Outdoor Services Crew

Friday, September 25, 2015

Outdoor Spaces on campus

Chinook winds and arid climate were the original University of Colorado campus caretakers.  When Old Main opened its doors in 1867 to the first university occupants, the landscape was nothing but dirt and wild grasses.  It took years and a great deal of work to transform dust covered fields into the professionally maintained campus it is today. 
Farrand Field with the Flatirons in the background.

Farrand Field, the Norlin Quadrangle and Sewall field were some of the areas set aside as open spaces on campus. As new university buildings were built, grass was added around them.  At first the fields were simply watered, seeded and mowed.
Gradually more effort was made to do more than basic lawn care.  Today's turf team is made up of experts. They have years of experience and knowledge about soil.  They use turf treatments that produce the best results.  But they don't do it alone.  They work alongside other grounds teams so that visitors and potential students experience an inviting first impression of the campus. 
Challenges maintaining the landscape come from many directions.  30,000 pairs of feet walk across campus every day.  They don't always follow designated sidewalks. When they take a short cut across the grass, dirt trails develop.  Plans to hardscape or redirect traffic are constantly under review to address these trambled or marred turf areas.

This is a dirt path created from constant shortcutting.

When construction crews drive trucks and other vehicles to various locations on campus, their wheels often slip off the edge of sidewalks.  The heavy truck wheels then churn up the grass and create muddy areas.  The turf crew is called in to handle many of these repairs.
Repair to turf is a constant task.

Zac Cameron is the supervisor in charge of overseeing turf maintenance on campus for Facilities Management.  He evaluates and schedules work for the main campus areas that are assigned to Outdoor Services.  Fertilizing, mowing, and repair work are his team's main tasks throughout the summer but as soon as cold weather hits, the team turns to winter tasks.  (Look for more on this in future blogs)  The number of outdoor activities and field locations play a big part in determining levels of maintenance. The recreation fields receive extra attention because of the heavy daily use they experience.

Full time employee, Rogelio Arellano, mows Farrand Field three times a week in summer months.
According to Zac, the turf team has in place an aggressive turf program. In addition to fertilizing and mowing, they seed, aerate and work with campus projects to ensure turf replacement is done properly. The team really hits it hard during the summer months to get major tasks completed when there are fewer students on campus.

The dirt trail caused by foot traffic cutting across Benson Field recently received a new sidewalk and new sod.
Groups hold all types of gatherings on outdoor fields throughout the campus every day.  Those that want to use the outdoor spaces must adhere to campus policies so that the space they use is in good shape for the next group.  The turf team plans field work around these events.  Timing is critical to avoid tasks that would interfere with these events.  
Every event on campus is reviewed by a Safety Committee.  Student organizers, paired with a university event planner, must submit an event request to the committee for approval.  The committee reviews all requests and approves only when they feel the event has taken all appropriate safety measures.

Zac attends committee meetings to make sure the event planners adhere to campus rules for any event using outdoor venues.  When an event calls for tent set up, he encourages the use of water barrels and/or weights to avoid staking.  Driving large tent stakes into the ground can create many problems.  Although underground utilities can be located upon request, many irrigation lines can not be traced or marked.  Fortunately, many events can get by with small tents anchored with water jogs or weights.  If a larger tent requires staking, the event coordinator must call to locate utilities and water lines.  Cleanup is also the responsibility of the event with the expectation that the area will be returned to its pre-event condition.
Water jugs are used to anchor small tents to avoid using stakes that would penetrate the ground and potentially damage campus utilities or irrigation lines.
Outdoor Services has a variety of equipment to handle campus grounds tasks. Drivers are trained before using these vehicles.  If any driver uses a vehicle on a sidewalk, they must pass an online training course which goes over safety rules for them to follow.  There is a full time mechanic, Tom Calvo, to maintain all grounds vehicles. (Coming soon will be a blog describing what it takes for Outdoor Services to move from its summer equipment into winter equipment preparations.)
Full time employee, Scott Webb, has areas he regularly mows.

