SHERIDAN — Like any tourist destination, the city of Sheridan hums in those sunny summer months when vacationers vacation and snow birds return to warmer climes. Numerous street festivals and gatherings, and even more numerous construction projects, keep city staff busy making sure Sheridan is maintained, monitored and running as smoothly as possible.
Come winter, fewer construction hats dot the cityscape and the hum is a little less obvious, but the season does bring a different sort of productivity, Public Works Director Nic Bateson said.
“In the winter months, we resort to a lot of planning and design work, preparing for projects and preparing budgets for future projects,” Bateson said.
In the summer, city staff in the engineering, planning, building and utility divisions spend much of their time on site at construction projects to do inspections, maintenance and coordination, Bateson said. In the winter, those four divisions of the public works department significantly alter operations.
The winter months also offer a good opportunity to evaluate processes and procedures to find ways to improve.
“The winter gives us a good time to reflect on our overall processes,” Bateson said.
For instance, city staff will look at building and planning permits and see if there might be a better way to inform and educate applicants. They will re-enage with area contractors who are busy during the summer construction season.
This often involves meeting with the Big Horn Home Builders Association, which doesn’t meet in the summer, to debrief the summer and talk through the ups and downs of building season.
Planning and Engineering
During the winter, the planning and engineering divisions switch from inspections to design work and budget preparation, Bateson said.
City projects tend to dominate before Christmas, and then January through March, the divisions review a plethora of proposals and permits from private developers eager to take advantage of the full construction season.
“Right when spring hits, hopefully they can hit the ground running with their construction projects,” Bateson said.
This winter, the city is working specifically on the North Main interchange project, reconstruction efforts on Illinois Street and minor involvement with reconstruction on Alger Street as part of the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Lewis Street bridge project.
The streets department likely has the most obvious switch from summer to winter work. A majority of resources and crew members become involved in snow removal, snow collection and application of ice slicer, Bateson said.
“They become a lot more reactive versus proactive than in the summer when they can schedule maintenance activities,” Bateson said, noting that the same crew works year-round but that hours can vary greatly between the seasons when snow storms often require 24-hour work in rotating shifts.
Snow removal is important not only for the movement and safety of drivers but to prevent further degradation of the streets.
When the city is not being attacked by snow, the streets crew focuses on fixing pot holes, vacuuming and maintaining storm drain systems and trimming trees along creeks and alleyways. The signs division assists with Christmas decorating, maintenance of city lights and barricades for city events such as the Christmas Stroll.
The utility maintenance division also becomes more reactive than proactive.
Cold, snowy weather often leads to water line breaks, so the crew is on-call 24/7 to address utility emergencies like the water main break that recently occurred behind the Mint Bar.
“It there is a break, they are called out and need to jump on it pretty quick,” Bateson said.
Utility maintenance crews also respond to alarms on water and sewer systems. Cold weather trips more alarms, so some are false alarms, but they all need to be addressed, Bateson said.
The crews also exercise water and sewer system valves and vacuum and rod the sewer system to make sure it’s in good functioning condition.
Bateson also wanted to remind residents that they need to take care of their water meters in these below zero temperatures by making sure they are insulated and heat treated.
He also said residents should keep an eye on their meters for anything unusual that could indicate freezing. Indicators include ice build up around the meter, water pressure loss and anything else that doesn’t seem right. The billing department does try to alert customers if there is irregular water use on their bill which also may indicate a problem.
If problems are noticed, call the city utility department right away, Bateson said.
There have already been more than 10 water meter freezes this season.
The parks division staff is reduced by about half in the winter, Bateson said, after seasonal help is no longer needed.
The parks division spends a significant amount of time removing snow from sidewalks, bridges and pathways in the winter. It is important to the city to keep walkways safe and passable all winter long.
The elk pasture behind Kendrick Park also requires additional attention in the winter to provide adequate feed and care through the colder months.
Parks staff — or anyone, really, with a CDL driver’s license — also help with snow removal on city streets.
In their spare time, the parks division staff also does inside work such as painting and plumbing in bathrooms and other park facilities.