Feature Article - September 2020
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Grounded in Best Practices

High-Demand Outdoor Spaces Require Smart Management

By Dave Ramont


Back on Campus

Over at Rice, Dierker said he expects the pandemic will likely advance their use of new technology. "For example, we're considering robot mowers, an autonomous paint machine for our fields, and we'll be retrofitting our campus trash containers with smart technology—volume sensors. We expect to increase our use of battery-powered equipment in the next 12 to 18 months as well."

All of our college grounds contributors had sports fields to maintain, and they discussed some of the challenges involved, including wear and overuse, invasive weeds, drainage and irrigation issues. "Field marking—which can be elaborate and ever-changing depending on the game—is a challenge, especially later in the season when it's colder and wetter, as it takes the paint longer to dry," said McCaughey.

Beaulieu discussed their multi-use soccer field, which is surrounded by a running track: "We recently finished a complete overhaul of the irrigation system to significantly increase distribution uniformity and ensure head-to-head coverage, resulting in lush, green turf and elimination of stress areas."

And what do those working in cold climates do in the winter? "We have many projects in the winter months," said Connor. "This is a great time to open up the air flow in shrubs and trees by pruning them, adding to details of edging, filling in holes, removing rocks, removing weeds from back doors of buildings that don't get first-class care during the growing season, woodland cleanup and off-season overhaul of equipment."

Of course, all the cold climate dwellers mentioned snow and ice removal as a main task, and other duties mentioned included leaf pickup, painting and repairing site furnishings, prep for the next growing season, ornamental and perennial bed cleanup, furniture and event setups, trash/recycling removal, litter and debris pickup, storm drain cleaning and office moves.

Sharing information is extremely beneficial, and McCaughey said that due to their size, many look to them for ideas, and they host tours and conferences of other schools and grounds professionals. And they also visit other places to see what others are doing. "We work with vendors, students and professors to demo new products and experiment with new techniques. We call campus a living lab. Because we have so many areas of concern, we need to network with many different groups and organizations to do our job well."

"Networking and collaborating with others in the industry is how we grow and continue to get better at our jobs," said Rudy.

"Networking is continually cited as PGMS' best member benefit," according to Bruno. The organization also offers education opportunities through their School of Grounds Management, available in virtual and live formats.

Our contributors all related ways that the pandemic has affected their work, including staff reductions, funding cuts, new projects and installations being put on hold, less in-person communicating and more equipment cleaning. But green things keep growing, people keep venturing outdoors and grounds managers everywhere are working to keep their properties beautiful and sustainable even with fewer resources.

"COVID has prevented many of us from performing all the duties of the job," said Connor. "We spent half the summer with split crews working every third day. The university looks good, but details are missing that we pride ourselves in completing."

Indeed, pride was the common thread in our conversations. "As grounds management professionals, we support our university's teaching and research through our stewardship of the campus' natural resources," said Dierker, "while recognizing the importance of the campus landscape in creating first impressions of our institution." RM