Student employee, Cody Hill, uses a 36 inch walk behind mower to reach areas the larger mowers can't access.
As the grounds crews work through their tasks each day, they want the areas to be enjoyed by students and visitors.  Recently, a letter to the Chancellor provided a much appreciated outsiders view of their work.

Ginni Mulder, a senior at CU studying Evolutionary and Ecology Biology wrote:
"I would leave my house overwhelmed thinking about how much studying I had to get done and would go through my mental to-do list for the week. Immediately, as I got to campus, my mood would be lifted as I took in the beautiful scenery of the University. I was in awe of the beautiful flowers in bloom and would breathe in the scent of freshly cut grass and immediately feel at peace. Every morning, my breath was taken away by the variety of colors and diversity of plants on campus--it was truly a treat to experience this summer!"

It took 300 million years to form the Flatirons which provide a backdrop to the Colorado University Boulder campus. Fortunately, it didn't take that long to transform the once wind swept University campus, just a lot of hard work.

--Marsha Burch

Friday, August 7, 2015

Adding Color to the Boulder campus

Spring is a time for warm breezes and sunny skies but that's not what happened in Boulder this year.  Instead, we received 8 inches of snow in April and 4 inches of snow in May.  Hardly anyone thought spring had arrived during those months--plants included.  In fact, it was the wettest May in Boulder County since 1995 according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric  Administration   (NOAA).
Two months of snow and rain made the soil extremely wet and spring planting preparation a little tricky on the CU campus.  It is not easy to till through clumps of mud.  In order to get the flowers planted by mid-June though, the work had to continue -- rain or shine.

The crews knew the cool weather and rain would soon be replaced by hot summer sun.   So, one very important step before any flowers went in the ground at the University was checking with the Outdoor Services Irrigation Team to make sure the flower beds would have water.

If flowers are planted in an area before the irrigation team can get water there, the teams would need to hand water until the automated irrigation was ready. The Outdoor Services crews know the importance of good communication across teams.   So much of their work depends on timing.

Two teams maintain CU's main campus and are responsible for grounds and landscape maintenance.  The dividing line runs roughly along 18th street.  Scott Redder, Supervisor, has leads for both areas. 
West Main Campus flower order: from left, Riley Eichler (student), Doug Grainero, Jessie Taylor, John Vogel(student)
West Main Campus Lead, Jessie Taylor (GN2), has worked at CU in Outdoor Services for nineteen years.  Her full time crew is:  Doug Grainero, Don Anderson, George Wallack and Matt Schwarz.

            Jessie Taylor inspecting the flower bed at 17th and University       
There are student employees that work side by side the full time Outdoor Services crews.   Some work all year round but the biggest numbers arrive in the summer.   

“We couldn’t do this without them,” Jessie said.  “The campus looks better than ever and it is because we have student workers to help us.   We are like a work family," she added. 

CU isn’t an agriculture university but many students find working outdoors rewarding and the flexible hours offer them a perfect work schedule during the school year.

George Wallack working on Hawthorne Courtyard bed
When asked what Jessie would like people to know about her team she replied that, “they really care about the campus.   They have personal pride in what they do and they like their job.   They like working for CU.”   

East Main Campus Lead, Bertie Knowles (GN2), has worked at CU in Outdoor Services for fourteen years.  His full time crew is:  Adrien Francis, Justin Potter, Patrick Giblin and Adam Sitzman.

East Main Campus flower order:  from left, Bertie Knowles, Adam Sitzman and Patrick Giblin

"Our team has a lot of knowledge," said Bertie.  "What has been fun is seeing the students learn from the team."  Whether it is trash left on sidewalks, weeds popping out among the flowers or trees that look a little stressed, Bertie is looking for it all during his daily inspections.

With all the variety that is available, I asked the leads how they picked what the teams planted.  Each full time employee owns his or her planting sections and decides what will look good.  They are responsible for preparing, planting, and maintaining their flower beds.   Their goal is to make the campus burst with color.

The campus landscape architect, Richelle Reilly, has been called in to provide guidance.   "Richelle has reviewed aspects such as texture, color and scale with my teams," explained Scott Redder.   "The crews take these things into consideration when choosing the right plant material but they also have to consider environmental aspects such as wind and sun exposure to a site," said Scott.  

