Thursday, May 23, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Lead groundskeeper Dave Wolfe adjusts a watering zone from a computer in his office at WOU's Physical Plant. The system allows Wolfe to control thousands of sprinklers.
October 03, 2012
MONMOUTH -- Leftover leaves and stems from crocosmia flowers litter the sidewalk along the Arbor Park complex meeting hall on the Western Oregon University campus as Randy Bales, Mason Helberg and Roger Whiteman snip and clip away. Before long, the bed of their utility vehicle is filled with remnants of the perennial plant.
At Ackerman Hall, lead groundskeeper Dave Wolfe spots industrial lawn mowers driven by other members of his grounds crew heading toward the university's athletic fields for their weekly mow.
Wolfe's radio beeps with a "fire" he needs to put out; there's a sprinkler head inadvertently watering a nearby parking lot.
"You run an edger too close to the sidewalk, sometimes you catch that sprinkler head and turn it around," Wolfe said.
A busy summer for WOU's groundskeepers has transitioned to an even busier fall, especially when you're trying to navigate around the extra bodies, Whiteman said.
Still, "this is the calm before the storm," Whiteman said.
Wolfe is referring to that point in fall when half of the foliage drops from the campus' trees.
Think of Western's grounds as a backyard project -- one that spans 160 acres -- 75 percent of it is greenspace -- with 200 varieties of plants and shrubs, and requires constant vigilance to keep it pristine.
"First impressions are important," said Kevin Hughes, landscape maintenance supervisor. "We want everybody who comes here to have a good impression of our campus and that's why we try to maintain it as much as possible."
That task falls to a groundskeeping crew of seven, a mechanic and a handful of seasonal student workers and clients from Mid-Valley Rehabilitation. The group is split into three separate teams that handle residential grounds, the general campus and athletic fields.
Mowing is done weekly on the WOU campus.
Mowing is done weekly, and edging biweekly. Pruning takes place on Wednesday. Three days are spent on a combination of trimming, weeding and spraying.
Given the size of the campus and the staff, you can't afford to slack from that schedule, said Bales, a WOU groundskeeper for eight years.
"It's a 24/7 job," Bales said. "There's really no down time ... and if you find some, then it's time for you to find something else because there's no lack (of) work."
All of the workers must have their pesticide applicators licenses. Wolfe is a certified backflow tester.
"There are meetings we go to (covering) irrigation upgrades and turf management," Hughes said. "Everybody can use the training."
Hughes and Wolfe were hired as groundskeepers for WOU's Physical Plant in 1989. Much has changed since then, Wolfe said. Equipment and tools are better. With an industrial mower, it takes only 20 minutes to trim the baseball field.
Irrigation, meanwhile, is generally done from a desktop inside Wolfe's office. The terminal is connected to controllers around campus that are tied to geographic "zones" of sprinkler heads. They can be programmed to activate by time or moisture level.
"We have 800 zones on campus," Wolfe said. "And there's 12 to 15 sprinkler heads per zone."
The job's more time consuming, too. The number of new buildings erected on campus means more landscaping, more shrubs to prune and flower beds to attend to.
"Open grass is a lot easier to mow than tree circles and bark dust beds," Wolfe said.
Inclement weather is no fun, either. An ice storm that hit the Willamette Valley in 2004 felled 40 trees on campus. "It took us almost two months to catch up on that one," Whiteman said.
Hughes said he enjoys working on the athletic fields -- his first job at Western -- despite the deadline pressure that comes with preparing them for games. The football field is sheared down to a precise 2 inches.
"It's very satisfying, by the time you mow it, stripe it, put that bright white paint on the grass ... it really shows," Hughes said. He added with a laugh: "I guess it doesn't take much to entertain me."
Just the Facts
WOU groundskeeping factoids
* Yard debris -- 10 to 20 cubic yards of material per month, depending on the season.
* Irrigation -- WOU waters its turf and plant beds for four months, between May and September. Peak month is July, when 334,000 cubic feet of water is used to irrigate the campus.
* Man hours -- 1,200 hours per month, depending on the time of the year.
* Fertilizer -- Crews spread and apply approximately four tons per year.
* Events that require the most work -- First day of fall classes and commencement in June.