What It Takes to Get a Snow Day at KPU

In extreme weather, administration and facilities work together to determine if it’s safe to get to class

KPU campuses remained open on Jan. 13 while snowfall in the Metro Vancouver area caused delays for students attending class. (Braden Klassen)

As soon as snow shows up in the forecast, Marlyn Graziano picks up her phone to schedule meetings and gather troops for scoping out roads and sidewalks.

As the university’s vice-president of external affairs, she is the primary point of contact for anyone interested in how KPU makes the decision to either shut down or stay open. When it comes to defining the requirements of a multi-campus-wide shutdown, however, students and administration might have a difference of opinion.

Many students voiced their concern and dissatisfaction in response to a Facebook post made by KPU on Monday, Jan. 13.

Preceded by a night of snowfall, Jan. 13 saw enough snow to make certain areas of Metro Vancouver unsafe for drivers and unreasonable for commuters – but in other parts of town, the snowfall was so light it hardly accumulated. It is partially due to this difference in weather across the region that if KPU closes, it closes all of its campuses, not just one, in response to extreme weather.

“Our campuses stretch from Richmond out to Langley, where things can be very different. Even in Surrey — I had 20 centimetres of snow at my house on the weekend …. In South Surrey? Nothing. So there’s a huge variability,” she says.

“Plus, we have people who come from downtown. We’ve got employees and probably students too in Chilliwack and Abbotsford, so there are a lot of different micro-systems for people to go through. Because of the mobility of students and faculty and some of our staff, KPU has always made the decision that it’s either all open or all closed.”

There is a timeline to dealing with snow at KPU. The night before expected snowfall, Graziano scans the forecast to see whether or not it’s necessary to send a team of facilities workers out to look at roads, parking lots, and sidewalks before sun-up the next morning. If it is necessary, she coordinates a group of drivers and pedestrians to survey the conditions. They report their findings, and if it looks like campuses might need to close, Graziano joins a group call with other administrators to discuss next steps around 5:40 am.

Joining her in this call is KPU President Alan Davis, Provost and Vice President Academic Sandy Vanderburgh, Associate Vice President of Human Resources Laurie Clancy, Vice President Students Steve Cardwell, and Interim Vice President Finance and Administration Joe Sass. Facilities workers report to Sass, who relays information to everyone else on the group call.

They also consider the status of local school districts, as KPU students who are parents may unexpectedly have to stay home with their kids even if campuses are open.

Once a decision about closure has been made, it goes out on social media, KPU’s website, external media outlets, and the KPU Safe app.

If the school has decided to stay open but students still can’t make it to class due to transportation, health, or accessibility issues, Graziano suggests that they notify instructors as far in advance as possible. And in the instance of an unforgiving instructor, she suggests contacting the Dean’s office.

In some cases, if conditions worsen, the university will shut down in the middle of the day. This decision is made based on watching forecasts, measuring the accumulation of snow, and seeing how well municipalities respond to the weather. Graziano says they try to avoid doing this after 3:00 pm so that students on their way to evening classes won’t find themselves stranded at a closed campus.

“What we always say at the beginning of every winter season, though, to our employees and our students is, ‘Safety first.’ And you have to make that decision for yourself,” she says. “You can’t make everybody happy ever, and so that’s why we leave it to people to decide for themselves.”

“I look at it as, ‘Personally, would I want my sons and daughters trying to get out there to school?’ I try to keep that lens of, ‘This is not just about running a business and keeping a university open. It’s the people. Focus on the people.’ And that’s why we check as many sources as we can.”

Anyone interested in providing feedback related to campus closures can send an email to marlyn.graziano@email.kpu.ca.