Let It Snow: How the Library Handled the Blizzard

At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, February 2, 2011, most people in Kansas City were snuggled up warm in their homes. Jerry Houchins was in his office on B1 of the Central Library, watching the weather on Fox 4 news. By 5 a.m., he was on the sidewalks of 10th & Baltimore, cleaning up after a blizzard that dumped 8-12 inches of snow across the city, with drifts up to two feet tall.

Houchins, the Library's operations manager, had slept in his office overnight. The Library had closed early the day before, at 1 p.m. By the time he had completed the myriad tasks that come with closing early (changing the maglocks, turning out the lights, updating the phone hotline, and so forth), the blizzard was raging.

He figured it was safer to spread out some couch cushions from the staff break room than attempt to drive to his home in Smithville, Missouri. (Noticing his situation, Deputy Director of Branches Dorothy Elliott and her husband, Mitch, delivered Houchins a "care package" that included home-cooked chili.)

Early mornings and physical labor are par for the course in Facilities department at the Kansas City Public Library. For a crew that's appointed with keeping patrons and employees safe in all kinds of weather, last week's blizzard was, in many ways, just another day at work.

"We knew it was expected of us, so we just got out there and hit it as a team," says John Hendricks, maintenance mechanic.

As soon as ice and snow appeared in the forecast on Sunday, the Facilities team began working on a plan of attack. For the most part, that would include deploying personnel, snow shovels, and salt to the branches, as well as arranging for a snow-plowing contractor to help shoulder the workload.

Most of that workload: shoveling, shoveling, and more shoveling.

Putting their backs into it at the branches were Dan Martin at Trails West, Willis Talley at L.H. Bluford, Michael Butcher at Waldo, Jerry Stanford at Southeast, Hendricks at North-East, and Houchins at Central. (Team member Nelson Valiente was nursing an injured foot.)

The contracted snow-plow company handled the I.H. Ruiz and Westport branches. At the Plaza and Sugar Creek branches, the respective building owners handled snow removal.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Facilities crew had put approximately 60 hours of work into keeping entrances and pathways clear and addressing other obstacles created by the blizzard.

"We kept patrons and staff safe - that was the main goal," says Martin.

And as Houchins noted in a Thursday e-mail to the entire Library system, no matter how clean the sidewalks, without the staff inside, the Library couldn't open at all.

"Facilities may have got you in the door," he wrote, "it's you that then lead our patrons."  

Click on the Westport Branch for a gallery of Library locations in the snow.