School districts prep for winter to avoid snow days

Richland School District maintenance crews assemble plows to work trucks in efforts to prepare for the upcoming winter.

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – The record snowfall last year has prompted school districts to take a much more planned approach to snow removal. They've stocked up on ice melt and snow removal gear well ahead of time this year.

"Plotting out actual assignments and routes, we have a lot more management interaction now, looking at the roads starting at 3 a.m.," said Jeff Lettau, director of facilities and operations for the Richland School District.

With the earlier snow removal time set as the standard (it had historically been 5:00 a.m.), Lettau said they hope it'll get them ahead of storms and reduce the number of snow closure days.

All snow removal equipment is inspected to make sure it’s ready, plus RSD has also invested in heavier equipment.

"Whereas last year we had to rent some of these heavy pieces to move the heavy snow,” Lettau said.

The PSD maintenance department also contracts out with local snowplow operators to plow some of the bigger parking lots at some of our schools. Those arrangements with those contractors were finalized in September.

The three districts in the Tri-Cities have also agreed to a new process of using a three-hour delay in hopes of avoiding high numbers of snow days.

"There were sometimes where if we'd had that extra hour we could've gotten the schools open instead of closing them," Lettau said.

Districts said hopefully, they won't have to use the three-hour option.

However, they don't want to get in the same position as last year with making up days, requesting state waivers and potentially moving graduation.

"Our goal is always to get the school open on time we know it's a huge impact to parents who work to have their student in a delayed school situation,” Lettau said. “It's not good for anybody. We take it very seriously when we have to delay or cancel school, it’s not a decision that is made lightly. It's made in the best interest and safety of everyone involved."

With ice melt stocked and winter training underway the districts hope to push the snow days behind them.

Once the first snowfall is near, these steps are taken:

  • Weather reports are closely monitored. If a snowfall is fairly certain, staff report for an early morning (3:00 am) job assignment and briefing. This briefing includes reminders about safety, the current weather conditions, and specific assignments.
  • Management circulates around the District to: observe how work is progressing; provide live feedback to District upper management about current road conditions and snow removal efforts.
  • As areas are cleared and teams move on to remaining assignments, communications between teams and management ensure that staff are deployed efficiently.
  • Depending on current conditions (is the storm continuing, or are we “winning”?), decisions are made about the ongoing snow removal efforts.
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