15 miles of sidewalk. 110 acres of parking lot and roadway. 800 steps to shovel.
How Mayo (and Nick Queensland) get their grounds ready for winter
Back in 1997, when Nick Queensland was a 19-year-old college student looking for summer work on the Mayo Clinic grounds, he never expected to find his life’s calling.
But he quickly learned that the thoughtful, evolving landscape supported the Mayo Clinic’s healing mission in ways he’d never considered before. So he came on full time as a groundskeeper in 2001, ultimately working his way up to supervisor in 2016.
Now his team of eight (with the help of added seasonal staff at peak workload times) is responsible for designing and maintaining 200 acres of green space, flower and shrub beds, prairie, and woods in and around Rochester.
But things really get interesting in winter. Every time it snows, his team and outside snow removal contractors work together to clear more than 15 miles of sidewalk and 110 acres of parking lot and roadway. They shovel 800 steps and more than 250 doorways multiple times a day. It’s a massive undertaking, but Queensland and his team know just how important it is.
We thought we’d ask what winter is like for this critical segment of the care team at Mayo Clinic.
What does winter mean for Mayo Clinic?
"Winter is the most challenging of the four seasons for my team. Mayo Clinic needs to be safe and fully accessible for employees and patients during operating hours. Yes, this includes during snowstorms—but even a snowfall of half an inch involves several days of work to prepare equipment, clear sidewalks and parking lots, shovel all doorways, and re-check all areas until they are completely clear. We utilize outside contractors for most of our parking lot snow removal, so maintaining a high level of communication with them and within our team is critical to having our campus ready for business. Every sidewalk is checked for ice and snow twice each day during the week and once on weekends—that alone is a big task. I can’t say enough good things about my team. They are a tremendous group of dedicated, knowledgeable people who know how to keep the Mayo Clinic campus safe and beautiful."
When does prep for the winter season start?
"Honestly, the prep for winter never stops. I can’t remember a workday in the past year where I haven’t spent some of my time on snow removal prep. I’m often making notes about things we can do differently the following winter. I have follow-up meetings with contractors, vendors, and Mayo staff for months following the winter season. We do snow removal contracts, and product and equipment purchasing throughout summer and fall. We get really serious about getting equipment ready around October 1. It is kept in excellent condition, but our mechanic thoroughly inspects each piece to limit breakdowns during snow events."
What happens during the average snowfall?
"Let’s say we have a two- to three-inch snow event predicted. My team will spend about two days preparing. We make sure all equipment is clean, stocked with salt, fueled up, and in safe and good working order. We plan staffing levels based on the timing of the storm, and most team members flex their start time to provide adequate campus coverage. While it’s snowing, our team members are constantly removing it from their designated areas. After the snowfall, two to three inches can take two days to clean up. Then we need to make sure all equipment is cleaned and inspected so it’s ready for the next one."
And what happens when it’s not the average snowfall, but the big one?
"The most interesting thing I’ve ever experienced has to be the big snowstorm we got in February 2019. I’ve been out in every snowstorm at Mayo for the past 18 years and I’ve never seen anything like that before! Driving around town that Sunday morning felt like being on another planet, with cars stranded everywhere. Fortunately, my team was prepared for it and worked nonstop from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning so Mayo Clinic would be open for our patients to get to their appointments. By that Thursday or Friday afternoon, we knew this was going to be a big snow. For really bad storms, we bring our out-of-town staff into town to stay overnight. By late afternoon Saturday, all my team was in town and I’d met with the contractors and told them this is a big one, we’ve got to be ready to go. And it turned out to be worse than anybody thought, mainly due to wind. We worked until 11 o’clock on Saturday night, then tried to get some sleep. At four o’clock the next morning, I had to walk a block and half to our shop from the hotel while most of our crew was already out working. I was walking in snow up to my stomach the whole way; it just seemed surreal. Each doorway that normally took five minutes to shovel took three hours. But we did it. All the equipment held up, my crew and the contractors worked incredible hours, and they all worked together. Because we know [Mayo Clinic’s] not the average place that’s getting snow cleared. Everybody takes a little more pride in what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it for."
Any winter tips or tricks for homeowners?
"Since Minnesota landscapes are covered in snow five or six months each year, it’s important to design landscapes for year-round interest. Including varieties of evergreen, winter berry, red twig dogwood, or boxwood provides visual appeal year-round. Perennial grasses, such as Feather Reed Grass, Switchgrass, Little Bluestem, or Fountaingrass add winter interest and provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds. Use fine steel mesh or small rings of sharp granite to protect the lower portion of shrubs and soft bark trees from voles, which burrow and chew in winter and can cause irreversible harm. Winter is the best time to prune trees; pruning while dormant reduces stress and chance for disease. You can use colored flagging tape while the tree is leafed out to mark sagging branches. Finally, closely monitor salt use. It’s highly detrimental to landscape plants, turf, and hardscape. Apply only what is needed, sweep up excess, and pile snow with trace amounts of salt away from plants."
We live in Rochester. Winter’s coming.
Stock up on free snowmelt
Storm a-comin’? You can pick up a free, five-gallon bucket worth of salt-sand mixture (provided by Rochester Public Works) at two locations: behind the Fiesta Café in the Northbrook Shopping Center (1633 N. Broadway), and at the end of First Avenue Southwest next to the YMCA (709 First Ave. SW). Bring your own bucket and shovel.
Take care of your water (a few tips from RPU)
Make sure all of your garden hoses on outside faucets are disconnected. In extreme cold, if you have water pipes located in closets or cabinets along an outside wall, open the doors and let warm air from your home circulate into these openings to prevent the pipes from freezing. If you are leaving your home for an extended time period during the winter, you should turn off your water supply at the valve located near the water meter. You should set the thermostat on your furnace to no lower than 55 degrees. You should also call RPU with the dates you will be gone and leave a name and phone number of a person in the area who would know how to reach you in case of a utility emergency at your home.
Keep your foliage from becoming food
Animals eating your trees and shrubs? Here are a few tips from Gary R. Johnson, Extension forester at UMN. First, start prepping before winter. Cut grasses and other vegetation short in late fall to reduce protective cover for mice and voles that might feed on trunks and stems. Protect tree trunks with cylinders of ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth around the trunk of the tree about 6 inches away from the trunk. This can be kept on year-round. For rabbits, the cylinder should extend 18 to 24 inches above the anticipated snow line. Discourage rabbits from taking up residence in your yard by reducing protective cover, removing brush piles, and fencing off other hiding places such as under decks and other structures.
Winter parking in Roch: Even, odd
Yes, seasonal parking is in effect: Here is the wording, straight from the city: "Alternate side parking requirements are in place city-wide from October 1 to May 1 from 2am to 3pm. Park your vehicle on the side of the street with EVEN house numbers when the calendar date is EVEN. Park your vehicle on the side of the street with ODD house numbers when the calendar date is ODD. Cars parked within the round part of a cul-de-sac must follow alternate side parking requirements. While cars can be parked on both sides of the street in the evening hours, drivers should park their vehicles overnight for the requirements that are in place following day from 2 a.m. to 3 p.m. This does not apply to metered spaces; however, parked vehicles must still comply with posted signs."