Unpredictable storm system closes Gilchrist for 3 days; everyone gets Wednesday ‘snow day’
Snow days for students are an unexpected day off – a reprieve from classes and homework. But snow days for the Klamath County School District maintenance crew are just that – days spent plowing and shoveling the white stuff.
A winter storm that shut down highways around the state and dropped several inches snow throughout the county forced the district to close some schools two hours early on Tuesday and cancel classes at all schools Wednesday due to weather and road conditions. The snow day gave the district’s maintenance crew a chance to clear parking lots, roofs and walkways at the district’s 23 schools.
In Gilchrist, in far northern Klamath County, the school has been closed since Monday after the storm dumped around two feet of snow in the area. Bend, Sisters and La Pine schools also were closed.
District maintenance workers have spent three days digging the school out shoveling roofs and clearing parking lots and walkways. Roads in the area are still open, but navigating them is slow-going, said Dennis Zullo, project manager and maintenance supervisor for the school district.
Walkways around the school were bordered by 3-foot-high berms of snow.
Steve Prock, principal at Gilchrist Junior-Senior High School, said it started snowing in Gilchrist Sunday and didn’t stop. “Travel was a mess, and a lot of our side streets weren’t plowed,” he said Tuesday afternoon, adding that it was still snowing at that time.
On Wednesday, school district maintenance crew members – who start at 3:30 a.m. on snow days –cleared school parking lots throughout the district and then traveled to Gilchrist to finish clearing snow from roofs and the rest of the campus, which includes the elementary and junior-senior high school.
KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak said this storm system made the decision of whether to delay or close school difficult. “The unpredictable forecast early this week, which vacillated between snow and rain, made it hard to decide whether to delay or cancel,” he said. On Tuesday, snow began piling up in the outlying areas –Bonanza, Lost River, Merrill, Malin, and Chiloquin – and a decision was made to release those students early. That decision, in part, was based on information from the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“As the morning progressed and snow started to accumulate at different rates at different locations, ODOT let us know that they would be able to keep up at some locations and roads would be better late in the day,” Szymoniak said. “We continued school in those locations.”
The district relies on its transportation and maintenance departments as well as ODOT for recommendations on school delays or closures. “We look at current conditions as well as the forecast for the upcoming day,” Szymoniak said. “(Monday) we saw the moisture coming on radar. However, due to temperatures hovering around freezing, there was conflicting information whether it would be rain or snow that fell.”
Zullo said the district tries to plow school campuses after 2 inches of snow falls. On Tuesday, it piled up quickly in some of the outlying areas – by the time Lost River and Bonanza schools released on Tuesday, there were about 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground.
When schools are delayed or closed, the district calls or texts parents through its One Call Now system posts the information on its website (www.kscd.k12.or.us) and social media sites and notifies the media.
If there is no news, that means schools are operating on their regular schedules.
This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Basin Life Magazine