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Joe Fearn: Third Way Green


Water Conservation on Campus: A Tale of Irrigation and Slow, Spread, Soak

Posted 08 March 2017 · 424 views

As of February 28, 64% of the State of Missouri is in the moderate drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is up from 50% the week before, and as of this writing the remainder of the state was in the abnormally dry category.

 

By contrast, California, which had been in a several years-long drought, is now declining in all drought categories. 75% of the state is not rated at all and even the stubborn droughty areas of Southern California are getting moisture. In fact, many areas are now concerned they will not be able to manage any more rain heading into the rainy season. This unpredictable variability regarding water, in an industry heavily reliant on water, demonstrates the need to wisely manage and conserve water at all times.

 

 

 

Irrigation Challenges

When I arrived at Drury University the Grounds Department was faced with the following obstacles in our campus irrigation:

  • Poorly designed, installed, maintained systems
  • Poor communication of water needs for landscape health
  • Lack of monitoring of natural rainfall timing and amounts
  • Poor cycle planning and regular adjustments
  • No desire for water conservation

The main cause for this situation was a lack of adequate irrigation knowledge and responsibility by the in-house staff, and the contractors that installed systems. If either of these parties had fulfilled their professional duties, these challenges could have been avoided.

 

For most of the readers of TurfNet, the high level of understanding regarding irrigation theory and application decreases these difficulties, but they still do occur. Over the last five years Drury Grounds has taken many steps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our irrigation systems. Our approach has been:

  • Appropriate cultural practices (mowing height/frequency, soil health, IPM)
  • Understanding of appropriate irrigation to promote plant health (E/T)
  • Retrofitting of systems to deliver adequate water (coverage, pressure, volume)
  • Retrofitting of systems to maximize system efficiency (smart controllers, sensors, efficient heads & nozzles)
  • Culture of conservation
  • Willingness to eliminate irrigation if appropriate with organizational strategy

We aren't doing anything amazing. But what we are doing is working. Our usage has continued to decline while our overall satisfaction with the landscape continues to increase. My point is that irrigation effectiveness is vital and will promote peripheral landscape benefits as a result. But the pursuit of landscape benefits does not necessarily lead to irrigation conservation.

Stormwater on Campus

Rainfall and stormwater on our campus (courses) is another issue we all face. While we don't have to push up sand in bunkers after a heavy rain, we are still faced with many challenges due to stormwater. These are:

  • City of Springfield MS4 permit  (EPA term for stormwater runoff)
  • Speed with which water moves off campus
  • Erosion and damage
  • Increase infiltration on campus
  • Treatment of water on site (pollution prevention)
  • Budget allotments, competing financial pressures
  • Slow, Spread, Soak

Existing water issues need functional correction that meshes with the landscape.

 

Managing stormwater in (on) the landscape is rarely a priority to an organization if consequences are contained in the landscape. But when the water damages infrastructure, there is increased organizational demand to correct it. But dealing with water before it causes damage is the best, and most cost effective, method of management. To do just this Drury Grounds has endeavored to use the following efforts:

  • Go to where the problem is
  • Take advantage of what water wants to do
  • Keep water on campus
  • Slow, Spread Soak
  • Resource allocation Big Project/Small Project
  • Permission?
  • $$$$$$$$$

Water problems should be viewed as opportunities for increasing Slow, Spread, Soak. The answer here is a rain garden... not a drain.

 

Managing stormwater on campus is a win/win effort for our grounds operation. First, it demonstrates our commitment, in a very proactive way, to our University's infrastructure. Dealing with stormwater BEFORE it can create damage is financial stewardship at its best. Next, it is great public relations. Water conservation is always good press. Our efforts in this area show we are concerned with our organization and our community. For an industry that can sometimes be under environmental scrutiny, this goodwill pays dividends.

 

In conclusion

Water is a valuable resource to both the Grounds manager and the community at large. If we compete for this commodity, then no one wins. Good water management creates allies. When Drury University keeps rainfall on campus it benefits our landscape, but also decreases the amount of water that goes into the sanitary sewers or stormwater system. Nothing written here should be new to grounds Managers. What this blog should do is support water conservation by our industry. When, not if, we face water shortages, it is in our best interest to be seen as a conservation partner, not simply consumers. The best time for water conservation is always.

 

(This is a strategic blog in support of water conservation. My next blog will be tactical, discussing how Drury University manages stormwater on campus)




Rest in Peace, Beaver

Posted 13 February 2017 · 563 views

Here at Drury University we are very interested in supporting the ecology of our area. This effort is challenging in our urban setting. Regardless, it is an effort we see as critical. We install native plants and trees that appeal to pollinators, and act as food sources to the local insects, birds and animals. We evaluate the surrounding neighborhoods and see where we might build larger sections of habitat by creating green corridors. Over the five years I have been here I have seen the results of our efforts. We now see increasing diversity and populations of pollinators, birds and animals.

 

But I never expected to see a beaver (unfortunately, a dead one) on campus.

 

A Beaver? Really?