This burst of color is a result of Adrien Francis's hard work SE of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

Justin Potter tends the University Administrative Annex Flower Beds
To help with the overall budget each year, the teams are looking more and more into planting perennials.  They want those that still give color but will come back year after year.  If you look around campus, you'll see these plants are really taking hold and filling in the landscape beautifully.

The crews work hard to make little areas around  campus shine with something new and exciting.  Outdoor Services teams hope the next time you are walking on campus, something will catch your eye and make you stand a few minutes and smile. 

Marsha Burch



Thursday, July 30, 2015

EAB (Emerald Ash Borer) on campus

Many state and federal agencies began studying the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) problem in 2002 when it was confirmed the beetle had arrived in the United States.

How did this beetle arrive in the United States? It has been speculated that the EAB entered on wood packing material on either cargo ships or airplanes that originated in Asia. Over the last ten years, millions of ash trees have died and have been removed in many states across the country as a result of this infestation. 

When it was confirmed the beetle had been detected in Colorado in 2013, arborists at the University of Colorado knew it was just a matter of time before they would discover it on the Boulder campus.... and they did.  Facilities Management Outdoor Services and Housing Facilities Services began steps to save as many of the campus ash trees as possible.

Treatment being done on an ash beside Old Main, critical to CU landscape
About 720 ash trees are actively maintained on the Boulder campus. This year, Outdoor Services, Housing and Dining Services and Parking Services identified approximately 107 ash trees as key elements in landscape designs on campus.  The Main Campus ash trees were the first to receive EAB treatment.  State licensed professionals injected an insecticide directly into the ash tree trunks. Supervising this work, at all times, was a staff member from CU.   Arborist, Vince Aquino, was on hand June 24, 2015, as work began.

The initial step in the treatment process was to identify the first set of ash trees and to set yellow application notice flags at their base.  The flags stayed in place for a week as a means to inform those on campus of the work being done.

Yellow application notices remained for a week at the base of treated trees.
Depending on the diameter of the ash tree trunk, 3 to 4 holes (more if needed) were drilled into the base of each trunk.  Small plugs were then inserted into the holes.  An insecticide was loaded into an insecticide applicator and injected directly into the trunk.   This method greatly minimized exposure to non-targeted animals and/or plants and is very effective in treating the targeted pests--in this case, EAB.

Two insecticides were used in this first round of treatments.  Most trees were protected with Emamectin Benzoate, and a much smaller number of trees received Azadirachtin.  Neither chemical belongs to the Neonicotinoid class.  Campus arborists will monitor the results of these treatments in the coming year.  It is expected that the Emamectin Benzoate treated trees will defend ash trees against EAB infestation for at least two years.

Several holes around the base were drilled into the ash tree.

Plugs were set into the holes.
Diameter of the trunk determined the amount of holes needed.

Tim Kockler, licensed commercial applicator from Davey Tree Expert Company, prepared the applicator.

The insecticide was injected into the trunk of the ash trees

The locations of the first treated ash trees on campus were mapped.  Additional ash trees will be identified and potentially receive treatments next spring.

The University of Colorado is cooperating with numerous state, municipal and federal agencies as part of a Colorado EAB Response Team.  This team is working to improve and to coordinate the  responses to the EAB outbreak all across Colorado.  It is also involved in communicating with the public on management of EAB on private property.

The communities surrounding the University of Colorado have many questions.  People with ash trees in their landscape want to know what to do.  Two great sites for this information are https://bouldercolorado.gov/pages/emerald-ash-borer and https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agplants/emerald-ash-borer.  The sites help explain symptoms, detection methods and the quarantine guidelines effective since November 12, 2013 for Boulder County and small portions of Jefferson and Weld counties.

Marsha Burch

Friday, May 1, 2015

It happened this week - Mulching

Many mulch mounds of mulch, if many mulch mounds of mulch how much mulch does CU mulch?  Say that ten times fast. 

