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Bottom-Line Grounds Management with John Burns

Landscape Manager University of Texas

John Burns

John Burns
Landscape Manager
University of Texas
Austin, Texas

What is your role in working with other managers to help develop construction projects that impact landscaped areas on campus?
We, as a department, have developed good relationships with other departments, managers, and supervisors. When projects are being considered that affect the landscapes, the project managers include us in the planning process.
Of course, with a campus of our size, there always are projects that can slip through without involving all the parties that might need to be included in the planning process. But to help prevent this from happening, we have a very good project management and construction service department that has a formal planning process, which includes all the disciplines that should be included. Each project is assigned a project manager who will see it through from beginning to end.

How important is it for managers to get involved with landscape design to ensure resulting designs are maintainable?
This is extremely important, and, fortunately, we are allowed to be part of the review process for all building construction and renovations on our campus. This provides us with a good opportunity to provide feedback during the design process. This process many times becomes a give-and-take proposition, but at least we are having the conversation.
Without this type of input, we simply have to accept the end product. I have been with the University of Texas at Austin for 28 years, and during my early years, we did not have any input. Because of that, I have seen some very poor results. Being part of a review process may not solve all the problems, but it sure does help.

The University of Texas is implementing water-conservation measures in its facilities. How is that initiative carrying over to landscaped areas and the way your department specifies and manages irrigation systems?
As a part of our water-conservation initiative, we completed an inventory and an overall assessment of all the irrigation systems on campus. We hope to secure funding to install a centralized irrigation system with a weather station to adjust automatically based on evapotranspiration.
In addition to centralized controls, the city has committed to bringing reclaimed water to the campus in the next couple of years. Our utility department has been planning ahead and has already installed mainline piping for reclaimed water on campus. This forward thinking will allow us to hook up current irrigation systems near the main lines more quickly.

Lawn mowers and utility vehicles have long been staples in grounds departments. What is the next level of equipment grounds managers will specify to help their department better manage landscapes?
We purchased a mini skid steer last year, and it is very versatile and small enough to maneuver quickly in tight areas. There are many attachments for the mini skid steers, depending on the job. We purchased a standard bucket, a trencher and several different sizes of augers. The versatility of these small machines makes them very important.
I'm not sure what the next piece of equipment will be for us, but we always are looking for something to make the job easier and more efficient. In talking with other landscape managers across the country, I haven't talked to anyone who is not concerned about a shrinking work force, a shrinking budget or both.
Labor is the most expensive part of maintaining a campus, so we must become more efficient.

One way to do this is to purchase equipment that helps us do the job more quickly and easily. Equipment also might help improve employee morale. Think about it: If someone told you to rake leaves and gave you a rake and bags to do the job, you would know you had a lot of manual work ahead of you. But if you were told to do the same job and use a power turf sweeper, which would make you feel better?
In addition to trying to save labor, we also are searching for equipment that is more environmentally friendly. We have purchased quite a few electric utility vehicles, and early last spring we purchased a propane mower that has worked wonderfully for us.

What type of training is needed for managers in a department where crews go beyond traditional grounds care activities - turf maintenance, snow removal, etc. - and get involved in more detailed projects?
We have an installation team for small landscape projects that uses some of our larger equipment, such as skid steers, tractors and the attachments for this equipment, so we have equipment training and certifications.
We also have an urban forestry team that maintains our campus trees. This team uses ropes, ladders, and pole saws to prune the trees, but we have purchased a bucket truck and should have it on the campus soon. Of course, this will require specific training and certification.

Find more on this topic:

grounds management, adobe

posted:  12/12/2008