In just over a week, Andover has been hit with nearly 4 feet of snow: Nearly 3 feet of snow in the Blizzard of 2015 last Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by another foot or more on Monday, with a few scattered snow showers here and there thrown in for good measure.
For newly minted Highway Superintendent Marc Fournier, who has been on the job for only about three months, it’s been trial by fire — or, perhaps, snowflake.
Last week, town offices and schools were shut down and many businesses told their employees to stay put. Gov. Charlie Baker banned driving for all but plows and emergency vehicles.
Then this Monday, everything was canceled again, although no driving ban was imposed.
And even more snow was forecast for later this week.
Municipal Services Director Chris Cronin said the heavy snowfall may deplete the town’s $1.25 million snow removal account.
While school children are rejoicing their four days off, they may be lamenting those days when summer hits and they are stuck in a classroom while vacations beckon.
Even Merrimack College offered its help last week.
“Should your home lose power or heat, please feel free to come to the Sakowich Campus Center, which will be powered by generators and maintain food service for the duration of the storm,” Felipe Schwarz, the college’s assistant vice president of external affairs, wrote in an email sent to neighbors before the blizzard known as Juno hit last week.
”We’ve had differences of opinion with some of our neighbors, but in the end, we are neighbors,” Jim Chiavelli, associate vice president for communications at the college, said, referring to recent disputes over the planned construction of new dormitories on campus. “If your neighbor is cold or hungry, you don’t turn your back.”
Apparently, nobody took advantage of the invitation, in part because there were few power outages.
”If this was heavy snow, (outages) would have been much worse,” Fournier said.
Snowfall melts budget
Even before this week’s storm, the town of Andover was close to spending its annual allotment for snow removal.
Cronin said the Blizzard of 2015 cost the town about $450,000 out of the $1.25 million allotted for snow removal.
Prior to last week’s blizzard, town crews had already been out a few times for sanding operations.
”We’ve used $900,000 out of the budget so far,” he said last week. “We’ll have $300,000 left.”
Cronin was unable to give an estimate on the cost of Monday’s storm, which was predicted to dump more than a foot of additional snow on the region.
He said last week that he would be sending a letter to the Board of Selectmen informing officials of a possible snow budget deficit.
Then he would need to get approval from selectmen and the Finance Committee to deficit spend. Town Meeting would ultimately have to vote to cover the extra cost of snow removal, he said.
Cronin noted that it’s not unusual to overspend the snow removal budget.
”Every other year we go into deficit,” he said. “The median average is what we usually budget.”
On Monday and Tuesday, Andover schools were shut down for the fourth and fifth times in eight days as another snowstorm dumped an additional foot or more of snow on the town.
Police Commander Charles Heseltine said the storm was similar to that of last week’s blizzard, forcing schools, town offices and many businesses to close. The public seemed to be heeding warnings to stay off the roads, however, with just one minor accident reported by midday Monday.
Fournier said the town had 40 plows on the road Monday, with his crew called in to begin working at 3:30 a.m. to keep up with the snowfall. The town workers were aided in their efforts by more than 200 private contractors.
He said that while some plowmen like the extra work, and pay, others are exhausted and want to go home.
”But we have good crews here,” he said. “They want to come in and work, and they work hard.”
Students, meanwhile, experienced back-to-back snow days. In a district-wide email Monday night, Superintendent Marinel McGrath said that after conferring with town officials, the School Department could not “open schools safely” on Tuesday. All afternoon and evening athletic/fine arts practices and scheduled activities were called off for a second straight day as well.
”(Monday’s) storm has proven to be challenging indeed,” McGrath said, adding a broken water main was compounding cleanup efforts. “While municipal services has been working hard to keep up with the storm, the cleanup will continue well into (Tuesday) given the amount of snow on the ground from last week.”
McGrath thanked parents and staff for their support and understanding through what she called “the snowiest stretch of winter in many years.”
Ice rink snafu
Even the town-sponsored, outdoor ice rink at The Park has become a victim of Mother Nature.
Ed Ataide, deputy director of plant and facilities, said a new liner was installed last Friday after the old one was gouged by vandals. It was to have been filled, with the cold temperatures over the weekend allowing it to become frozen.
But then Monday’s storm hit and it got covered again with a blanket of snow. To date, the rink has gotten little to no use this season.
Ataide said the town may want to rethink the rink.
”It’s not level; it’s 10 inches deep on one end and 3 inches deep on the other,” he said, noting that the location needs to be changed.
Ataide said it may be a good idea to consider installing a permanent rink in town. “Maybe we need to fund it, and do it right. The way it is now, we put money in every year just to put it up and take it down,” he said.
The town spends a couple thousand dollars a year on materials and labor to install the rink.