteen professional staff do all the same work they do every day, though it becomes much busier during a weather emergency. They provide transportation to campus for dining services employees who live within Lexington’s city limits, monitor and close down campus areas that become unsafe, and respond to greatly increased numbers of service calls, such as students who need safety transport around campus and people who need assistance with their vehicles. Several staff members worked extra hours, staying late, starting early or coming in on their day off, working shifts lasting as long as 16 hours. Two student workers even worked the snow day.

Nurses staff the Student Health Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week to care for students who might need them. Dr. Jane Horton, center director, says that she and her staff will stay over if needed, sleeping in one of five infirmary rooms with beds, if necessary. “We have a kitchen and a shower, so it’s pretty comfortable,” she says. Horton and physician assistant Matt Crance are always available by phone to consult with the nurses, if they are unable to get to campus.

Leyburn Library is designated as non-essential and closes when the University does. But when the regular overnight staff couldn’t get to campus at the storm’s height Wednesday night, a student staffer stepped in and kept the library open until 7 a.m. Thursday. University Librarian John Tombarge calls her “our hero of the storm.”

Weather closings at W&L are rare—some say fewer than a half-dozen times in University history—but when the snow flies, no one on campus will go  snowbound, hungry, cold, insecure or untreated thanks to essential personnel who sacrifice being safe at home to serve students, professors and fellow staff.