Winter safety concerns continue at UWRF
February 10, 2023
Over the last few months, winter safety, and particularly sidewalk conditions, have been the subject of mounting concern, and complaint, among both students and faculty at UW-River Falls. On Dec. 6, 2022, in the midst of severe winter weather and hazardous sidewalk conditions, students discovered that ice melt stations, six of them, to be exact, had been set up at various locations across campus.
The Falcon Daily said, later that day, that the stations were a joint effort by the Grounds Maintenance and Risk Management departments to “provide another mechanism for putting ice melt down on our sidewalks and to refill walk-safe shaker bottles.” These ‘walk-safe’ shaker bottles were provided by Risk Management to the various departments for use by faculty and university employees. However, these measures have raised additional concerns.
First and foremost, the effectiveness of the ice melt stations and shaker bottles is uncertain at best. Faculty have expressed concern that the majority of students and employees are not using the stations and the shakers, and the ones who are using them are doing so in ways that are more harmful than helpful. Ways that are harmful include using too much salt in too small of an area, taking the salt for personal use, or using the salt in temperatures below -15 degrees (at which the salt becomes much less effective).
On Grounds Maintenance’s website, it is listed that Grounds Maintenance is responsible for “snow and ice control of over 10 miles of sidewalks, 22.5 acres of parking lots (2400 spaces), and 3 miles of streets.” This raises questions of whether the ice melt stations, with their limited range of coverage, can cover this large area.
Sustainability is also a concern. Mark Klapatch-Mathias, the Sustainability Coordinator for UW-River Falls’ Office of Sustainability, has said that increased salt levels on campus as a result of the overuse of the stations and shakers could raise salt levels in the Kinnikinic River and harm the local ecosystem. While it can be debated that the health and safety of students and faculty should take priority over sustainability concerns, there is a way to increase the effectiveness of the ice melt stations and decrease their harm to the environment.
The answer is simple: increase education on how to safely and effectively use the ice melt stations. As it stands, this information is displayed on the ice melt stations, but evidently should be communicated more widely as well, perhaps in a campus-wide email, a notice on the university website, or via additional signage.
However, even if the more informed use of these resources is an effective short-term solution to winter safety concerns, due to the issues of sustainability and coverage, it is a less than adequate long-term solution. The ice melt stations and shaker bottles are likely the result of understaffing at the Grounds Maintenance department. On their website, specifically the Student Grounds Assistant Position Description, the hourly wage for a student employee is listed at “$8.00 per hour (effective 5/15/16).”
Many university departments have increased the hourly wages of their student employees, and to address understaffing, and the hazardous conditions that understaffing results in, Grounds Maintenance should do the same. This would be a much more effective and environmentally-friendly solution than continuing to rely on the ice melt stations.
There are other potential solutions as well, such as outsourcing Grounds Maintenance operations, at least in some sort of limited capacity, or investing in other, more sustainable winter safety measures, such as spreading sand, or perhaps sand and salt, on sidewalks. These measures would be more expensive than the current ones, as would increasing the pay for Grounds Maintenance workers, but, if the health and safety of UWRF’s students and faculty are a concern, the expense may have to be considered.