Feature Article - July 2011
Find a printable version here

Maintenance Series: Grounds

Caring for Growing Places
Grounds—and Their Crews—Require Careful Attention

By Dawn Klingensmith

Colleges and universities in most cases have a certain feature or features that stand out and leave a positive impression on prospective students and their parents. Needless to say, these features should play a prominent role in live and virtual campus tours.

Public parks should be planned and laid out so "when you go around a corner and change your line of sight, there should be something aesthetically pleasing," Cochran said. Likewise, "when you exit a park, there should be something pleasing that sticks in your mind."

A park is like a story unfolding: "Greet visitors at the entrance with something attractive to get their attention, bid them farewell with something pretty that will stick in their minds, and include some pleasant little surprises along the way," Cochran advised.

Try as they might, grounds crews sometimes fall behind in tending to little details, but if a park's overall and parting impressions are truly memorable, guests may "forgive" any number of minor oversights or fail to notice them in the first place, Cochran said.

Climate, Construction and Other Challenges

One of the primary challenges faced by grounds crews at Texas Woman's University is working around ongoing construction projects. "Three buildings on campus are under construction, and we're constantly working around them to make the campus look well-maintained" despite the dust being kicked up and the mess made when rain enters the equation, Trevino said.

Weather has also been particularly challenging. Denton was hit by uncharacteristic snowstorms for two years in a row, forcing the campus this past winter to shut down for four days as crews dealt with ice and snow. Crews worked tirelessly to sand walkways and parking lots and to remove tree branches felled by heavy snow. Such snow events are a regional anomaly—"We rarely have them," Trevino said—yet crews must be prepared to handle them.

Hundreds of miles north, Minot, N.D., received so much snow this past winter that the springtime melt saturated the soccer and baseball fields and delayed the start of league sports. In late April, the park district's soccer fields were "still swamped with snowmelt," and three-quarters of the municipal golf course was underwater, grounds manager and horticulturist Steve Wharton reported at the time.

Responsible grounds maintenance sometimes results in patrons' displeasure, Wharton said: "As soon as the snow is gone, people want to get on the fields. But the field needs time for the water and moisture to soak down into it. Teams are not allowed on the fields if they're wet or frosty."

Because playing on wet fields can wreck the turf, "Someone needs to be in charge and make the call when the fields are ready," Wharton continued. "You have to be careful because the amount of traffic you allow on the turf early on can make or break your entire season."

That means no triple-headers early in the season. "Fields need a break from usage," Wharton said.

Fields also get "tired" and need to be refreshed, but with teams clamoring to make the most of North Dakota's short summers, "it seems like no one ever gets off the fields long enough to dress them up," Wharton said.

It's important that grounds managers, coaches and athletic directors work together to monitor the condition of the fields. Communicating why it's necessary to let the fields rest on occasion is essential for cooperation and forbearance. "It's frustrating for everybody, when people can't get out there and do what they want to do," Wharton said.