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February 20, 2003

Winter's effects had already been felt

Frozen pipes. Water main breaks. Power outages. Shortages of salt. This week’s snowstorm is only one leg in a winter’s marathon for Pitt staff who have to deal with bad weather conditions on a regular basis.

The offices of Facilities Management, Parking, Transportation and Services, and Computer Services and Systems Development (CSSD) all have been under extra strain from a winter much more severe than recent ones.

Facilities Management

Facilities Management ground crews were called in to work at 3 a.m. this past Monday, one of several times this winter that staff have been called in for snow removal. “We also used custodians to remove as much snow as possible on campus before the University activities were to start on Monday morning,” said Ana Guzman, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.

The early calls are necessary to plow Pitt lots before commuters arrive, she said.

“By daybreak [Monday], most of the lots and sidewalks had been cleared, but many areas were occupied by big snow piles,” Guzman said. So, in an unusual move prompted by the large amount of snow, Facilities Management brought in an outside contractor to truck snow to the vacant lot where the recently razed Lhormer Building sat, on Fifth Avenue between Darragh and Lothrop streets, she said.

In a winter that’s seen more than 50 inches of snow locally and sustained temperatures under freezing, managing the impact of the weather has taken a bigger than usual chunk out of the Facilities budget. “And don’t forget, we still have the rest of February and at least some of March still to go,” Guzman said.

Last winter, Pitt spent a total of $16,000 on salt and $22,000 in overtime pay for snow removal during December and January, Guzman said. Already, those numbers for this December and January have exceeded $100,000, she said.

Similarly, Pitt’s steam costs are up 29 percent and 30 percent, respectively, from last December and January compared to those two months this winter, Guzman said.

“Last winter was unusually warm, so we budgeted higher numbers for this year,” she said. “Still, we have already exceeded our budget for those items. This means that we will have to make adjustments on other line items in our budget. We will try not to cut on services. Rather, we may look into delaying some renovating of public areas or we may hold off on replacing equipment until next year.”

The increased steam costs this year could be counterbalanced by savings if the area has a cooler spring and summer, she noted.

Other weather-related incidents this winter include:

• A major electrical outage that affected primarily the William Pitt Union in late January. “The outage was caused by the equipment failure of the high-voltage electrical cable that feeds that building, and that was not weather-related,” Guzman said. But the repercussions were, she added. “The lack of heat in a couple of the rooms of that building caused a sprinkler pipe to burst,” Guzman said.

• A sprinkler head also froze in the Petersen Events Center in January, she said.

• A break in the water line that feeds Old Engineering Hall has created some roof-related problems.

Costs of these incidents have not been determined yet, Guzman said, “but it is clear that we are having more problems this year than we’ve had in previous winters. Except for the WPU electrical problem, these incidents did not create serious disruptions in building services. The fact that we have all our electrical systems underground, which prevents ice build-up and wind-related damage, and also that most of the buildings have dual water and electrical feeds, are major factors in the reliability of our utility services.”

Parking, Transportation

and Services

Parking, Transportation and Services has seen a dramatic increase in Van Call service requests due to the weather, said director Joe Phillips. Van Calls carry Pitt I.D.-holders from campus throughout Oakland during evening and night hours.

“Van Call has been averaging 900-1,100 each week since November when the first cold spell came in. This is up from the 600-800 we carried in September and October,” Phillips said.

More people are taking the Pitt shuttles, as well. “Overall, we are up approximately 2,500 riders on a weekly basis compared to a week in September and October,” he said. “On the coldest days, we have added a run to the 10A (upper campus shuttle route) to help keep students out of the cold.”


CSSD’s director Jinx Walton said that this winter has seen an extraordinary number of power outages partly because utility companies are less reliable in severe weather.

Many times the outages are hardly noticeable, she said, because Pitt’s back-up power systems, including strategically placed “uninterrupted power supply” (UPS) systems immediately kick in. “Overall, when there is an outage related to weather, our UPS will provide uninterrupted power. We have them in our six campus hub sites and in other wiring closets where there are essential functions that require back-up systems,” like certain laboratories, Walton said.

“For example, at RIDC park, where we have all our mainframe equipment, there is a diesel generator, it’s got UPS, it’s got everything possible in redundant systems. But we couldn’t afford to put UPS in all 400 of our wiring closets, because it’s not only installation but maintenance that you have to pay for, and so some buildings will experience outages while others don’t.”

Mainly a power outage means inconvenience rather than cost, she said. “But if a power outage occurs over night, that will knock out network connectivity, and we have to come back in and restore the power.”

—Peter Hart

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