Officials: Right decision to shut down facilities

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Phenix City officials are sanding Broad Street and the 13th Street Bridge to improve traveling conditions.

CHUCK WILLIAMS — chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

A day after a storm dumped snow on the Columbus area and left some icy roads closed, school and city officials said they made the right decision to shut down facilities Wednesday for students and employees.

Safety was at the center of the decision for Muscogee County School Superintendent David Lewis, who leads a system with 33,000 students. City Manager Isaiah Hugley made the same decision for public employees who weren't needed on their jobs at the Government Center and other offices.

Conversations started Monday about the approaching storm, prompting school officials to get information from meteorologists, Georgia Emergency Management Agency and public safety officials. School was canceled for students on Tuesday, the day the storm struck, and again Wednesday when icy roads made driving dangerous.

The decision in Muscogee County was much different than the one in the Atlanta area where some 2,000 students stayed overnight Tuesday at more than a dozen schools.

Lewis said keeping the students out of school was based on the best information available.

"I think what we saw happening north of us and in Birmingham confirms what the prudence of that decision was," Lewis said.

The same consideration is part of the decision to keep students at home today and return to school on Friday.

"It just comes down to an issue of logistics and safety," Lewis said.

The superintendant said the low temperature could be in the teens overnight and all the snow hasn't melted so far. "That will refreeze overnight and we are concerned," he said. "We did want to make a prudent call, take a cautious approach."

Hugley said the decision to close offices for city employees on Wednesday was right on the spot. The city has employees who travel from Harris County in Georgia and Russell and Lee counties in Alabama.

"As you know, they closed roads in Harris County, they closed roads in Russell and Lee Counties," Hugley said. "We feel like we made the right decision."

With temperatures still below freezing in the morning, Hugley said officials were forced to close the Columbus Consolidated Government to employees who aren't needed.

All employees except emergency and essential personnel will be off at the discretion of their department head. Consolidated Government offices will reopen on Friday.

Pat Biegler, director of Public Services, said crews spent Tuesday afternoon loading more than dozen trucks with sand.

With only two sand spreader trucks, Biegler said the city didn't have enough equipment but crews continued to hit icy bridges and hot spots.

"It was all just ice," she said. "We didn't have enough. We weren't making that much impact."

With nightfall approaching Wednesday, Biegler said a night crew would be on duty for calls on the roads.

"With the sand, we are doing that all day and will keep doing that," she said.

If it refreezes overnight, the crews will be out again this morning.

"Hopefully the temperatures will go back up," Biegler said. "This will all go away."

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