Tuesday, February 7, I was contacted on Drury Grounds Twitter about a dead beaver near campus. The Tweet asked if I had seen this animal and included a picture of the dead beaver. I replied I hadn't, but asked where it was. The response said in a road that runs directly adjacent to campus. What was a beaver carcass doing in downtown Springfield? While working at a nearby park for Springfield/Greene County Parkboard I had seen one beaver in a boxed-in creek. But that was seven years ago and nearly half a mile away. Our closest running water to where this beaver was found is ¼ mile as the crow flies. I don't know how beavers forage, but ¼ mile doesn't seem too far, if the setting is natural. Our setting is not heavy urban, but it doesn't scream beaver habitat either. Regardless, there was a dead beaver in the road.

 

Strange roadkill for downtown Springfield, Missouri.

 

We Did What We Always Do

In the Grounds Management field dead animals are a regular, if infrequent occurrence. I hadn't thought about the carcass again until Wednesday morning. Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster. While this unusual incident made some buzz in the Facilities department, the story could have ended there... but it didn't.

 

Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster...

 

Spirit of the Bear

I must honestly say that I hold spheres of knowledge I believe is factual but that I don't really know is accurate. My beliefs regarding Native American culture is one of those spheres. I believe Native American Indians lived in harmony with nature. They took what they needed, wasted little to no resources as they used them, and didn't disrupt their environment too heavily. In total, they stepped lightly on the land. They also held nature in high regard. So the teeth and claws of a Grizzly Bear would be an honored and cherished talisman for an Indian and would be passed through generations. When animals gave of themselves for the tribe, they would be appreciated and their spirits revered. The tribe honored the spirit of the bear. I believe this is true without exactly knowing where this knowledge came from.

 

Spirit of the Beaver, Honorable Burial

I also believe in the mysticism of nature. There is a power to it. I don't define it too rigidly for myself, so I will not argue how any of you readers choose to define it, or not define it. Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. I was therefore not surprised when I woke up Thursday morning at 4:40 am with the clear conviction that we should have buried the beaver on campus. My fear as I headed to work was that the dumpster holding the beaver had already been tipped. It hadn't. There was a layer of new trash over the bagged carcass, but it was still there. I wondered about a force at work? We began looking for a place to perform the burial.

 

Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. 

 

There is an area on campus where we have begun a tree planting effort we call saturation-planting. Our goal is to confront our community with a density of young trees that draws attention to lack of small trees elsewhere on our campus, and in our community. We are talking a lot of trees in a smallish space. This area, we figured, would be the most like what a natural beaver habitat would be. We dug deep, lined the hole with wood chips and buried the beaver body. We did not wrap it as we want the soil system to reclaim what it should. As in all of nature, death will support life.

 

 

Eulogy

Nature and Man don't always coexist in harmony. I am under no illusion that man's needs will sometimes (frequently) not supersede natures. Often I agree with this one sidedness. But I also believe deeply in the idea that opportunities for co-existence and co-habitation abound. Many opportunities for mutuality are discounted out of hand, diminished by competing priorities, or simply never dreamed of in the first place.

 

Posting about this story on Facebook got 2,884 views as of this writing. All the comments were positive. I think it is safe to say that there is a sentiment in our area (nation?) that values animals and nature. Many people see that by helping people, and other living creatures, we are also helping ourselves. Nearly all Groundskeepers I have met have a strong nature-supporting ethic. Burying this beaver was our way of demonstrating that.

 




Joe Fearn’s Management Maxims

Posted 17 January 2017 · 571 views

Being a successful operation is about making pieces work effectively together. One of those pieces are the relationships in a team. The relationships are created by the principles that guide our work. These relationships might be task related, timing related, hierarchically related, and are usually contextual. Context is fluid, and requires a framework that can give it meaning and logical structure. Because while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos. Pursuit of a goal denotes unity of purpose. It is for this reason that over the years I have come up with several maxims that help to articulate context and shared belief to my crew. I would like to share a few and let you try them on for fit.

 

When at work, be at work

This may seem obvious. Honestly speaking though, I occasionally will find myself performing tasks or passing the time in ways that are not really getting me farther down my grounds management road. Catching up on a coworker's news, getting a second (or third) cup of coffee, or looking for that long lost mulch kit baffle will eat up time but is not work. I think back to a comic strip that was posted in our grounds shop at George Mason University. The punch line was "It seems it has taken me a particularly long time to get nothing done today". Committing to stay productive doing something accomplishes much even if it is not the biggest priority.

 

...while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos."

 

You achieve what it is you want to achieve

I believe that I have a good grasp of what my crew can reasonably accomplish. We (the crew and I) will also sit down to develop priorities and review the rationale of those priorities. Therefore it is frustrating to me when things do not get accomplished. What I'll tell my crew is something was accomplished, just not the something we were pursuing. Instead of doing what we agreed, or what they were told to do, a competing objective took place. This competing objective was also done with the active participation of the crew. So my belief is that if they wanted to do the work that needed done, they were perfectly empowered to do so. It also occasionally demonstrates a purposeful willingness of the crew to put their priorities first. What you (I) really want to accomplish will likely get done. Make sure it is what was planned.

 

There are many different ways to achieve a happy, productive crew.

