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  March 12, 2001

Employees Rally to Soften Storm's Impact

The snowstorm that kept thousands of workers home for two days did not deter dozens of UConn employees, ranging from dining services to health care providers to facilities personnel, from showing up to work Monday and Tuesday. They braved the elements to provide critical services at the University, despite a foot of snow.

But for the 5,000 or so women's basketball fans who weathered the storm to come to the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion Monday night - and hundreds of thousands of others watching UConn's game on national television - it wasn't those workers who received raves for making the trek to Storrs in the snowstorm, but Bill Sehl.

Sehl braved not only the storm but a 143-foot ride to the crest of the Pavilion to stop snow from blowing through a vent and melting, dripping onto the court, and threatening to halt UConn's game against Rutgers with slightly more than three minutes left in the first half.

A trades worker who keeps the athletic facility humming, Sehl used plastic, towels and duct tape to block the snow. The problem, he found, was caused by the granular snow, combined with the direction of the wind that pushed it through the air vent.

Meanwhile, outside the Pavilion, the snow - both granular and flaked - kept Tom Elliott and about 55 other members of the landscape and housekeeping crews going around the clock. Using plows, tractors, Bobcats and shovels, the crews worked from 6 a.m., March 5 straight through to 2:30 p.m., March 6, when the storm ebbed. After a brief respite at their homes, the crews were back on the job at midnight Tuesday, scraping away what they could of the mess before workers returned to campus March 7.

Elliott, a facilities manager for landscape and building services, said crews not only cleared, but removed much of the snow from some parking lots, using payloaders from Beebe Construction Co. Not only did the heavy, wet snow refuse the urging of plows, Elliott says, the volume of snow was eliminating too many parking spaces, so they trucked it away.

Elliott brought the crews back to campus this weekend, when many students left campus, allowing workers to clean parking lots where students, despite snow-related parking prohibitions, had left their cars during the storm.

On the academic side, Registrar Jeffrey von Munkwitz-Smith says approximately 4,000 classes have been postponed or canceled this semester due to the February and March storms. Although many of the classes will not be made up, he says, a number of professors are calling his office to secure space for make-ups. Classes also were canceled at the regional campuses and at the Health Center and the School of Law.

Lori Best, a scheduler in the registrar's office at Storrs, says many professors are discussing the issue with their students to devise ways to cover material missed by the storms, from planning Saturday or evening classes to, in one case, adding five minutes to each of the remaining classes in the semester.

The storm occurred when the John Dempsey Hospital was especially busy, with several dozen more patients than usual, but the quality of service was maintained. Public safety officials, using four-wheel drive vehicles, drove critical service unit employees to work; surgeries were performed as scheduled; and patient care continued without interruption.

In Storrs, thanks to Elliott's crews, two things were not canceled - plane flights out of state for the Virginia Tech women's basketball team and, after their defeat at the hands of the UConn women, the Rutgers squad. Anxious that the roads were becoming too sloppy, Elliott dispatched UConn plowing crews, complete with state police escorts, to escort the teams' buses to Route I-84.

Richard Veilleux

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