Polar vortex settles over OU prompting third 2014 closure

By Adam Kujawski

The unconventional start to the 2014 winter semester can be credited to the latest buzz words being used by meteorologists everywhere – polar vortex.

A polar vortex is a low pressure weather system that typically resides in northeastern Canada.  However, this year the vortex extended well into the United States, causing temperatures to dip several degrees below average.

At OU, the vortex prompted another series of buzz words – cancelled classes.

As a result of the inclement weather, Oakland University has cancelled class on three days since the winter semester began, the most recent closure was Tuesday, when dangerously cold temperatures blanketed the midwest. Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, Terry Stollsteimer, detailed the process.

“On days where it looks like weather may be a concern, I’m generally in at 4:30 a.m. to assess the situation,” he said.  “From there we decide whether campus can be made safe and accessible.  Our goal is to have a final decision by 5:30 a.m.”

The decision process starts with a meeting between Stollsteimer and the OUPD chief of police.  Once they agree, their recommendation is sent to the vice president for finance and administration and finally to the president of Oakland University, who ultimately makes the final call.

Stollsteimer was confident in saying his crew could have cleared the snow with ease, but low temperatures made for ineffective salting of the icy roads.

“Most of the time clearing the campus of snow isn’t the issue,” he said.  “It has a lot to do with the surrounding communities clearing the roads to get here.”

Once classes finally resumed, keeping the buildings warm and the staff and students comfortable became a priority.  Oakland University’s policy is to heat the buildings to between 68 degrees and 72 degrees during the winter months.

“We try to keep the buildings within one or two degrees of our target temperature,” Stollsteimer said.

Director of Engineering, Siraj Khan, is certain the heating system OU has in place is effective.

“We have no problems with heating the campus,” he said.

That being said, the unusually cold weather is undoubtedly going to affect the bottom line.  With last year’s gas purchases amounting to just over $1.7 million, Stollsteimer anticipates an increase in spending for 2014.

“We do expect our gas bill to go up this year,” he said.

With more snowy, bone-chilling weather being forecast for the coming weeks, the possibility of additional school closures can’t be ruled out.

Students with a valid OU e-mail address and a Grizzly ID can sign up to receive text message alerts from the university regarding school closures by visiting www.oakland.edu/police/text.

Adam Kujawski

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