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GIS SOS for campus facilities

High-tech mapping helped campus clear snow from blizzard
University Business, March 2016
GIS mapping was instrumental in Dickinson College’s cleanup effort after Winter Storm Jonas blanketed the campus with nearly three feet of snow.
GIS mapping was instrumental in Dickinson College’s cleanup effort after Winter Storm Jonas blanketed the campus with nearly three feet of snow. (Photo: Carl Socolow)

When Winter Storm Jonas dumped nearly three feet of snow on Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in January, Dickinson College turned to outside contractors unfamiliar with the campus to aid its massive snow removal effort.

Guided by geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, the contractors coordinated efforts with Dickinson’s regular maintenance staff to clear the grounds efficiently. Specialty maps that provide details about certain areas of campus—such as the exact length and location of streets and walkways, and the presence of potential hazards—were critical.

As GIS mapping continues to make better data accessible for campus facilities administrators, it is being used for other endeavors beyond snow removal.

“When I’m looking to have a service done, like aeration of the athletic fields, normally I’d have to have three different contractors come out, each measure the fields and give me prices, which would vary depending on the size each one came up with,” says Eric Vorodi, Dickinson’s director of grounds and landscaping. GIS maps show Vorodi the exact size of each field, so he gets consistent pricing. He also uses GIS maps in tasks ranging from determining amounts of fertilizer to painting lines in parking lots.

At Western Michigan University, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Peter J. Strazdas says, “We have all facility asset data outside of our buildings positioned in GIS, including electrical, water, steam, condensate, gas, stormwater and sanitary information.”

The school has a full-time staff member dedicated to GIS, a growing trend on campuses. Strazdas says, “The biggest benefit is having geo-referenced visuals versus traditional databases and spreadsheets.”

GIS maps provide limitless tiers of data—for instance, streets on one layer, buildings on a second, student distribution on the next, and high-crime areas on another. The digital, interactive format allows tasks to be customized.

Chuck Scott, director of facilities management at Illinois State University, says GIS allows for “integration of all existing points to help calculate maintenance or replacement costs associated with roofs, underground utilities, sidewalks, parking lots, and even for tree replacements in our arboretum.”

Possible facilities uses for GIS

  • Creating detailed, consistent campus maps for general maintenance and scheduling, and to provide to outside contractors
  • Tracking the location of utilities, valves and other info to isolate disruptions and re-direct services
  • Tracking the location of manholes covered by shrubbery, grass or snow, etc.
  • Keeping a clear record of property lines
  • Campus planning and expansion
  • Analyzing outdoor lighting to improve safety
  • Keeping tree inventories
  • Space management and utilization
  • Calculating acreage for grounds upkeep
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