4  FM quick reads on grounds care

1. Savings from Centralization for One University


The phrases "Beaumont Depot" and "bottom line" probably were not used in the same sentence very often before 2009. But difficult financial circumstances and more than a little foresight combined to turn the little-used parcel of land on the Michigan State University campus into a central storage and staging area for an array of services and projects on the campus — and a triple win for its landscape services department.

First, it streamlined the process of overseeing the flow of materials for supervisors who must think like business people.

"We're held accountable in terms of how much material is actually being charged to the job, as well as the hours," says Gerald Dobbs, who is the university's landscape services manager. "Our challenge is to be the best buy here at the university for this type of service. So by keeping it centralized, we're able to reduce costs. That's been a real big boon for us.

"We're able to keep track of the materials and keep them secure, and we're better able to account for what we've got. If we have to respond rapidly and supply materials, we're able to do that because we know exactly where they're at. We also have the equipment available to load it. It's helped us in developing a service for the university so we're able to be a service provider of choice in this respect."

Second, Beaumont Depot has brought greater efficiency to the process of performing day-to-day landscaping activities.

"With everything being centralized in one location, we've cut down on a lot of effort of going from spot to spot on campus trying to locate enough material to do a particular job," Dobbs says. "We're more accurately able to account for and charge accurately to the work orders for the materials we need. We're also able to reduce labor costs because instead of charging the work order for several hours spent trying to locate materials in various parts of campus, we have it all in one location."

Third, the expanding operations have made the department more competitive — campus departments can choose to bring in off-campus contractors instead of hiring in-house departments, such as landscape services — and it has created more work. But it also has created jobs.

"It has provided quite a bit of extra work for our staff," Dobbs says. "We've been able to bring extra revenue to our department, and we've been able to hire a few extra people, who now have full-time jobs with benefits, in order to help us run this operation."


2.  The Light Construction-Grounds Care Link

Grounds managers looking to improve the appearance, maintainability and sustainability of exterior landscape and turf areas often undertake renovations to achieve these goals. These projects can require a major commitment of time and resources, including the need to either buy or rent light-construction equipment, such as compact track loaders, skid-steer loaders, and backhoe-loaders. To deliver cost-effective, successful renovations of landscapes using such equipment, managers first need to determine project needs.

Construction equipment that is the appropriate type, size and capacity can turn labor-intensive, time-consuming landscape projects into more easily manageable work. But the equipment needs to allow managers work within tight budgets.

Specific equipment needs depend on the tasks at hand. Removing debris and grass clippings from turf areas during the growing season requires rotary mowers and gang mowers with mulching blades and baggers. Controlling pests and applying fertilizers requires spreaders. Pruning and shaping evergreens, ground cover, trees and shrubs requires electric or gas-powered clippers and trimmers. Trimming turf adjacent to borders and sidewalks requires edgers. Leaf and branch removal require power saws, blowers, vacuums, chippers, and mulchers to prepare the material for recycling around flower, plant and tree beds.

Crews also need dozers, motor graders and dump trucks to handle turf, dirt, rock and gravel and perform grading operations. Tillers and aerators prepare soil for seeding or laying sod, which is a quick way to produce a professional look for large turf spaces without waiting for seeds to germinate. Laying sod is also a good way to start turf on sloping areas without the risk of washout.

Snow removal from sidewalks, driveways and parking lots requires a variety of equipment, some of which departments can store on the property for the winter season. Examples of the snow-removal equipment that crews might need, depending on the size of the property, include: trucks with 9-foot plows; skid-steer loaders or track loaders with 1-yard buckets; rubber-tire loaders with 3-yard buckets; snow throwers; salt trucks with attachments for spreading and plowing; push plows with 10-, 12-, and 16-foot blades; and 1- and 4-yard snow buckets.

3.  Grounds Care: Equipment Versatility Through Attachments

Selecting the most appropriate light-construction equipment for grounds care projects around institutional and commercial facilities requires that grounds manager understand the available features and functions each different model offers.

For example, a skid loader, is a versatile, powered, four-wheel material handler on a small, rigid frame with dual lift arms that are mounted on the sides of the chassis. The skid loader can adapt to hold a variety of labor-saving attachments.

Examples of labor-saving attachments that mount on the lift arms are: buckets for dirt, gravel, mulch, fertilizer, and snow; forks for transporting bales or skids of stone, bricks, and pavers; concrete breakers; post-hole augers; tree spades; sod layers; and paving tools, such as spreaders and scarifiers.

The wheels on the same side of the loader are mechanically locked in pairs, so turning occurs by operating the wheel pairs at different speeds. Maneuverable in tight places, the skid loader turns in a zero-degree radius by spinning or dragging the wheel pair on one side over the ground while turning the other pair.

Track loaders offer many of the same advantages of multiple attachments as skid loaders, but tracks propel it, not wheels. It can maneuver over turf, sand, gravel or loose dirt, snow or ice. Additional labor- and cost-saving attachments used with track loaders include: brush-clearing saws; bucket loaders; concrete mixers; dozer blades; landscape rakes; push or angle brooms; seeders; and stump grinders.

If a project requires crews to relocate trees, one effective tool is a tree-spade attachment. The operator controls it from a video display screen in the cab. The attachment inserts multiple blades around and under the tree root ball, separates the root ball from the soil, lifts and transports the tree to the new location with the root ball attached, and plants it.

A backhoe loader is a four-wheel loader with a bucket on one end and a backhoe for excavating and trenching on the other. With this arrangement, the operator can alternate between attachments by swiveling the seat 180 degrees, losing no time to change attachments.

4.  Landscaping Projects: Matching Equipment Options to Project Needs

Selecting the most appropriate light-construction equipment for grounds care projects involves understanding the available features and functions that each different model offers.

For example, a skid loader, also called skid-steer loader or skid steer, is a versatile, powered, four-wheel material handler on a small, rigid frame with dual lift arms that are mounted on the sides of the chassis.

The skid loader can adapt to hold a variety of labor-saving attachments. Examples of labor-saving attachments that mount on the lift arms are: buckets for dirt, gravel, mulch, fertilizer, and snow; forks for transporting bales or skids of stone, bricks, and pavers; concrete breakers; post-hole augers; tree spades; sod layers; and paving tools, such as spreaders and scarifiers.

The wheels on the same side of the loader are mechanically locked in pairs, so turning occurs by operating the wheel pairs at different speeds. Maneuverable in tight places, the skid loader turns in a zero-degree radius by spinning or dragging the wheel pair on one side over the ground while turning the other pair.

Track loaders offer many of the same advantages of multiple attachments as skid steer loaders, but tracks, not wheels, propel it. It can maneuver over turf, sand, gravel or loose dirt, snow or ice. Additional labor- and cost-saving attachments used with track loaders include: brush-clearing saws; bucket loaders; concrete mixers; dozer blades; landscape rakes; push or angle brooms; seeders; and stump grinders.

If a landscaping project requires crews to relocate trees, one effective tool is a tree-spade attachment. The operator controls it from a video display screen in the cab. The attachment inserts multiple blades around and under the tree root ball, separates the root ball from the soil, lifts and transports the tree to the new location with the root ball attached, and plants it.


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