Outdoor Services Crew

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

They said it couldn't be done

Recently we did a renovation/installation of a new landscape area at the corner of University and 17th. During this project we wanted to make sure to control the irrigation from the Network 8000 irrigation control system. We had a bit of a challenge in this area, the Network irrigation controllers use 120v power to operate and the nearest power was under a street and against Macky Auditorium. There are Xcel light poles in the area, but considering the small amperage of the controllers, it is not cost effective or time effiticient to tap power from these poles. I explored the possibility of a solar powered Network 8000 with a local vendor, but was informed that they had not attempted this and it wasn't feasible. After some discussion with our Facilities Electric shop we felt that we could do the work, and do it for far less than the cost of a bore shot under the road and all the associated electrical work to provide the power needed.

We spent some time to discover all the power sources in the controller and hooked up a power monitor for a 24hr period to determine total power usage during an irrigation cycle and associated communication with the central computer. Initially we thought we could bypass a couple of steps to create a solar system that did not need an invertor to convert the solar power from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). After a fair amount of discussion and data collection, we determined that it was not possible. We decided to put an invertor into the design-which added some power requirements considering you lose energy in the process-this addition increased the size of the battery and solar cells. Once we had all the power requirements figured out, I worked with our Planning, Design and Construction department, to determine the strength of pole and the size of caison we would need.

After all this work was finished, we were not only at a quarter of the cost of the bore shot option, we were also utilizing sustainable practices by irrigating with ditch water and using solar powered energy-instead of energy from the grid. It would be pretty challenging to use solar power for all of our controllers considering there is typically access to existing 120v power and the cost between a solar system and using traditional power make it fiscally challenging to use this method. However, in the future, if we run into a similar challenge we will have this option in our bag and we know it can be done.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


After a very dry fall we received 10" of snow and as we all know some very cold temperatures. We have been working hard the past couple days plowing and hand shoveling. It has been very hard work for our hand shovel crew, even with the snow being a "dry" snow, the crews have been out all day in the cold temperatures. We have been lucky enough to have our student employees jump in and help out tremendously with this task. 

One of our major challenges for snow removal is ice mitigation. With such a large storm we have sizable piles of snow in many locations on campus. We work hard to make sure the piles are in locations which will not hurt us when melting starts but with 10" of snow and the first day of classes for the spring semester we were forced to put snow in places we normally wouldn't. Now that the active snow plowing has tapered off, we will start our detail work with our skid loaders and back hoe. We will start to work towards removing these piles from places that we know are going to cause ice problems and relocate them into better locations.

Some of those locations will  include trees that we have within concrete/brick paver areas. With these trees being surrounded by hardscape their root zones are much smaller and have less ability to deal with prolonged dry stretches. We will be piling snow at these locations to help provide a nice shot of moisture for these plants where we can.

From a turfgrass prospective the snow is amazing! A major challenge of managing turf on campus is the cycles of use are not well meshed. If you think of baseball fields, golf courses and other locations that have a lot of summer sports on them the activities take place during the active growing portion of the year. Here on campus the majority of our heavy use is during the non-growing time of the year. This means the plant cannot repair itself from damage or traffic like it would during the summer time. We are constantly concerned about damage to the crown of the plant and turf loss during this time. One technique that is used is to heavily topdress the turf with a sand peet mixture and this helps to provide a layer of protection.  But of course, it would be next to impossible to use this technique at the university; however, the snow is the perfect blanket which not only gives the plant a nice amount of moisture but it also helps to alleviate some of the damage that can occur.  The loss of turf plants reduces our turf density and can create a void in the turf canopy which can allow for weeds to have a place to germinate come spring time.

Although snow is a lot of work for our staff it is something that helps to set us up for a much healthier landscape when springtime does come.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Winter Watering

Well the time has come to do a little winter watering. We have not had any measurable precipitation in over two months and with warm and breezy conditions the landscape is in need of a little drink. Last year we enjoyed a very strong  El Niño condition in the equatorial ocean waters and that helped to provide the second snowiest year in Boulder's history, unfortunately this year there is a very strong La Niña condition. These conditions are caused by either colder than normal equatorial waters or warmer than normal equatorial waters. The change in ocean temperatures have large affects on global weather patterns. You can find more information about these ocean conditions and their affects on NOAA's Web site.

