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Young praises ‘group effort’ during harsh winter

Barry McNamara
02/12/2019
Sarah Young took over as Monmouth's director of facilities management in 2015.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – The new year might have included a lot of extreme wintry conditions, but Monmouth College’s director of facilities management has seen two very bright spots.

First, Sarah Young has been thrilled by the response of her physical plant team during a brutal stretch of weather that began shortly before students returned to campus for the spring semester and has continued almost non-stop.

“They’ve been fantastic,” said Young on Feb. 8, a day when wind chills dipped as low as 20 degrees below zero.

In addition to the extraordinary teamwork she’s seen from her staff, Young achieved a personal milestone in January, completing the fourth and final track of a rigorous certification program from the Institute of Facilities Management, an arm of APPA (formerly the Association of Physical Plant Administrators). She was one of only a few female directors among the several hundred who attended the program.

The tracks included general administration, operations and maintenance, energy and utilities, and planning, design and construction. Her colleague, custodial services manager Tony DeFord, will complete the fourth track in September.

“I learned something every single time I went,” said Young of the separate one-week tracks. “I’m going to miss it, frankly. We always bring something back from the sessions that we can share with the whole team.”

Team effort on campus

Young’s team has perhaps never shined brighter than during this winter. In most years, the major blizzard that struck Thanksgiving weekend would’ve been the most harrowing experience of the season, but it turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. January brought a record monthly snowfall amount and a polar vortex that saw temperatures bottom out around -25 degrees and wind chills hit -50.

“The grounds crew – and Tom Lydic, in particular – have been here for almost 30 days straight,” said Young. “And most of those have been long days. We’ve had people stay overnight to do the work that needed to be done. We’re all ready for spring, I can tell you that.”

By late January, Young’s team had used about 50,000 pounds of salt – as much as had been deployed in the past five winters combined. But it turns out they were just getting started, as nearly that much salt has been used in the past two weeks, mostly to combat freezing rain that can turn campus sidewalks and streets into slippery sheets of ice.

“We used three-and-a-half pallets of salt last Tuesday alone,” she said.

Young said staff members going above and beyond has been the key.

“I can’t say enough about how much we’ve done with a relatively small group,” she said. “Our staff is divided into three groups – grounds, utility and custodial. They cover for each other and do whatever it takes, like custodial staff shoveling the walks if the grounds crew is involved with a larger project. It’s really been a group effort.”

Young said the harsh winter necessitated the purchase of a second covered-cab unit for removing snow.

“I want to thank (vice president for finance) Richard Marshall for approving that for us,” she said. “It can be a colossal feat to be out there without one in some of the weather we’ve been having.”

Waiting for spring

Looking ahead – beyond her aforementioned desire for spring’s arrival – Young said she’d like to take a practice from some of the extreme winter conditions and apply it full-time.

“On some of the coldest days, we were asked to utilize our generators so that the overall energy grid would not be taxed,” said Young, who took over as director in 2015. “We sent a message out to campus to shut off a light or shut off a computer after work if they could. Really, that’s something we should be doing every day. Moving that thought forward is something I might take up.”

Young is also hopeful that solar initiatives can be brought to campus in the near future.

“That’s been a want and wish of mine for a while – to pair up with somebody someday on that,” she said.

Individually, Young will turn her attention to the other program APPA offers, its leadership academy. Also structured with four tracks, Young is scheduled to begin that training next January.

Hopefully, a much warmer, drier January.