 

You cannot define/dictate what I believe

Work in a grounds crew cannot be judged from only one vantage point or perspective. Occasionally when calling a crew member to task, we will disagree on what is happening. If my crew member says he is doing his job, he might very well be doing it based on his judgement, but not according to mine. I am sometimes told I am not considering all information available. This is sometimes true. But the crew must extend me the same respect and consider that their point of view may be the erroneous one. Making a decision unilaterally can lead to conflict, but it cuts both ways.

 

I'll be as eager to pursue your objectives as you are to pursue mine

As the head groundskeeper my job is to set objectives and determine the best way to achieve them. I try very hard to consider both the spoken, and unspoken, needs/preferences of my crew when doing so. What I don't get to do is unilaterally dictate all that is undertaken during each minute of the day. To attempt to do so would certainly create more resentment than it is worth. So I try to give my crew enough leeway so they do not feel they work in a prison nor can't exercise any freewill. Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want. Maintaining some modicum of fairness goes a long way to maintaining morale and productivity.

 

Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want...

 

Internal locus of control... external standard for success

This is one of my bottom lines. I decide whether I am successful or not. I can't put the responsibility for any failures on anyone else. My boss doesn't make me fail, or succeed. I can persevere no matter the situation and attempt to turn circumstances to my favor. I also can't unilaterally declare that I am successfully performing my job. My boss (organization) gets some say in what success looks like. If the people around me aren't getting their needs met, or have legitimate expectations that aren't met, it is up to me to strive to understand that. Another way to say this maxim is "I decide to meet your needs".

 

Good management helps us instill pride in our operation.

 

Success requires shared understanding

The grounds crew at Drury is not a dictatorship. Sometimes I think it might be easier for me if it were, but I know I couldn't work in one. I am extended significant leeway to do what I think is best, and I want to extend that same level of freedom to my team. That is not the same in any way as compromising principles or expectations. The compromises I make are on allowing the team (organization) to have input into creating successes, not simply in doing the work. This shared understanding (responsibility), resulting from my management maxims, makes us a more effective, and happier, crew.




Put a Bow on It...

Posted 24 December 2016 · 543 views

Another year has come and (nearly) gone. Although we in the green industry are frequently regulated by seasons, the ending of the calendar year provides a significant point to take stock. It strikes me as unusual how I tend to be reflective and look back as December comes to a close. But then PING, it is January 1 and I begin totally looking forward again. On one level this is good because failures of the past year do not persist in bogging me down. On the other hand I may not be evaluating the past year sufficiently in assisting my preparation for the coming year. This year I want to look back on my year and ponder it. What did I experience last year?

 

Time Flies

I once read a short story by Stephen King called My Pretty Pony. In this story, an old man on his deathbed attempts to warn his grandson about how time seems to accelerate as you get older, and how easy it is to let it slip away. Aside from considering I now have teenage kids, and dont jump off the pickup like I used to, I feel time fly. Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows. February's dormant pruning slides into preemergents, slides into color rotation, slides into irrigation repairs, slides into aerating/overseeding, slides into tree planting, slides into leaf mulching and then comes full circle. Not to mention the myriad chores that just pop up endlessly. We really accomplished a lot on campus, but I wanted to do so much more.

 

Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows...

 

Continuing the Expansion of Landscaping on Campus

I came to Drury as a student in 2006 and only started working here in 2011. This dual connection with the University over the past decade has given me a unique perspective to cast judgment on the campus landscaping and to formulate a plan for getting it there. In 2011 Drury basically was trees and grass. Over the past year, Drury Grounds continued installation of new planting beds in several high visibility areas. These 2016 beds built upon a design concept and overall landscape plan that enhances the landscape appeal on campus. It is now more likely that patrons will encounter ornamental landscaping at Drury. Improving the ornamental function of campus helps convey our unique identity to our community. This steady expansion will continue next year too, but will likely slow so we can solidify maintenance improvements on campus also.

 

Adding new beds on campus add to landscaping appeal.

 

Tree Campus and ArborDay

2016 marked the second year Drury University was awarded Tree Campus status by the ArborDay Foundation. This was a big deal for us. While trees and golf courses may have a strained relationship, here at DU trees reign supreme. Achieving Tree Campus (1 of only 8 in Missouri) puts us in a special category of universities and demonstrates our commitment to the urban forest.

 

This certification also plays an important role in integrating Drury Grounds into the larger campus and gives us an opportunity to contribute. Tree Campus tangibly exhibits the ability of our landscape operation to determine a worthy goal and methodically achieve that goal. With all of the responsibilities any grounds crew has in a year, staying focused on the largest goals is rewarding.

 

MDC Urban Forester awards Tree Campus to Drury University on behalf of ArborDay Foundation

 

The Human Aspect

One area that needed a lot of my attention in 2016 was the human resource aspect of my job. First, Drury Grounds continued to have some turnover in the crew. We were only fully staffed (six crew members) for about two months total. There were new external jobs, an internal transfer, and a graduation that all played a part. Our hiring process can take some time and that also had an impact. Currently we are seeking one new Groundsman, and my length of stay for the others is 2 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 2 & 8 years respectively. This proved a challenging year in that there was/is ALOT of training that is taking place. These guys all mean well, but, as we all know, there is much knowledge/experience that goes into our jobs. A competent crew takes time.