There are always questions about the need for winter watering. I tend to use an anology to help explain the need. If you think about a bear in hibernation, that bear has lowered its heart rate and made other physiological changes to give it the ability to survive without eating or drinking for months on end. Well the reality is that they still use nutrients and water during hibernation but at such a slow rate that they dont need to wake up and eat or drink. Turf and landscape are much the same. During the winter they go through changes that allow for greater uptake of nutrients and moisture to prepair for winter dormancy. Just like the bear, plants don't grow and don't need to be mowed or trimmed, but they are still living organisms that consume nutrients and moisture. They are just consuming them at a much slower rate than during active growing. The difference between the two is that a bear can weigh up to 1000lbs and the crown of a plant like turfgrass is a little larger that the head of a pin. This does not allow for large amounts of storage capacity.

For these reasons, during a stretch of above average temps and below average moisture, we will bring on the irrigation system to give certain areas that are south facing, or have new plants, a good shot of moisture. During the normal summer months, there are irrigation operations that take place very frequently to satisfy the need to replenish lost moisture; however, during the winter months, a good watering on one day could last for weeks before there is need to irrigate again.

Let's hope for some help from Mother Nature!

Goats Graze Noxious Weeds

Goats are used to combat invasive plant species on University owned land.  Facilities Operations uses integrated management to control noxious weeds.  Goats graze on undesirable plants and are quite tolerant of the worst offenders.  Combined with techniques like mechanical, chemical, and cultural efforts, goat grazing has proven to be effective.  Grazing is performed prior to seed production in the late spring/early summer.  In addition, a re-grazing is done in the late summer/early fall. 
Grazing efforts are focused in native areas that contain protected wetlands where treatment options are limited.  Goats digest and kill weed seeds while providing natural fertilizer as they graze.  The herd can number from 200-450 depending on the grazing area.  Herding dogs are used to move the goats between target grazing areas.     

FieldTurf Installation

In 2006 CU began construction on a referendum passed by students to upgrade existing recreation fields.  One of those fields was the Kittredge Field Complex.  Kittredge Field consisted of three total fields, one competition field and two practice fields.  These fields were heavily used by students and maintenance was tough to keep up with.  It was decided that FieldTurf would be installed along with lights to be able to maximize play on this field.
The center of each field was mostly compacted dirt.

We knew that the installation of FieldTurf would lower maintenance costs on this field significantly.  The composition is basically made up of monofilament fibers with a rubber/sand infill.  One thing we didn't think about were the edges of the competition field.  Once the field was installed, three sets of bleachers were added to the west edge.

West edge of the competition field.
 As you could guess, players and spectators and general users began to use these bleachers heavily.  We tried our best to keep grass in here through heavy cultural practices of slit-seeding, aerating, broadcast seeding, and even re-sodding some spots.  The picture to the left shows some remnants of our slit-seeding approximately one year after completion.  You can also see that the bleachers were just placed on the ground, leaving turf underneath to be dealt with and also unstable ground for the bleachers to set on.

It was decided that improvements were needed.  It was determined that concrete pads would be poured for the bleachers to set on, thus eliminating turf underneath and the unstable and unlevel ground.  This also enabled us to move the bleachers a bit further back from the play field.  Once the pads were poured this left us with the muddy mess to still deal with in front of the bleachers.  This area was becoming increasingly worse.

Finally, it was decided that FieldTurf would be installed to eliminate the mudholes in front of the bleachers.  The same installation methods were used as when the initial field was installed.  This also eliminated a rough edge just outside of the play field which was becoming a safety issue as well.  This area felt like concrete when it was dry dirt. 

Sod Farm

With a grant from the CU Envrionmental Center Facilities Management recently constructed it's own sod farm. There are many benefits to growing our own sod. We can use our own seed mix, our own fertilization methods and provide a turf that matches existing turf with color and quality. The project took about a month to construct and was designed and built with in house knowledge. We brought in new soil to a depth of 12" to provide the best growing medium for the plant and also remove weed seed that are prevalant in our soil. This sod farm has been used in a couple different locations on campus for landscape repairs. Having our own sod farm has allowed us to choose a specific turfgrass for the new Norlin Sundial plaza and grow it in house, this method will be used in the future for more small projects on campus.

