Consider that the Fox Valley Park District is responsible for maintaining more than one million square feet of parking lots, trailheads and pedestrian-used walkways.
Now add snow and ice to the equation.
That’s a big ol’ salt shaker required to keep residents, members and visitors to District facilities safe during a winter-weather event.
But thanks to the ingenuity of District maintenance staff, the winter of 2020 will be combated with a new technique – a considerable time- and cost-saving measure that features a liquid solution designed to neutralize any elements Mother Nature unleashes.
“Talk to any snow and ice commander or any municipality,” says Jerad Campbell, the FVPD’s assistant director of park maintenance, “and they’ll tell you liquids are the wave of the future.”
Previously, the District purchased a liquid application that contained beet juice to ward off the ice and snow. Though effective, the pre-mixed solution can be both messy and costly. Enter the FVPD maintenance team, which recently designed and built an in-house mixing system that uses a water-based solution combined with commercial-strength ice melt (basically, a fancy term for rock salt) that contains calcium, sodium and magnesium chlorides.
The FVPD’s in-house mixing system features two 250-gallon liquid “totes,” or drums, in which the water-salt solution is pumped from the upper tote to the bottom tote (see embedded video).
According to Jimmy Schmidt, the District’s west maintenance supervisor, the end goal is to achieve a 23% salt-to-water solution prior to application. Schmidt uses a hydrometer and a tall, plastic beaker filled with a sample of the solution to measure its salinity. Should the level be too high, more water is added until the 23% target is hit. Too low means more salt.
Schmidt tested the solution during two previous storms on walkways at the north end of the Vaughan Athletic Center, where the entrance receives no sun and freezes routinely, causing potential safety hazards.
“I had bare, wet pavement the entire storm,” Schmidt says.
At Vaughan, where 29,000 square feet of walkways circle the complex, including a lengthy stretch of sidewalk along Indian Trail, 250 gallons of “homemade” liquid solution covers a total of seven applications.
“I used to use 250-300 pounds of rock salt each time,” Schmidt says. “With the liquid, now I’m doing it minimally and measurably less, but I’m still applying the same product that produces a cleaner result with the same effectiveness. Plus, we don’t have two pieces of motorized equipment and someone else shoveling.”
District officials constantly monitor weather forecasts predicted by northeastern Illinois meteorologists at the Murray & Trettle Weather Command. Should a storm appear imminent, FVPD operations staff can apply the liquid solution 12 to 24 hours prior to the system’s arrival.
“It’s a pretty versatile application,” Campbell says. “If we learn that a storm’s coming, we can be proactive and prevent snow and ice from bonding to the asphalt. It’s definitely a cost-saver for the District, but it also adds a layer of efficiency, if we have to spend less physical time and energy when fighting these storms.”