 

The other human resource consideration was the arrival of a new DU president, Dr. Tim Cloyd, and his new administration. The arrival of a new president doesnt affect the day to day, but it does affect the big picture. Understandably, and appropriately, the new president has a vision for the University. Dr. Cloyd certainly does. This vision is then passed down channels and it is up to us (Grounds) to carry out our part. The last six months has proven to be exciting and challenging. But this is definitely a good thing because it helped us stay sharp.

 

I Still Get To Do the Job I Love

My biggest reflection is my overall job satisfaction. I still love landscaping. The out of doors, physical work, changing conditions, and the overall pursuit of worthwhile work all come together to give my work purpose. This is no small benefit and certainly worth remembering, again. And last but not least

 

Happiest Holidays to the extended TurfNet family and thanks for the opportunity to participate! And of course, Happy New Year!

 

Joe Fearn

 

Groundskeeping is still a job that allows the crew to have fun while still working hard.




Going To See the Doctor...

Posted 22 November 2016 · 660 views

Let me start right off saying I am not talking about that kind of doctor (a physician). The doctor I am talking about is Dr. Brad Fresenburg, Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Turfgrass Science. While Dr. Fresenburg works in Columbia, MO., he travels extensively as a turf/sports turf expert, Master Gardener lecturer, and pesticide applicator certification instructor.

 

Brad is a true turf devotee and approaches his job with a real-world perspective. He knows the minutiae of turf management but allows us regular folk to feel more at home with the science of turf management. I always feel more capable after hearing from him and that is the benchmark of a great teacher. He loves to share his knowledge, and that is how I managed to make a trip to see him on his home turf (lol). Visiting MU, I got to see many facets of grounds management at a big time university.

 

Dr. Brad Fresenburg

 

The Farm

The first thing I saw when I got to the research farm was an incredible array of different grass stands. There was tall plots, short plots, dark green plots, browning plots, weedy plots, and all sorts of in-between plots. The Turfgrass Science program is experimenting with everything here. Once we started driving the area, order was explained. They have 32 K sq. ft. of putting greens built to PGA specs. On these they are testing 20 varieties of creeping bentgrass in 5 x 5 plots on the greens.

 

They also test wetting agents, chemicals, and fertilizers. In another stand they are testing Zoysia and Bermuda to determine what varieties have the best cold tolerance, and resistance to large patch and Spring Dead Spot, respectively. There is even a disease green that is especially built to exacerbate poor conditions including poor drainage and airflow. Beyond just putting greens many other plots are in National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) tests. Plots are regularly inspected and graded to assess how well these grasses perform in the Transition Zone.

 

Putting green test plots.

 

Dr. Miller with the Zoysia test plots.

 

Sports Fields on Campus

As a groundskeeper for a university, I have the opportunity to participate in sports turf/field management. At Drury we manage an artificial grass multi use field, a NCAA compliant natural grass baseball field and several turf fields that are used for intramural sports/activities. Because of this aspect of my job I was very excited at the prospect of visiting the MU Tigers sports facilities. As a member of the SEC, MU has the highest standards for its athletic playing fields.

 

We started at Faurot Field (Memorial Stadium) which is an artificial turf field. I was struck by the visible crowning of the field (not easily discernible from stands or TV), and the quality of the field (3 years old, life expectancy of 5-6). From there we visited the soccer, softball and baseball fields, plus the FOUR practice fields (two used by football). All very impressive with very well maintained turf (Bermuda, newly overseeded with perennial rye). I must say I most enjoyed seeing the new construction of the softball field and the newly installed Barenbrug HGT sod.

 

Faurot Field

 

MU softball field construction with Barenbrug HGT sod.

 

Fresenburg Wisdom

Perhaps the best part of the tour was hearing the stream of consciousness commentary from Dr. Fresenburg. Seeing turf through an experts eyes is enlightening. As we drove, I had a chance to ask Brad some questions.

 

My first was what he felt has had the biggest impact on turf maintenance? His response was all the improvements to turf selections. The improved cultivars we now have in the turf industry allow for improvements in turf quality beyond just what our current cultural practices could achieve.

 

Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it...

 

My next question was how had he changed over the years? His response was the steady increase in confidence due to an increase in knowledge and experiences. He is more confident in his ability to share information and provide guidance.

 

My last question was what he felt was to be the next big thing? Brad said the ability to share and obtain information rapidly (the internet). Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it. As experienced grounds managers, many of us can agree with this concern.

 

A Thoroughly Enjoyable Field Trip

Sometimes even necessary field trips are mundane or uninspiring. This was a trip that left me enthused. Seeing the turf research facility, sports fields, main campus, but especially hearing from a renowned turf expert, motivated me. Our work as grounds managers, and the field we all participate in, is remarkable.

