Behind the scenes of an Emerson snow day

by Benjamin Tran / Beacon Correspondent • February 5, 2015

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Major storms have dropped record amounts of snow on the Boston area this season, forcing Emerson administrators to make judgement calls about canceling classes and shutting down campus amenities and requiring staff members to stay at a nearby hotel.

“Because closing administrative offices and classes is very disruptive, the process by which we do so requires considerable thought and planning,” President M. Lee Pelton wrote in an emailed statement to the Beacon. “Of course, the safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority.”

During any kind of weather problem, a team of Emerson administrators assembles to discuss what is happening on campus and across Boston, according to Maureen Murphy, vice president for administration and finance.

“Once we know all that, then we’ll decide what time we’ll close,” Murphy said. 

Emerson’s policy for closing due to snow, detailed on its website, says it will announce closures by 6 a.m. for day classes and activities and by 3 p.m. for evening classes.

The college’s preparation has been bolstered by technological advancements and better organization that Murphy said allows government officials to better notify residents of impending storms than in previous years.

“I got a call from the city of Somerville on Sunday, saying that there was going to be a parking ban effective at 12:00 on Monday just before the storm came,” Murphy said. “So things like that, when I see the preparedness of city officials now versus, say, during the storms of ‘78, it’s just amazing.” 

Steven Canario, general manager of dining and catering services at Emerson, said choosing which cafes to open and which workers to bring to campus depends on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority schedule.

“Each event, weather or other emergency, is handled uniquely,” Canario said. “But what often dictates the staffing level of our food service program is the availability of public transportation, which many of our food service employees rely on.”

Canario said although having food staff is crucial for on-campus students during snowstorms, only the dining hall and convenience store were staffed during the snow days last week. Canario said he arranged 19 hotel rooms at the Courtyard Marriott on Tremont Street for managers and hourly staff who were unable to commute. 

“Our food service staff are very good about responding as best they can, and the management team picks up whatever slack they are able to in a time of need,” Canario said.

Despite the stress of winter storm preparations, many staff members remained in good spirits about the affair, according to Kerry Donnelly, the operations manager.

“To see how happy the students are, it’s nice to see that they’re being properly taken care of,” she said.

Others like Kevin Craig, the production manager, said he found the two snow days to be a bonding experience for staff members. 

“We were there all day, some of us living there for two straight days,” Craig said. “We shared an experience that we wouldn’t have otherwise. So, making fun of each other, laughing at each other, getting angry at each other, throwing boxes at each other, was interesting.”

Jean Bergeron, director of residential dining, said he took pride in the work of his staff, and recalled students appreciating their commitment.

“I was standing by the salad bar and a student just stated how grateful she was that we came in during the storm,” said Bergeron. “Another student just walked by me and said, ‘Thanks for being here.’ It was just nice to see that students recognize us.”