The Boulder CU campus uses Western Red Cedar mulch around flower beds and trees.  Deliveries arrived this week and the mulching began all over campus.  Of course, I had to ask, how much mulch will CU mulch and why Western Red Cedar?

Putting down mulch is nothing new to those of us with landscaped yards.  We’ve been told that mulch helps conserve moisture, reduces weed growth and overall just makes the flower beds and trees look great.  But there is another side of mulching with red cedar.  It doesn't decompose as quickly as other mulch.  So what CU puts down will last longer.

Bertie Knowles and Adrian Francis deliver mulch

So how much mulch does CU mulch?  A quick estimate is around 330 yards.  Scott Redder, Outdoor Services Main Campus Supervisor, helped me look at it another way.  It would take 18 tandem dump trucks lined up end-to-end to deliver that much mulch.  Fortunately, Scott spreads his deliveries out over the year with the bulk of it arriving in Spring.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Let the water flow!

A few weeks ago, the water on campus began to flow again.  Campus plants were screaming for water.  Some patience and many man hours were needed to make sure everything was ready.  After the irrigation team checked their communication equipment and pump houses, they moved on to the finer details of the system.  They had to be sure the miles of piping hidden below ground were ready to carry gallons and gallons of water. 

Until the water flows, areas such as you see in the pictures below, stay dry. 

 Remember the water hammer we were worried about a few weeks ago? Well, it is a real thing that could happen if care isn't taken in starting up the flow of water on campus. A four-man team splits up with one person standing in the pump station and the others stationed at the highest spot where quick cuplers have been placed. In manual mode, the water is slowly allowed to enter the line.

Air pockets built up over the winter are released.  If too much pressure is allowed in the line too fast...     BAM   water hammer will burst a line. The break could happen anywhere along the water line and hard to find. So this step is extremely important.

Success.... the campus turf, plants and trees now have water!

Work for the irrigation team doesn't stop.  They constantly monitor the use of water (not too much...not too little) and any problems that occur.  As new buildings come on line for the University, the irrigation team is called in to discuss irrigation needs for the new landscaping.  Now you know.  On campus, when you see water, think irrigation team!  They make it happen!

Stay tuned for:  Burst of Color!


Friday, April 24, 2015

It happened this week--Day of Service

If you were on campus Thursday, you might have seen people in yellow t-shirts.  A little over one hundred Division of Administration employees responded to the invitation from Steven Thweatt, Vice Chancellor of Administration, to take part in a Day of Service on April 23, 2015.
Rail Painters arrived and ready to go!

Hard at work.  First the rails were sanded and then painted.

Fresh coat of paint before Commencement Day

Painting rails with a smile!

Lunch is delivered!

Sticker Removers take a break to enjoy their bag lunches.
The groups tackled Boulder Creek cleanup, mulching, rail painting and sticker removal. For many, who usually work in a building all day, it was a chance to roll up sleeves and get outside. 
The work done was not only acknowledged by smiles from those passing through campus but several students walked by the volunteers and said “thank you”.  It is that type of interaction between staff and students that makes the University of Colorado Boulder campus such a great place to work and study.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Arbor Day--Now you know Latin!

I was curious about Arbor Day so I began reading a lot of articles about it.  I wanted to know when the first one was held and why.  My thought was that the holiday had to be named after someone famous named Arbor.  Nope...no Mr. Arbor was involved.

Then  I discovered Arbor was the Latin word for tree.  Who knows Latin?  Turns out, J. Sterling Morton did.  He moved to Nebraska in 1854 from New York to become the editor of the Nebraska City News.  Nebraska wasn't even a state yet.

Morton didn't have a grand plan, he just wanted his new home in Nebraska to have trees around it.  So, he and his wife began digging, planting and watering.  Soon their efforts were observed by others in the area who began to do the same thing.  Viola...Arbor Day!

Well, it didn't happen that fast.  Morton's first trees were planted at his home in 1854 and the first Arbor Day in the United States wasn't until April 10, 1872 but the idea of planting trees in the barren Nebraska land grew over the years.  Arbor Day even became law in Nebraska in 1885.