 

My personal favorite, though, was from a sustainability standpoint. I was encouraged when I saw the low input turf test plots. Many of these plots had clover seeded with them (old school approach) and several even had Yarrow. Another area was testing wildflowers and native grasses. Low input vegetation is something that will become more popular in the near future. Turf and Grounds management is a multifaceted craft that blends manual and mental labor in demanding, challenging ways. My visit to Mizzou reminded me of the professional skill and science our field requires.

 

Low-input turf test plots.




Establishing Objectives

Posted 20 October 2016 · 796 views

One of the most common concepts that contributes to a team's success is to have clear objectives. Clear objectives provide direction and framework for how to proceed in your work. These objectives can be precise, such as increasing the tree canopy or completing your mowing route in "x" number of days. Or they can be broad so as to create context for where your grounds operation will move toward. Here at Drury we have come up with five objectives to guide our work as we strive to fulfill our organizational duties.

 

Functional

Functional in this context means we come alongside the strategic imperatives for Drury University. This primarily means our campus landscaping, and the Grounds team, supports the academics on campus. We have designed several outdoor class areas that students can use instead of staying inside. Students are included in our DU Landscape Advisory Committee, as are faculty. In order to obtain recertification each year as an ArborDay Foundation Tree Campus, we must include students in a program to educate our campus about trees. Our functional objective also includes grounds integrating into the strategic efforts of the university such as enrollment, community involvement, and staff morale.

 

Aesthetic

The aesthetic of the campus has to do with the way the landscape looks to our community. Perhaps more importantly, aesthetics also strongly influences how our community feels when they are here. The aesthetic of a place leaves a lasting impression. On one hand, landscape design is a hugely diverse arena, with as many preferences as there are people. But fortunately there is also a center design perspective which the majority of people resonate with in a positive way. Most of our campus reflects this center. A visitor will not be shocked by most of what they see, but will understand and appreciate our look. A smaller facet that we also want to appeal to is the outlying perspectives. Drury Grounds seeks to create many spaces, however small, that anyone who visits campus might call their own.

 

 

 

Financial

Of course no discussion of organizational objectives would be complete with discussing finances. Taking care of a college campus, even a small to midsize one (Drury is 100 acres m/l) can cost a lot of money. There is also usually a clear relationship between budget and quality. While it can make sense to try to get more money for our landscaping, it is not simply a question of funding. Drury Grounds seeks to manage its budget through value, flexibility and cost containment. Value means that we are constantly looking to make wise purchases, protecting long term assets, and expanding in-house capabilities. Flexibility means that we seek to bring our money alongside other departments and efforts in order to achieve a multiplier effect. Cost containment means we shop competitively, only purchase what is necessary, and monitor our budget closely. We also understand that some other areas of campus warrant bigger budget and support these areas efforts too.

 

Sustainability and Environmentalism

The landscaping paradigm is changing. I have seen it firsthand in the nearly 30 years I have been involved in it. Here at Drury this means taking a sustainable approach. We look to improve the ecologic/environmental services our campus contributes for our on campus population, and the Springfield community. As green space diminishes, green areas left become ever more important. Pervious surfaces contribute to water quality. Plants and trees support pollution control and habitat. Increasing species diversity of all organisms delivers ecosystem stability. These sustainability efforts provide a matrix which weaves around our other objectives. The amazing thing about sustainability is that it can underpin and support any landscape objective and can multiply their effects in positive ways.

 

Native plant rain garden on campus captures all much roof water from low volume rain events.

 

Outreach and Marketing

Our organizations are highly competitive both externally (customers, competitors) and internally (other departments, alternative strategic priorities). Not everyone in our organizations thinks the Grounds is vitally important. Through implementing our first 4 strategic objectives we seek to justify our existence. But we must also share news of our contributions eagerly. Sometimes people may not be aware of all we do, or they simply never get to certain parts of campus to see for themselves. Drury Grounds enthusiastically participates in many campus efforts from Freshmen First Day, Commencement, to Staff Advisory Council. We seek to support efforts throughout campus based on what our community needs rather than on only what is best for us. We utilize communication, including social media, to get our word out. This is not bragging, but simply sharing the good word. It is crucially important that we be good ambassadors for ourselves.

 

https://www.facebook.com/DruryGrounds/

 

https://twitter.com/DruryGrounds

 

https://www.instagram.com/drury_grounds/

 

Taking Action

Creating objectives isn't the only step to successfully managing your grounds. Objectives give you the destination, but not the road map to get there. But you can have a map and no destination. Neither alone will get you where you are going. These objectives are also not etched in stone either. Our grounds organizations must be flexible enough to be influenced by legitimate outside considerations. We don't work on an island. The next step is likely to create benchmarks and criteria that will allow us to determine our achievements. And achievement is what the objectives are all about.




Don't Call It Sustainability (the "S" word)

Posted 14 September 2016 · 1,102 views

I don't know if it is me, or if there really is a hesitancy by people to adopt sustainable landscaping practices. It could be me, because I preach sustainability, and honestly my message can be fire and brimstone at times. But I also wonder if there isn't a weird kind of sustainability reluctance (sustainability overload perhaps) that turns people away from any landscape called sustainable'. In my 25 years of landscaping, sustainable has meant saving time, money and staff, resources I never had enough of. But even 10 years ago I wouldn't have used the word sustainable. I was just trying to supply value. You see sustainable landscaping is really more about value, rather than anything tree-huggy or save-the-world effort. Let me explain.

