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4  FM quick reads on grounds care

1. Biodiesel Puts University on Sustainable Ground


When the organization you work for consists of a 639-acre campus that hosts more than 60,000 students, teachers and staff moving among hundreds of buildings, the task of becoming sustainable probably seems overwhelming.

For Ellen Newell, associate director of facilities management with Arizona State University in Tempe, one important step in meeting that challenge meant changing the way grounds care workers moved around the sprawling campus. Specifically, it meant rethinking utility vehicles, the fuels to operate them, and impact of these on sustainability.

"Our university has said it will be carbon-neutral, and this is part of the program," she says. "We'll never get there if someone doesn't push ahead. We said, "We haven't had that many warranty issues. It's been a very good vehicle. We've done the research, and other people have successfully used this. We're going to do it.'"

In 2009, the university committed itself to becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Achieving this goal means balancing the measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount of renewable energy, or offsetting it by planting trees that prevent future greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of her department's efforts to help the university meet this goal, Newell took a closer look at the way the department's 70 full-time grounds care workers moved themselves, as well as equipment and materials, around campus.

"When I first came here (in 2004), we had a lot of pickup trucks — smaller pickup trucks and electric carts," she says. "The student population has been steadily increasing, so now there's a real push to keep vehicles off the malls. I looked at what we had, and we had way too many vehicles driving around. So we started consolidating our work pairs into work teams, and we started buying four-seaters (utility vehicles) that could pull a trailer — and we got rid of a lot of trucks."

Newell next focused on finding equipment options that could help her department and the university in terms of both productivity and sustainability.

"I have the final say (on purchasing), and I was able to direct the department that we are going to phase out full-size trucks and go to these smaller vehicles," she says. "I could see where the university was going, so I said, 'This is what we're going to do.' It was not always the least expensive way to do it, but long-term, I think it made the most sense."


2.  Staffing Considerations for Colder Weather

The arrival of warmer weather means grounds operations in institutional and commercial facilities are entering their most active phase. Grounds crews are focused on the mowers, utility vehicles, skid steers, and smaller pieces of equipment they will use to maintain turf, trim, edge, and plant.

But for most grounds managers, warmer weather also means it is time to start preparing the department for the cooler weather of fall and, all too soon, winter. With equipment and plants accounted for, managers next can turn to the essential steps in preparing crews for their fall and winter responsibilities.

One essential consideration for managers is preparing crews for their fall and winter responsibilities.

"Snow removal and inclement weather procedures and responsibilities are reviewed with staff," says Susanne Woodell, historic gardens manager for the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., which is also a commercial and hospitality facility. "Emergency heating procedures for greenhouses are reviewed. As newer staff is exposed to seasonal tasks, procedures and safety measures are reviewed and someone works with them for training."

New employees unfamiliar with both the equipment and the terrain can present a particular planning challenge for managers.

"Training is a key component for new people who come into the snow plan, so we use our group leaders — the people who are actually out in the field — to help train these new employees on how to operate the pieces of equipment," says Gerry Dobbs, park services superintendent with the Cordova Recreation and Park District in Rancho Cordova, Calif., who also worked at Michigan State University. "It's also important that we map out their route so they actually have a picture of their route. We do spend a fair amount of time preparing for the winter and training staff on how to respond to winter."

3.  Looking Ahead to Winter Weather

The arrival of warmer weather means grounds operations in institutional and commercial facilities are entering their most active phase. Grounds crews are focused on the mowers, utility vehicles, skid steers, and smaller pieces of equipment they will use to maintain turf, trim, edge, and plant.

But for most grounds managers, warmer weather also means it is time to start preparing the department for the cooler weather of fall and, all too soon, winter. With equipment and plants accounted for, managers next can turn to the essential steps in preparing crews for their fall and winter responsibilities.

"Snow removal and inclement weather procedures and responsibilities are reviewed with staff," says Susanne Woodell, historic gardens manager for the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., which is also a commercial and hospitality facility. "Emergency heating procedures for greenhouses are reviewed. As newer staff is exposed to seasonal tasks, procedures and safety measures are reviewed and someone works with them for training."

New employees unfamiliar with both the equipment and the terrain can present a particular planning challenge for managers.

"Training is a key component for new people who come into the snow plan, so we use our group leaders — the people who are actually out in the field — to help train these new employees on how to operate the pieces of equipment," says Gerry Dobbs, park services superintendent with the Cordova Recreation and Park District in Rancho Cordova, Calif., who also worked at Michigan State University. "It's also important that we map out their route so they actually have a picture of their route. We do spend a fair amount of time preparing for the winter and training staff on how to respond to winter."

As institutional and commercial facilities tear down outdated buildings, construct new ones in their place and otherwise alter the landscape, managers need to incorporate changes — both small and large — into their planning and procedures. For this phase, they also can rely on their staffs, as well as other departments.

"We ask the front-line staff to make us aware of any changes," Dobbs says. "For the two universities I worked at, it also was extremely important to keep close ties with engineering and architectural group so we were aware of any road changes or any construction changes that are important so we can adjust our snow-removal schedule. It was also important for us to have a working relationship with the police department at both universities. We also worked with security, as well. From them, we learned the primary road access we needed to open up first, as well as sidewalk access."

4.  Savings from the Grounds Up

When the University of California-Davis started converting turf areas into sustainable landscapes, the process did more than influence current and prospective students attracted to the campus because of its appearance. It charted a course for the university to become one of the most sustainable campuses in the nation.

Over the last decade, the university has transformed about 600 acres of turf to sustainable landscapes. Planting more than 12,000 trees and 200 acres of shrubbery and other native plants has helped the university significantly reduce mowing time for grounds crews. It has saved thousands of gallons of water by reducing irrigation needs, and it has turned turf areas that were costly to maintain into drought-tolerant landscapes that students, staff and visitors can enjoy.

Thanks to a team approach that embraces the ideas and suggestions of many campus departments, adding sustainable landscapes has produced tangible savings for the university in the last decade — most notably, a 10-15 percent reduction in mowing costs and a 20-25 percent reduction in water costs.

The campus offers plenty of space for the design team to work. At 5,300 acres, the university is the largest campus in the University of California system. Only about 150 acres of the campus is devoted to turf, and about 50 of those acres are used for athletic programs. Sustainable landscapes that incorporate campus-generated mulch from tree and shrub pruning, along with native Northern California plants, have replaced other turf areas.

Adding sustainable landscapes has produced savings related to mowing, irrigation and energy. For example, over the last decade, the university has realized savings of 10-15 percent in mowing costs.

"We used to mow twice a week," Avery says. "Now, we mow once a week, and we'll go back and sweep where we need to sweep when there's excess build-up. We've reduced some workload in terms of mowing but at the same time increased (it) in terms of weeding and manual labor with the landscapes."

One of the university's current projects involves converting a mile-long median of a campus road from turf, which required regular maintenance, into a sustainable landscape that features drought-tolerant plants. Avery says the university expects maintenance costs for that area to drop by 40-50 percent, or $40,000-$50,000 a year.


RELATED CONTENT:


grounds care , equipment , sustainability

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