Planting trees caught on all over the United States.  Politicians used Arbor Day in their campaigns.  Everyone was planting trees, at least once a year.  Then, the day became less popular and a few decades passed with fewer Arbor Day parades and fanfare.

Keith Wood, from CO State Forest Service presents TCUSA 2014 certificate to CU Arboist, Vince Aquino  (April 18, 2015)
Fast forward to present day and a renewed vigor for all things natural.  We're in Boulder after all!

Alan Nelson, Senior Grounds Specialist (now retired), was the driving force getting the University of Colorado certified with Tree Campus USA (TCUSA) in 2010.  Every year since, CU has qualified and received a certificate showing it has engaged its students and campus community in promoting and maintaining trees.
University of Colorado Students: Holding flag left: James Watt; right Bodie Hultin. Standing from left to right:  Elizabeth Seaver, Joaquin Lagarrigue, Shannon Votaw, Erin Hauer, Emma Friesland, Grayson O'Roark, Caitlin Keller, Drew Holler, Asia Peters.  In back:  Keith Wood (CO State Forest Service), Vince Aquino (CU Arborist)  
CU celebrated Arbor Day on Saturday, April 18th.  Arborists Vince Aquino and Joel Serafin led a group of students and staff planting several trees on the Business Field (northwest side).  Keith Wood from the Colorado State Forest Service presented the University with its 2014 TCUSA certificate.  Thanks to the many students who took part.  Snow and rain did not deter them.  They are truly an inspiration as a group ready to safe guard our environment.  Great turn out by SALA (Student Association of Landscape Architects)! 

This year the official date for National Arbor Day is April 24th.  There will be a lot of digging, and planting by groups all over the United States.  Their goal will be to ensure safety, landscape needs and healthy homes for their new trees.

Fun Facts:  (1) an estimated one million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day in Nebraska. (2) The First World Arbor Day was held in 1805 in Villanueva de la Sierra, a small Spanish town. (3)  There is an Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE (4) Colorado's State tree is the Blue Spruce.  (5)  There are 92 Tree City USAs in Colorado, (Boulder has been a Tree City for 30 years). (6)  Colorado Arbor Day was April 17, 2015.

Utilities and irrigation lines were marked.  Students had to move snow to flag sites for new trees! (April 17, 2015)

Then the digging began.  Time to move the dirt. 

Once Vince Aquino, CU Arborist, explained the best method for planting trees, the students carefully put all six trees in the ground.  The trees are now growing on the Northwest corner of the Business Field.  (2 State Street Maples, 1 Bur Oak and 3 Montmorency Cherries)
Coming up next:  Let the water flow!


Friday, April 17, 2015

Wrapped up and going to a new home!

Tree selection is serious business for CU arborists (Vince Aquino and Joel Serafin).  On a recent visit to a local nursery, they found six trees perfect for campus.  With the location planned and trees picked out, it was time to truck the trees home. Neither rain nor snow will get in the way if it is time to plant.  Wrapped and ready for transport are 2 State Street Maples, 1 Bur Oak and 3 Montmorency Cherry trees.
Joel Serafin with one of the State Street Maples selected for CU

The local nursery wraps and secures the trees for transport
The plastic containers are removed before loading onto the CU truck
Inspection by Joel Serafin confirms that trees are loaded on the truck properly
Heading for a new home at the University of Colorado Boulder campus

Monday, April 13, 2015

Windowless Buildings...

Why are there buildings on campus without windows?  Oh, you haven't seen any like that?  Don't feel bad, they aren't meant to be noticed.  Most are nestled among trees and bushes.  There is one right next to Varsity Lake.  Take a look next time you are standing on the bridge looking North over the lake. If you still can't see it, then the architects have done their job making the pump house blend in with the other Tuscan style buildings on campus (dark red tiled roof, and pink sandstone exterior).
View of Varsity Lake Pump House - Hale Science in background
When you do spot the pump house, your first thought might be, "so what's the big deal?" Don’t let appearances fool you. According to Ryan Heiland, Assistant Manager of the Outdoor Services group and manager of the on campus irrigation team, this building and three other pump houses are the heart of the irrigation system. Without their ability to pump water from their reservoirs, the campus would return to its field flooding methods. Believe me, we don't want that to happen but that is a story for another blog.