 

Defining Value

If you define value as a noun, it means "the importance, worth or usefulness of something". If you define it as a verb, it means "to consider something to be important or beneficial". For the landscape or golf course, both of these definitions fit. Our organizations value the landscape. This is because we play on them, work in them, study in them, and even use the landscape to market our organizations. Landscapes also provide ecological services such as rain water diversion, pollution scrubbing, temperature moderation, and carbon sequestration. Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive. Kind of an upwards benefit cycle. A landscape that provides value can be sustained. A landscape that does not create value is not sustainable.

 

Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive...

 

Aesthetic Value

Landscapes are frequently valued on how they look. A college campus should appear well-kept. This means the landscape contains no overgrown plants, few weeds and no dead bushes. The landscape should also have some plant variety (color) and the design should adhere to accepted landscaping principles (open to broad perspective, a blog in itself!). Likewise, a sports field or course should have uniform turf, be relatively weed free and demonstrate aesthetic maintenance practices. These practices may be limiting pest sign/symptoms and artistic stripe mowing. The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management. Aesthetic value is the most obvious means by which a landscapes value can be measured, but is also highly subjective to the eye, and requirements, of the beholder.

 

The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management...

 

Functional Value

Value can also be found in how the landscapes supports/enhances the organizations goals. On a golf course this is quality golf experience for club members and patrons. It is also a pleasing experience for visitors who possibly come to a course for peripheral offerings such as dining or swimming. Here at Drury our main objective is providing a high quality education for our students. The landscape must create an atmosphere that is pleasing and safe for our community, plus is complementary to the learning environment. Another important function is enhancing the environment/ecology of our campus. The functional landscape markets the organization. It helps create the perception (reality) that solidifies the image the organization seeks to portray.

 

Financial Value

Frequently, financial value trumps all others. Financial value is largely about matching available resources with the desired landscape output. While this value can be measured in dollars, one must also see beyond direct grounds costs. Money spent on grounds cannot be spent elsewhere, and vice versa. I have found that money will flow to areas that create value (not always, but without value, I guarantee the money will dry up eventually). In some instances, revenue can be used to evaluate value, but there is not always a clear relationship between the landscape and its costs/benefits. Financial value may be seen from different perspectives by the Grounds Professional and the organization, but adopting a shared understanding of financial value can be established.

 

Properly designed beds require less maintenance, but still return value in the right location. This bed could not be placed at the entrance to the Visitors Center.

 

Sustainable Value

In my experience, "sustainable" conjures up an image of wildness, letting the landscape go, or if I am fortunate, a tallgrass prairie. But none of these areas is appropriate for the majority of organizations. Sustainable to me is asking "will the landscape do what I need organizationally if I walk away?" This proposition is significantly more complicated than simply good horticulture, or liquid propane mowers. Sustainability can be hard to sell, but everyone wants value. My task as a Grounds Manager is to acceptably unite the sustainable landscape with organizational value. Because if the organization doesn't value me, I won't have an opportunity to be sustainable.

 

Landscaping can unite many metrics of value: Aesthetic, Functional and Financial. Even the bike rack and signage convey understanding of sustainable value.




What’s Griping Me?

Posted 18 August 2016 · 1,061 views

That's it. For this blog I am not going to take the high road. I am not going to say to myself "put yourself in their shoes". I am not going to look to understand the other perspective. I am not going to be a good soldier. This is going to be a vitriolic, hate-spewing, anger-filled, lament of many of the idiotic things I have to put up with as the head groundskeeper at a university. I am looking to vent, and vent big. So, to my fellow groundskeepers, sit back and see if you don't say "been there, done that" while you are reading. In actuality, this blog isn't really going to scorch your ears, but I think you will understand.

 

Who Is Most Qualified On Campus to Make Grounds Decisions?
I know you golf course guys may not love trees, but here at Drury the campus forest is THE THING. It is what our community knows us for. As a diehard treehugger (smile when you say that) I am fine with that. What drives me crazy, though, is when people freak out that a tree needs to be removed. I'm not even sure sometimes how people find out about tree removal plans. Invariably someone will say "I love that tree and it doesn't need to be removed". Like I'm some chainsaw-happy psycho that wants to clear cut campus. If I can safely save a tree I will. And as an ISA Certified Arborist I am obligated to do what is culturally best for the tree. But what do I know?
 
Maybe this tree DIDN'T need to come down.
 
Contradictory Mandates
All landscaping entails some level of financial investment. The more culture, the higher the price. So less culture should mean less price... but not always. Try eliminating all overseeding of turf and see what happens. You will save money in the short term, but turf quality will drop, and the recovery expense will be significant. The flip side of less resource investment is lower quality, but that isn't tolerable either. So what am I to do? My suggestion is to adapt the landscape quality expectations to financial expenditure expectations. But they rarely match up. Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?
 

Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?

