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