Varsity Lake Pump House looking North from the bridge
Pump station inspections are the second step in getting the irrigation system up and running.  Unlike the dormant plants outside, machinery inside the pump houses have continued winter tasks.  Heaters and aeration pumps have been working away.  Now that winter is ending and summer heat is just around the corner, the crews remove insulation from the building vents and put in fans.  
A peek inside 28th St and College Ave Pump House
After the visual inspections, it is time to exercise the pumps.  Now I really sound like I know what I'm talking about...right?  I'm learning!

If the pump monitors pass inspection, it is time for the team to work on getting air out of the lines that has built up over the winter and send water out.  Not so fast....if this isn't done just right, water hammer could rear its ugly head and slow everything down.  What is water hammer?  It's as bad as the name sounds, but never fear, the irrigation team is all over it.  Watch for more on this next week.

Clockwise from top left:  Varsity Lake, 28th & CO Ave., Research Park, Williams Village
In the picture above, you can see the different building styles.  It takes a full month to bring the whole campus irrigation up and running.  The main campus pump houses are the first to come on line but the same process applies to East and South campus pump stations.

Next blog:  "Let the water flow"
Stay tuned.


Friday, April 10, 2015

At a glance

The Conference on World Affairs has been at the University of Colorado, Boulder campus all week.  The sidewalks have been lined with colorful flags representing countries from all over the world.

A grounds team view of the Conference on World Affairs flags
Flags flying proudly are what the outdoor service teams want visitors to notice.  But I'll share a little behind the scenes information that most visitors to campus don't know.  Anything that goes into the ground on campus has to be vetted and approved by a committee.  The maze of gas lines and water lines underground are so complex that placement of ground penetrating anchors are treated very seriously.  Every year, the CWA gets the appropriate approvals so they are good to go.  It's just one more thing the grounds teams monitor so we continue to have a safe campus.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Water...water...where is it?

The University of Colorado Boulder campus has over 50,000 sprinkler heads.  For someone with less than 20 in my yard, this number is staggering.  How do you manage to keep track of every single one of them was my question to Tom Coppens, a member of the Irrigation team.  He helped me see the big picture.  It is not just about the sprinklers, which we see spraying water across the campus; it is what we don’t see that creates the campus irrigation system.  The pieces and parts include:  4 pump houses, 4 water ditches, 3 campus weather stations, 84 irrigation clocks, and miles of irrigation lines.  Oh my!

Varsity Lake awaiting irrigation start up 

Mother Nature sends out indicators to announce her plants are ready to come back from their winter rest but it takes a keen eye to notice.  If temperatures remain above freezing, the turf starts coming out of its dormant stage. It needs water.  Allowing the turf to stress is very bad.
This revelation sent me straight home to take a good look at my own lawn for stress.  Yep, I found it.  My grass was super stressed and begging me for water.  While I was outside examining signs of new growth, I noticed my neighbor adjusting his sprinkler heads.  I may not know Mother Nature as well as the turf guys on campus but one look at my grass told me I better move fast or I might find my lawn creeping next door to receive better care.

Fortunately, the campus has professionals.  Teams and a centralized irrigation system work together to keep the turf, trees and plants healthy and flourishing no matter what time of year it is. 
Communication between antennas and clocks is critical.  No water will be turned on until it can be told where to go.  It’s the first step in firing up the campus irrigation system after its winter shut down.  You may never see the antennas because they are on some of the highest spots on campus but I am sure you have seen the clocks.  Look for green boxes that stand about waist high. 

Tom Coppens checking a clock near Macky Auditorium
The i
nsides of these clocks look like computers.  Encased in a hard plastic, they are designed to handle most types of weather conditions.  But if for any reason there is a communication breakdown, never fear, the clocks will continue implementing the last watering command for up to two weeks. 

Up next:  Windowless Buildings--they are important!
Stay tuned.