 
Homeowner Supplies for a Commercial Campus
When I first got to Drury, the equipment (and tools) left a lot to be desired. Almost everything we had was bent, repaired, missing parts, or just missing. My boss has been very supportive and now when I look around I see some quality names. Stihl power equipment, Bully shovels/rakes (100% Made in The USA, how often do you see that?), Ryan, Felco/Corona, etc. Having equipment that can put up with hard use is essential. Good equipment and systems cost a bit more money.Right now I am trying to supply irrigation to a soccer field with 1" poly and I can only run the system for 8 hours overnight. It is a question of supply and demand that just doesn't add up. Buy a 24" Mac or a custom office chair? Sure! But a booster pump and a commercial grade system (can you say Falcon Rotors?)? Thats too much. But what do I know?
 
It's Just Grass
Many people on campus feel qualified to tell me how to do my job. I get advice from (I hope) well-meaning community members about fertilizer regimes, watering, mowing practices, etc. When the grass is growing rapidly in spring, there are emails about how tall the grass is getting. I try to explain the 1/3 rule, root-to-shoot ratio, the concern with mowing too wet soil, etc. all to no avail. Everyone is an expert. Hey, their grass looks great! I'll tell them that there are DOCTORS who ONLY study turfgrass, and that Ill listen to them (I do). I also suggest when they have mowed a 60 Scag Hydro walk behind, w/ 5 gallon gas tank, DRY in one apartment complex, well talk. Or, when they have green grass five weeks into a drought without irrigation, they can give me advice. But what do I know?
 
I guess we do need your advice, because we obviously can't grow turf.
 
My Crew Doesn't Get Off Free 
My crew loves to point the finger at me when we don't achieve our objectives. You didn't tell me what to do, you didn't tell me when to finish, etc. Weve heard it all before. Yes, they have been mowing for five years, but they didn't know to check the mow height every time. At this point I ask them a question. When you want to screw off, do you ask my permission? "Hey Joe, after lunch I'm going to screw off for a couple of hours, okay?" No, you just do it. So why do you need me to tell you how to work? When their time sheets are wrong they are nuclear physicists, solving complex problems. But when they need to solve a problem in the field they are morons. (Remember, I'm venting).
 
I'm sure it's my fault they are not working...
 
A Trained Monkey Cannot Manage Grounds
While based in fact, this post is a little tongue-in-cheek. I love my job. My organization values Grounds and supports us. But our task is not easy. We are, at the end of the day, well trained, high functioning experts. I think I'll walk into a surgery suite, push the doc aside and say "Hey, I think I can do this, I used to watch E.R." How would that go over? Let us pros worry about the grounds. We'll take good care of you.



i-Tree Canopy and Drury University Cover Assessment

Posted 21 July 2016 · 708 views

Drury University covers right at 100 acres in midtown Springfield, Missouri. If I had to summarize what Drury looks like, I would say it is a traditional landscape with primarily traditional architecture. When our community is asked to describe the campus landscape, most people remark on our many trees, and the park-like setting we reside in. Without a doubt, Drury University presents an image of a vibrant landscape that is in harmony with the built environment it resides in. In an effort to truly understand what the cover matrix of our footprint is, we decided to dig deeper than outward appearances.

 

What is i-Tree Canopy?

i-Tree is a suite of software that was developed by the USDA Forest Service. These tools provide state of the art means to analyze the urban/rural forest and assess the benefits these areas provide. There are several tools for planning and monitoring the forest, and they all provide accurate scientific data. For this application we chose i-Tree Canopy. According to i-Tree, Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types. I suggest golf courses could also use canopy to measure greens, fairways, roughs, trees, etc. to determine ratios of those covers.

 

Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types...

 

How Does i-Tree Work?

To use Canopy, a user determines the area to be assessed and defines a sampling area. This software uses Google Maps and it is very easy to create boundaries in which the sampling will occur. For our plot, we outlined the entire footprint of our campus, even though our property lines can be irregular. One difficulty that may be experienced if your area is large is how close you are able to zoom the interface screen. But this was a minor concern. Once the boundaries are set the user determines cover classes (trees, buildings, etc.) and uploads these into the i-Tree file. Random points are generated and a simple drop down menu allows the user to assign each point a cover class. The more points you sample, the more accurate your assessment becomes.

 

The heart of Drury campus represents 60% of its footprint and clearly illustrates its different cover classes.

 

Cover Classes

In our assessment I created nine different cover classes. These were: Tree Over Pervious, Tree Over Impervious, Turf, Planting Beds, Roads & Parking Lots, Sidewalks & Plazas, Buildings, Pervious Other, and Impervious Other. These are reasonably self-explanatory but were defined because of our particular campus matrix. Any user can create a self-defined list, or use the standard one provided in Canopy.

 

Data

As of this writing I have plotted 500 points. This quantity gives me a range of statistical error from +/- 0.76 to +/- 1.98. I intend to plot 1000 points total and all of my statistical error should be under one. This may not satisfy MIT researchers, but will definitely suffice for my purposes. 