Grounds Staff Begin Planting Spring Bulbs

After a long mild fall, the Boulder campus has finally gotten enough killing frosts to allow groundkeepers to remove the summer plant material from beds.  Over the past three to four weeks as beds became available, dead vegetation has been removed and each bed that is to receive spring bulbs has been top dressed with soil amendments and turned over. 

The planning process for the spring bulbs began in August, when supervisors got together with the Grounds staff and requested suggestions for beds that would have the highest public exposure to not only visitors on the campus, but also to the general public passing by the campus on Boulder streets.  Once the beds to be planted have been selected, the staff then decides what the bed should look like in terms of plant type, color, blooming time and duration.  Once bed planting plans have been finalized, bulbs are ordered and the Grounds staff can begin to get beds ready for planting.

Grounds staff George Wallack  (right) and Bertie Knowles inspect bulbs to assure condition and quality are appropriate.

Bertie Knowles, East Main Campus team leader,  selects and sorts bulbs into planting packages for each bed his team will be planting.


New Chemical Storage Facility

CU Facilities Management Chemical Storage Facility
In December of 2006, an already inadequate designated chemical storage area was being looked at to add more space.  Through several discussions a decision was made to pursue a stand alone chemical storage facilty rather than increase the space in the designated area.  One of the key factors in this decision was that it allowed several departments to combine scattered sattelite storage areas into one centralized and secured location.  A secondary benefit to this deciscion also helped us reduce our storage of outdated and unusable materials.  After funding was secured, it was time to get to work on deciciding which standards we wanted for the building, and, where we were going to locate it.
Area outlined to be demoed.
We needed a location close to our Grounds Building, which was the most centralized location for the different departments that would occupy space here.  Other key factors that we focused on included, but were not limited to: closest power source, closest water source, available space for mixing with minimal spill risk, accessibility for loading/unloading, and accessibility for emergency personnel in case of an accident.  Taking into account these factors, we decided on a location next to our Grounds Building.  We had to modify the existing location, where we demoed part of a lean-to and ripped out an existing concrete pad.  A new, larger 8" thick concrete pad was poured, capable of supporting a 17,000 lb. building. 

Delivered via flatbed & crane mobilized to unload.
For our building standards, health, safety, and security were key factors in our decision.  We chose a 2-Hour Fire-Rated structure (to contain any fire within) that contained a dry chemical fire supression system, heaters to keep chemicals from freezing/separating/degrading, exhaust fan and inlet vents to circulate airflow,  lighting, and a sub floor for seconday containment.  It also has steel, fire-rated lockable doors and a steel loading ramp for easy access.

Crane had to lift partially over the lean-to for placement.

Mainline Break at Math Building

We had a mainline break west of the Math building, these large mainlines can pose a major challenge since everything has to go back together as soon as possible because the large mainlines are part of our looped irrigation system. When a loop mainline is down very large portions of campus landscape are without water so it is important to make the repair as quickly as possible.

A constant challenge with all irrigation pipe is soil shifting. As mother nature moves things around the soil puts pressure on the PVC pipe and will cause failures. This is true with all underground pipe including domestic water lines, gas lines, storm and sewer pipe. At the time of failure the pipes releases the tension from the ground in the form of lateral or vertical movement. This movement is the single most challenging part of getting the line back together irrigation innovation has been slower at creating new repair methods to account for the deflection. Recently a coupler has been modified from the domestic waterline industry to work with PVC pipe. This technology has been used for years to protect building piping from bursting during earthquakes and other natural phenomenon.

This mainline break was a classic example of shifting earth causing a severe deflection and making it impossible to repair the pipe without digging back along the pipe for many feet to re-align the pipe. This takes precious time and creates a large repair area. We purchased this new piece of equipment and it worked perfectly at picking up the deflection. The seal was perfect and we have been running for a while now with no signs of problems from the repair.