4 FM quick reads on grounds care
1. Irrigation System Maintenance Strategies
Comprehensive maintenance of an irrigation system will help grounds managers determine the system's health. If problems exist, it will provide information to help managers determine whether repair or replacement is the wisest decision to ensure the system does not waste water. Effective maintenance should focus on key system components.
Controllers. When an irrigation system is not working correctly, the first component technicians need to check is the controller, which tells the system when to turn on and for how long it should run. In most cases, a programming error is to blame. The most common controller issues involve the controller starting over after it has finished and the irrigation operating at strange times of the day. In both cases, a simple programming error is the cause.
Technicians should check the controller's programming to be sure it contains only the desired start time. They should delete unwanted start times and make sure the start times are correct as to a.m. and p.m. In some cases, the controller reverts to its default settings. The remedy is to reprogram it to the desired start and stop times.
Sprinklers. Irrigation systems feature two types of sprinklers — rotary and stationary. A rotary sprinkler is designed for use on large areas and sends a spray of water rotating in a circle. A stationary sprinkler is used for smaller areas and sends a mist in all directions simultaneously. It is hidden in the ground until the system is pressurized, which makes the sprinkler head pop up.
The most visually obvious problems with irrigation systems are associated with sprinkler heads and result in uneven water coverage and high volumes of water waste. Nozzle heads should pop up completely when the water is on and fully retract when the water is off. If the noticing spray is uneven or intermittent or non-existent, the sprinkler head might be clogged. Dirt, grass and other debris can build up on sprinkler heads and block or redirect the water. Spray nozzles also can get knocked out of adjustment and require regular inspection.
Valves. Water leaks in irrigation systems can result from weather — freezing and thawing — damage from shovels and other sharp tools, vandalism, invasive tree roots, and normal wear and tear. Large leaks are obvious to spot, but smaller leaks might not show up immediately and require careful investigation of system components.
Technicians can look for several common electrical problems related to valves. The wiring connection at the valve has been corroded from failing to use waterproof connectors. The solenoid has failed. Or the wiring between the valve and the controller is damaged. Among the common hydraulic problems with valves is that dirt or debris has gotten inside the valve, or that the diaphragm has a hole or tear.
2. Safety Considerations for Mowing Efficiency
Preparing lawn-mowing equipment for a rigorous mowing schedule can help ensure more efficient and successful operations, and safety is an essential element of this effort. Grounds equipment operators must be sure to inspect all safety features to ensure they are in working order. Grounds managers should not allow operators to override or modify safety devices. Operators should never compromise safety for efficiency. One accident can quickly negate all the benefits of saving a few minutes each day.
Attention and commitment to routine lawn mower maintenance goes a long way to ensuring operator safety. Worn belts and brakes, loose bolts, faulty wiring, improper tire pressure and broken seat belts can contribute to injury.
Manufacturers continually improve safety features on mowing equipment and tractors. Automatic shutoffs, ergonomic hand controls, vibration and noise reduction, roll bars, and seat belts are among the safety features included in today's mowing equipment.
Deflectors and guards are also more common on mower decks and should remain in place when mowing near streets, parking lots and other places where flying objects thrown by the mower might damage property or injure people.
Some manufactures equip riding mowers with back-over protection devices, which prevent the blade from turning while the mower is in reverse. These devices also might include a sensor that stops the engine or the blades or the wheels when it detects a bystander behind the machine.
Managers should set up routine mower maintenance schedules before operations hit full stride. Mechanics should document daily, weekly and monthly maintenance activities and communicate them to operators.
Ease of service must remain a top priority when specifying mowers. If a mower is easy to maintain, it is more likely to receive the care necessary to keep it in good working condition for its expected life.
3. 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."
4. 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."
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