 

 

Interpretation

As you can see, our largest cover class is roads and lots, representing 26.7% of our campus. Our impervious area is 57.13% when the impervious areas (roads/lots, buildings, sidewalks, impervious other, tree over impervious) are added together. Our tree canopy totals 14.81% and our turf area is 20.6% (this doesn't include turf under trees which is classified as Tree Over Pervious). Planting Bed areas represent only a fraction of the overall campus and significantly less than turf.

 

Implications

I don't have comparative institutions to measure Drury against, but when our biggest component is roads & lots, I don't think that is good. Granted, we are an urban campus, but Drury uses its landscape to sell itself as an aesthetic and sustainable campus. Drury cover matrix is significantly better than the typical mall or shopping center, but likely not as good as the matrix of a golf course, or recreational parks complex. Another benefit of this data is it gives us a point in time as a baseline that we can use to understand future changes. As we continue to develop our campus it will be vital that we determine what we want our mix of cover types to be. 




Create market differentiation with the landscape...

Posted 15 June 2016 · 807 views

Driving through midtown Springfield recently I was struck by how devoid of unique landscaping much of my city is. I was also struck by landscaping that was uniformly boring and in many cases, virtually nonexistent. Yet there was remarkable variety to the architecture of the buildings, and the marquis street signs/billboards were also very unique. These observations made me wonder about how any organization uses the landscape to first support its business, and then how it might help differentiate it from competitors.

 

Nice building, nice signage, non-descript landscape. This site could look better at no additional cost (redirect maintenance $) and stand out from its competitors.

 

In sports turf (golf included) it is pretty obvious how the landscape supports the organization. The layout, playability, and maintenance quality all mesh together to make a ball field (course) that people will want to (pay to) play on. But when people can choose from two arenas that are essentially the same on these criteria, differentiation along other metrics can make a difference. But how does this occur?

 

Support the Brand

Branding is a multi-faceted way of telling your customer who and what your business is. Here at Drury University we want to portray our school as having top flight academics, excellent value for the money, and a comprehensive campus life experience that enriches our students. This strategy influences how we manage the landscape on campus. Our landscape manifests a commitment to the brand through the landscape design, reasonable expenditure of funds, integration into education, and providing a safe and pleasing landscape for our community. The way the campus looks reinforces the message that admissions, faculty, and student life seek to portray. An organization that wants to prosper cannot have lack of continuity between stated brand and the actual appearance of the physical site it occupies.

 

Enhance the Experience

No matter why people come to our university, they get the landscape. This is always a risk/reward proposition, because of exposure. Whether a patron comes to your club for dinner or swimming, they see the landscape on the course and at the clubhouse. They see your carts and your crew. How well these highly visible aspects of the landscape mesh with the desired customer experience will either help or harm your organization, and maybe more importantly, your landscaping/maintenance operation. As a service entity within a service entity, the Grounds Department can assist in creating a memorable experience, or at the very least, not help to create a bad experience. Grounds is frequently the first staff encountered by visitors to your site, is frequently asked for directions, and sometimes are even asked to assist carrying packages. If you can help create a meaningful experience for your patrons, they will remember it.

 

Build Cross Function with other Efforts & Events

Closely related to the previous point is supporting the functions that other departments hold on your campus. Drury University has student visits, sports events, alumni homecoming, etc. We regularly will host larger events from local, regional and even national entities. If the Grounds Department can figure a way to make these events special for the patron or department, it will be beneficial to you and your organization. During the lead up to a recent debate tournament attended by people from all over the U.S., Drury Grounds began Tweeting our preparations and that we were glad this group was coming. Prior to a recent wedding on campus, we toured the area with the wedding party to determine what we could provide to be sure they were satisfied with their wedding on campus. These were small steps that likely would have occurred anyway, but including other participants make them feel special and valued.

 

The entry to Drury Lane projects a different feel than anything else in our area. It also builds upon what will be seen in parts of campus.

 

Create Something Uniquely Your Own

Drury University is in competition with other universities for a customer that is steadily decreasing its population in the U.S., the High School senior. We strive to entice prospective students by showing all that our school has to offer. Invariably, a student compares what they see at Drury with what may be obtained elsewhere, and then chooses which school to attend. In order to compete, DU could invest more resource in its campus Grounds and improve their appearance to be more like Ole Miss, George Mason or Wash. U. But we would still be a pale comparison, because we do not have the cache or prestige of these schools. It is only logical that we create a paradigm that is unique to Drury that students will not find elsewhere. To get people thinking about a unique campus I jokingly say I want to reintroduce Timber Wolves on campus. Drury Grounds is striving to be an aggressively ecologic campus even while maintain traditional landscape areas.

 

The landscape at Bay Hall is beautiful but likely doesnt create significant differentiation from competitors. even with additional resource investment.

 

It All Adds Up to Competitive Advantage

I know someone is not coming to Drury simply because of the Grounds. If someone wants to go to Vanderbilt, nothing Drury has will likely convince them to come here. But if someone is not strongly attached to a particular choice (golf course) there are factors that can tilt the field in your favor. When certain factors (price, location, availability) are equal, other factors (course quality, friendliness, uniqueness, and customer service) could be the deciding factor. Here at Drury, and more than likely at your site, these are the management factors we can improve on to create a desirable, differentiated product.

 








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