Published January 24, 2019


NORTH READING — One and done? Possibly.

It had been a virtually snowless winter, with the last measurable snowfall coming two months ago in mid-November. So continuing with the unusual winter theme it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that the region would experience a couple of different storms rolled into one this past weekend.

Where we had been on track to get 5 to 10 inches of snow before it changed over to sleet and rain leading up to the big chill, we lucked out and wound up with about five inches of compacted snow after the change-over to freezing rain.

Everyone seemed to heed the warnings to clear the snow in the few hours of reprieve before the deep single digit freeze set it in place for the next two days. By the time this story is read, the temperatures are supposed to reach 40 degrees with rain.

For the town’s new DPW Director, Pat Bower, it was the department head’s first big test.

Both he and Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto were pleased with the outcome.

For starters, unlike prior years they had a full complement of contractors at the ready. The TA credits the fact that the town offered an incentive of an extra $5 an hour if the contractors had brought their trucks to the DPW garage to be certified by the end of October. They can still sign up to work for the town but just can’t get the extra rate this season.

A TOWN PLOW gets down to the pavement on Central Street Sunday. It was one of a half dozen pairs of plows that continued working in tandem to keep the town’s roads clear after private contractors were sent home following about 24 hours of service.  (Al Pereira/Advanced Photo)

Gilleberto said in recent years the town had about 30 contract plowers and this year they are up to 40.

“They were called in for the overnight Saturday,” Gilleberto said to pre-treat and plow. By 6:30 a.m. Sunday, just over five inches of snow had fallen before it changed over to freezing rain.

“With the transition into the freezing rain and sleet they relieved the contractors and were able to go back through the town using only in-house DPW employees. It is a strategy they call ‘in and out’ –they go in and out of neighborhood with a pair of vehicles to clear the roads. For the most part it was successful. The roads in town were in decent shape and compared to some of the other communities I’d seen, as early as Sunday evening.

“The cleanup continued on Monday with the focus on sidewalks, treating any areas needing attention. The schools opened on Tuesday and the town buildings all opened on time,” Gilleberto said.

“We didn’t get the magnitude of snowfall they were forecasting,” but this also meant a reduced potential for widespread icing because and power outages.

“I think it is important to recognize the efforts of our DPW to change its response during the course of the storm. For some of the guys it meant a 36-hour day — past the start of the football game on Sunday afternoon. A limited crew was still out there after the football game started.” he said.

Bower said, “When we get to really cold temperatures the effect of the material we put down is different. In North Reading we use calcium mixed with our salt so we get the benefit of the treatment to a little bit lower temperature.”

“What was unique about this storm was the sleet and rain on Sunday. The ground was very cold so when we had a later burst of snow as soon as it hit the ground it stuck and that is predominately what you see on the streets now,” Bower told the Transcript on Tuesday afternoon. “It was a really late burst of snow of only about an inch but it put a really hard layer of snow over all the streets and parking lots. A very unique storm.”

“We were out for over 24 hours and we got a little break and had to come back in. We had different people jockeying in back and forth,” Bower said.

He will not have a cost estimate until Monday as he needs to factor in the man hours as well as materials.

Although there has not been a lot of snow this winter there have been about three or four call-outs by the police department at 3 a.m or 4 a.m. to treat icy road conditions, but overall it has been a quiet winter, Bower said.

Bower said the town’s new sidewalk plow is great. “It really tore through some pretty crunchy stuff out there so we’re very happy with it,” he said. The operator during this storm drove it at a slower speed in order to cut deeper into the ice and snow due to the deep freeze. If the storm had ended with just that dry snow you could blast through it pretty quickly. But it gets beyond the snow and you have to be careful about obstacles and unseen recycle bins.”

With contractors combined with DPW personnel, Bower said the town had about 55 pieces of equipment on the road. During the day on Sunday the six tandem crews keeping up with the plowing were town employees.

Excellent effort

Bower said he was “very happy” with his crew’s performance. “We had our experienced employees step up and we had some new folks that fell into the line and did an excellent job so I’m very happy with how the reacted to the storm.”

Gilleberto added, “I’m very pleased with the way the town’s response worked, beginning with the planning effort, which started on Wednesday and Thursday straight through to the clean up operation that is continuing into (Tuesday). I want to recognize Patrick’s efforts in his first large snow event in his tenure here as director as well as the Operations Manager, Chris Deming. They both did a great job overseeing the town’s preparation, response and cleanup.”

HVAC issues at Town Hall

On MLK Jr. Day an air handler unit inside the Town Hall failed, Gilleberto said. Unfortunately, the biggest piece of equipment that needed to be repaired Monday and Tuesday was located inside the CCS Food Pantry which occupies the area formerly used as a stage when it was the Murphy School. This made the pantry inaccessible to clients and staff yesterday, but fortunately only small amount of food was affected and had to be tossed as a precaution.

Gilleberto commended Building Superintendent Julie Spurr Knight’s ability keep the 60-plus year old heating system at Town Hall up and running over the weekend during some difficult breakdowns.

“She spent a number of hours in our Town Hall (Monday) because of challenges with our HVAC system, not just in the food pantry but in getting heat to various areas of this building so that it would be able to open with a reasonable ambient air temperature (Tuesday),” Gilleberto said, adding it was because of her efforts that all of the areas had heat and all the employees were pleased. “If she had not put time in yesterday managing the system, which is largely original, we would have been in a different situation,” the T.A. said.