Feature Article - October 2017
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From The Ground Up

How Grounds Maintenance Professionals Keep Moving Forward

By Dave Ramont


The Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS), established in 1911, is an international organization with more than 1,000 members. Molly Baldwin-Abbott, director of communications and marketing at PGMS, said that their mission is to unite professional grounds managers and others working in the industry, to promote the dissemination of educational materials and reliable information pertinent to the execution of grounds management functions, and to assist in attaining a high standard of business ethics. College and university grounds managers make up the largest portion of members, which also includes managers working for municipalities, parks and recreation facilities, sports facilities, hotels and resorts, school districts, hospitals, cemeteries and theme parks. Many independent landscape contractors are also members.

A few years ago, Baldwin-Abbott said, they witnessed an increase in memberships of professionals from the same entity, so they created the Institutional Membership category. "This allows the grounds managers and three other grounds professionals from the institution to become members of PGMS. This has become one of the most popular membership types."

PGMS has several certification programs, including the School of Grounds Management Certificate program (SGM), which was developed to provide goal-oriented education opportunities for professional grounds managers attending the annual conference. There's the Certified Grounds Technician program (CGT), for professionals directly involved with performing the day-to-day tasks of grounds maintenance. And the Certified Grounds Manager program (CGM), which is the premier program of its type in the green industry, according to Baldwin-Abbott. "It is a highly coveted designation, and currently 169 grounds professionals have earned this designation."

The annual PGMS Awards Program brings national recognition to grounds maintained with a high degree of excellence, recognizing outstanding landscape design and construction, and the grounds professionals in charge. Grand, Honor, and Merit awards are offered in 15 categories, covering all types of private, public, commercial and industrial landscapes. Baldwin-Abbott said that the program has been steadily gaining prestige and popularity within the grounds community, with more applications being submitted every year.

Christopher Weavil is the assistant director of park operations for the Forsyth County, N.C., Parks and Recreation Department. He's been a CGM and member of PGMS for more than 20 years, and said those experiences have helped him get where he is today. "The experiences I've gained and the networking opportunities that PGMS has provided have been invaluable resources."

The Forsyth County Parks Department is facility-based, providing no programming. "We are basically land, facilities and open space managers. We oversee approximately 2,500 acres of property," Weavil said. The grounds crew consists of 46 full-time and 42 part-time members, which includes some seasonal workers. Weavil explained that they do require two-year horticultural degrees for several of their tech positions, and also prefer applicants with arborist or other trade-specific certifications. "We do provide training and certification opportunities for staff that are interested and willing."

Grounds managers at the parks and recreation level have a wide array of responsibilities. In Forsyth County, they maintain everything from horseshoe pits and a BMX bike track to fishing lakes and dog parks. Weavil listed just some of their responsibilities: mowing, tree care, athletic field maintenance, hike and bike trail maintenance, pool care, line trimming, equipment maintenance, special event setup, trash removal and recycling, disc golf course setup and maintenance, golf course operations, restroom maintenance and the annual Festival of Lights operation. They maintain more than 70 structures and roughly 500 acres of intensively maintained, mature grounds. To accomplish this, they require some "experts" on staff: "We have three Certified Golf Superintendents, two arborists, five Certified Playground Safety Inspectors, seven Certified Pool Operators, and more than 10 NCDA-licensed pesticide applicators," Weavil said.

Back in Iowa, Van Loo explained that he is also responsible for more than just the athletic fields, having to maintain the grounds and landscaping around all the fields and athletic buildings, totaling about 55 acres. And, since Iowa State offers Turf Grass and Horticulture programs, he has his own "farm team." "I'm spoiled because I get to hijack a lot of the kids because they need experience and internships," he said.

Van Loo has five turf majors and one student majoring in horticulture on his staff. "He's my landscaper. And once the season starts, we'll have two landscapers on staff and we'll ramp up to eight turf grass students. I get students that are dedicated to the industry, want to learn this stuff and the good ones really take ownership and start to think for themselves. We've graduated a lot of kids that go off and are really good field managers."

Iowa State has one competition field that's artificial—the soccer field. "That one is artificial because it's in the middle of our Track & Field area, and that's open to the public, so we weren't going to be able to keep people off the field," Van Loo said. He explained that their natural fields are well-drained and sand-based. "So we don't have to have any muddy situations. We can play softball in just about any weather, and we can play football in just about any weather." He added that when it comes to growing grass, he's spoiled being in Iowa, as the weather usually cooperates in the spring and fall. "We might throw a little bit of rye grass, but it's really very small amounts—we never broadcast any. So we're essentially 100 percent Kentucky bluegrass."