Employees commended for performance during cold snap
University employees -- from Physical Plant workers to University Police to House System staff -- met January's subzero temperatures with tenacity and dedication in performing duties above and beyond the normal realm of their jobs.
"I want to thank all of the members of the University of Chicago community for their good work and good spirits during last week's bitter cold spell," said President Sonnenschein in an open letter to the University community dated Jan. 24. "Special thanks are due to the Physical Plant Department, whose dedicated personnel kept the University running under trying conditions, as well as to the many faculty, staff and students who fought the elements to get to campus each day."
Physical Plant workers exhibited "superior performance" in fixing problems related to the extreme cold, said Lynn Bender, Director of Facilities Planning & Management. "Many individuals worked around the clock under some very adverse conditions," he said.
The workers pumped water that escaped from broken city water mains and helped reconnect buildings to electric and water service when those services were disrupted during the week of Jan. 17. Temperatures that week fell to 21 below zero.
The main problems developed at 59th Street and Ellis Avenue, where a ruptured water main flooded a Commonwealth Edison transformer vault, curtailing electric service to eight University buildings and four Hospitals buildings, and at 58th Street and Ellis Avenue, where a broken water main threatened to flood a portion of the University's steam-tunnel system.
Although most of the work at 59th and Ellis was carried out by Commonwealth Edison employees, University staff members helped monitor the situation and supplied extra sump pumps when Commonwealth Edison's failed, Bender said. At 58th and Ellis, shifts of four employees at a time worked continuously to pump water from the damaged area into a city sewer.
The problems along Ellis Avenue also affected water service at the Hospitals, said William Caddick, Director of Physical Plant. "John Markez, Director of Plant Operations at the Hospitals, and his crew did an exceptional job of maintaining water service to the Hospitals. With just 45 minutes' notice from the city, the crew was able to make the necessary switches and connections to keep service in the Hospitals operating."
University Police officers were extra vigilant in attending to people who appeared to be having problems due to the cold, said Rudolph Nimocks, Director of University Police. One University Police officer, Douglas Kindred, is credited with possibly saving the life of a man whose hands were already frozen when Kindred spotted him and summoned an ambulance. Kindred, whose regular beat is the Midway, found the 32-year-old man sitting on the concrete embankment near Rockefeller Chapel on Jan. 15, when the wind chill index was 40 below zero.
"The man was disoriented and his fingers were frozen to the touch. Had Officer Kindred not found him and gotten him to the hospital, he likely would have sat there until he froze to death," Nimocks said. After therapy and skin grafts, the man is regaining use of his hands, Nimocks said.
University House System employees also are to be commended for their dedication and extra effort, said Cheryl Gutman, Director of UHS.
"Engineers and facilities managers stayed overnight in the residence halls and worked extra hours daily to repair and monitor heat and water systems," Gutman said. Snell-Hitchcock and the Shoreland were both without hot water for a time during the cold snap. Gutman also noted that some food-service managers stayed overnight to ensure that the dining halls would be operating in the morning.
Gutman also noted that the drivers for the University bus service did an exceptional job. "They showed good judgment in stopping to pick up students who were going to the residence halls, even though the students were not standing at designated pickup points," she said.
As President Sonnenschein said in the closing words of his letter, "May the remainder of the winter be more gentle."