Feature Article - October 2012
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Sustainable Landscape Design

By Rick Dandes

Maintaining the Space

Always interact with the maintenance staff early on in the planning stages of project development, if you want the space to be properly cared for in the future.

"Make sure the guy who is going to mow the 40 acres has a chance to look at the design, or the guy who is charged with maintaining the ball fields, play equipment or surfacing has a chance to take part in the shaping of it," Hornig said. "People would be surprised at how much great information and knowledge maintenance personnel have about their internal systems and operations, and the little tweaks that they can suggest along the way can really help sustain the space efficiently. We make sure those people are involved early on, and this is really important."

Understanding the budget is important as well. Often, a new park development can significantly increase the maintenance requirements, such as the amount of staff required to keep it functional. The elected officials and the public might have a vision of a grand space that has annual flowers, high-detail masonry, sculpture and things like that. But unless you have a handle on expectations, Hornig warned, "you could be asking for trouble, and budget overruns."

Crawford agreed. "One of the things we do for the majority of our clients is that when we are designing any project, we sit down not only with the decision makers and talk about what gets designed and what gets built, but also with maintenance staff. We understand what the challenges are with their existing facilities and how we can avoid those challenges. So the goal is always to make new spaces easier to maintain, because that obviously translates to less hours in the field and less cost for the department."

Many times Hornig and his colleagues will put together an operations budget based on a certain design concept. "If we are doing a 40-acre park," he noted, "we might have three different design concepts, each one with a different level of maintenance and operation requirements over the life of the project."

This is something, he suggested, to keep in mind at the front end of a project. First, what is the capital cost of this to build, but also in the long term, what is the department going to have to budget annually to maintain it?

Walters had practical advice. In order to minimize future maintenance in a project, he said, it is important to reduce turf areas, which will then reduce the amount of mowing, irrigation and use of fossil fuels for maintenance. Incorporating native flora back into a site will create a more sustainable design with less revenue loss due to plant replacement. Natives require less fertilization, disease prevention and pest control as they are naturally adapted to the local environment.

"A general understanding of the natural process of a site and encouraging preservation and conservation in the design program will help to decrease maintenance over a period of time," Walters said.