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Grounds Crew Works To Keep Award-Winning Campus 'Green'

March 30, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story by: Amy Barnett

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Whether it’s the manicured green hills or the azalea blooms that make an appearance each spring, the Sam Houston State University campus has a reputation for turning heads.

“Honestly, I think it must be the most beautiful campus. I enjoy it more and more every year,” said SHSU junior MaKenzie Pope. “I’ve visited Texas A&M and the University of Texas; their campuses are nice, but they don’t compare to the campus here at Sam.”

While many consider the view to be eye-catching, chances are most haven’t taken the time to really appreciate the dedication and hard work that goes into keeping the campus clean, blooming and of course, green.

The Professional Grounds Management Society, however, did. It recently awarded the SHSU grounds keeping crew with an Honor Award in the society’s Green Star Awards competition.

The PGMS, founded in 1911, is a membership society dedicated to advancing the grounds management profession through education and professional development. The award was given in the “University and College Grounds” category for exceptional grounds maintenance.

“There are several hundred colleges in the organization. I don’t know how many apply each year, but I thought it was great to get an award the first time we applied. Everybody was pretty excited about that,” said Scott Dolezal, manager of grounds and custodial services.

Grounds crewman
SHSU's grounds crew routinely change the flowers around the award-winning campus and arrive early to ensure that the campus stays clean.  —Photos by Brian Blalock

To apply for an award with PGMS, Dolezal and his crew had to complete a PowerPoint presentation with 30 different photos of the campus grounds. Most were general pictures around the university; others were shots of the crew working, as well as campus locations the crew considers to be “trouble areas.”

The PGMS gave the award to the SHSU grounds crew based on its ability to “maintain a beautiful campus despite many maintenance challenges, such as a very congested campus, litter cleanup and utility vehicle traffic on the landscape.”

“The picture and write-up are what the PGMS sees when they select winners, but it’s the hard work behind those photos that brings the award home,” said Doug Greening, associate vice president for Facilities Management.

That hard work begins at 6:30 every morning, before most students and staff ever make it to campus.

“We have 20 crew members who spend at least an hour a day picking up trash, and that’s not including tailgate clean-ups or other events,” said Dolezal.

Once the litter is removed, crew members begin their assigned duties, whether it’s mowing, weed eating, mulching or irrigating the landscaping. And in all areas of grounds keeping, Dolezal said they do everything they can to stay “environmentally friendly.”

“All of our mowers are mulching mowers, which basically put all the clippings back into the soil, and that has actually cut our fertilizer use in half. When we change flower beds or trim trees, all the trimmings go to compost piles,” Dolezal said. “A lot of our tree trimmings go to Hyponex on Highway 75. They grind it up and use in their soil mixes. Other things go to a city-operated facility and they compost it over there. Nothing we do goes to a landfill.”

As for the fertilizer they do use, they opt for slow-release variations.

“If they weren’t, when we have a heavy rain, they’d all dissolve too quickly and wash away, sometimes ending up in manholes and sewers, which is not good,” he added.

The SHSU grounds keeping team is also staying environmentally conscious by spot treating ant piles, rather than “broad spectrum” treating the entire campus.

“We’ve found that organic products for killing ants and other pests are not nearly as effective as traditional chemicals, so our solution is to use the chemical that we know works, but only use it where it’s needed. We’ll treat an area where we’ve found pests and maybe a small area surrounding it, rather than the whole campus. I think it balances out,” he said.

Dolezal is also working with Greening to develop a recycling system for the crew. It would basically add a certain amount of sorting to their litter clean up each morning.

“We’ve got it set up where we’ll give whatever we collect to the city of Huntsville. We’re not looking to get money out of it, I think it’s more or less the right thing to do,” he said.

SHSU's Staff Council planted a tree last year on campus in recognition of Earth Day. Earth Day 2012 will be on April 22.

While Dolezal wishes the grounds crew didn’t have to waste time picking up litter, he’s been with SHSU 13 years, which he said, “is long enough to know, that’s just the way it is.”

“It’s just part of the job. If we want to have a nice campus, when there’s trash out there, it’s got to be picked up,” he added.

Litter removal is certainly a “problem area” cited in SHSU’s application with PGMS, along with people trudging through the grass and construction projects that extend outside their fences.

But despite these daily obstacles and a historic drought, the SHSU grounds crew got the recognition students and faculty will agree it deserves. Dolezal credits the area’s natural climate which supports trees and turf grass and of course, a dedicated crew. Greening could not agree more.

“I think our crew really enjoys what they do and are efficient. Our employee turnover rate in grounds keeping is also very low, and that’s a good indicator. Sam has a long tradition of outstanding grounds care,” said Greening, who added his favorite area of campus is “anywhere our signature azaleas are blooming.”

“I love all the colors they choose to use. You can tell the grounds crew puts a lot of work into what they do. You may not appreciate it until you are on another campus, that’s when you can really tell,” said Pope.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Dolezal said. “I know not everyone who comes up here pays a lot of attention, so for the ones who do, I’m glad they enjoy it and that’s why we’re here.”

To show your appreciation to the grounds crew, remember to throw away your trash and keep your feet off the grass.

 

 

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