Covering ground

The landscape crew keeps the campus beautiful all year round

By Jackie Mitchell ’14

Ken Majewski has seen John Carroll’s campus transform and evolve throughout the 20 years he’s held the title of grounds foreman in the facilities department. When he first arrived, the University was just breaking ground for the O’Malley Center. In the time he’s been on campus, the JCU constructed the Dolan Center for Science and Technology, doubled the size of Grasselli Library, demolished the Bohannon Center, and built Don Shula stadium. The one element that has remained a constant throughout this metamorphosis is the historic core area around the main quad, one of the most recognizable areas of campus.

“When alumni return for reunion or another reason, they see the inside of the campus, and it probably looks a lot like it did when they were here, even going back into the ’60s,” says Majewski, who describes campus as an oasis in the middle of the suburbs. “You drive by and don’t know this inner quad and residence hall area are here.”

campus_beauty_webMajewski serves as leader of the four other full-time members of the grounds crew: Jeff Haag, who’s responsible for the athletic fields, and Kelly Egan, Chris Kane, and Tim Tomba, who are responsible for the other areas of campus. Together, they keep the historic beauty of JCU alive and flourishing.

“Great care and planning goes into the design of all new and renovated spaces to be sure they’ll fit within the architectural style of the campus,” says Carol Dietz, associate vice president of facilities.

Easy on the eyes
For the grounds crew, a day in their lives is entirely dependent on weather. Their busiest months are April, May, and June, when they prepare for two significant events – commencement and reunion. Their tools are usually stored away in November, and for the next four months the crew’s main priority is snow removal. As soon as they’re finished repairing any damage wreaked during the winter months, the crew starts planning for commencement. When the last of the snow melts, they clean up any winter debris, then tend to trees and flower beds by reestablishing an edge and laying bark mulch around them. During the hectic spring, they also have their hands full working on the athletic fields for baseball, softball, and track, as well as end-of-the-school-year student events and cookouts. The crew puts in extra time to make sure they get as much work done as possible during the short period they have to prepare for commencement.

“If we get an early spring, like two years ago, we’re able to start in the middle of March and get everything cleaned up,” Majewski says. “This year, we really couldn’t get anything going until the third week of April, so it can change significantly.”

By the numbers

Acres of grass on campus – 25
Varieties of trees – 80
Types of flowers – more than 40
Salt used each year – 105 tons
Average amount of snow plowed – 100 inches
How often the grass is cut during the year – 25
Fertilizer applications a year – 4
Trucks, tractors, and utility vehicles – 7
Riding lawn mowers – 3
Annual grounds department budget – less than $500,000
Bark mulch used before commencement – 200 cubic yards
Display beds on campus – 1 acre

Most of the crew’s efforts during the spring are concentrated on caring for the high-traffic areas and ensuring the main quad looks its best for commencement. Pansies, a cool-weather plant, blossom in the flower beds. After Memorial Day, these flowers are replaced by summer annuals including geraniums, begonias, and petunias. By the time reunion weekend rolls around, the flowers are in full bloom, the perennial beds are opening up, and the plants are more mature. Majewski plants about one-third the amount of flowers he planted 20 years ago without losing any flowering space because he added more perennials to the flower beds. The flower bed around the bust of John Carroll used to be an annual bed, but it’s now brimming with perennials at a lesser expense. The perennials have expanded the color and variety of flowers.

Last summer, the crew wasn’t able to cut the grass often because a severe drought, so they focused on trimming trees and bushes and tending to other areas instead. This summer, campus is looking green again because of an abundance of rain, and the crew is accomplishing much more lawn work, maintaining the height of the grass at about three inches. The 25 acres of grass are usually cut every week April through July.

“We’re always doing the same kind of work, but on a different schedule depending on the weather,” Majewski says.

Their work also involves caring for the 80 different varieties of trees that populate campus. The most dominant trees on campus are the honey locusts, which border the main quad. Crab apple trees also are featured predominantly and brighten up campus with their blooming flowers in the spring just before commencement. Majewski prefers red maples, hearty trees he’s been planting since he started at Carroll. Many will recognize the trees towering outside of the Lombardo Student Center.

“They’ll last as long as the University is here,” he says.

In the cold rain and snow
The crew’s duties also include an abundance of snow removal during the winter. With the right equipment, the crew is able to keep sidewalks and parking lots safe and free of ice and snow.

“Manpower isn’t as important as the equipment you have,” Majewski says.

One of the biggest safety features during the snowy months is a glycol system installed in the concrete outside of the Lombardo Student Center that prevents snow from accumulating on the concrete during a storm. The system also is featured outside Sutowski Hall, saving clean-up time and allowing the crew to focus on snow removal in other areas. On the snowiest days, Majewski and his crew are usually hard at work by four or five in the morning, making sure everything is cleared before the first class begins at 8 a.m.

“I’ll start anytime; I’ll even plow overnight if there’s enough snow to warrant it,” Majewski says. “We’ve had some record-breaking years.”

Because University Heights is in the secondary snow belt and at a higher elevation than most cities in Northeast Ohio, campus often receives about one-third more of the snow than downtown. The crew uses two different products when applying salt to the walkways and parking lots. Basic rock salt is used on all asphalt surfaces, such as parking lots and driveways, and an environmentally friendly salt coated in a food processing byproduct that’s not as corrosive is applied on all other paved surfaces, such as the concrete sidewalks and brickwork.

Committed to the core
Grounds staff commitment to the facilities mission includes providing a clean, safe environment for living, learning, and personal development, while preserving the beauty and history of the campus, says Bernie Beyer, director of physical plant, who manages maintenance and grounds operation. The five members of the grounds crew also take on work-study students to help them, but fewer students are applying for the job. At one time, Majewski had 12 to 15 work-study students working for him, now he has only one or two; but the facilities department is planning to hire more students this year for grounds work and snow removal.

The grounds crew’s most significant accomplishment is protecting the old style of campus while adding flair. Their latest project is planting a collection of native plants outside of Schott Dining Hall in conjunction with student faculty volunteers. The project, which began in September, is reminiscent of the native prairie garden outside of the Administration Building near Einstein Bros. Bagels, but on a larger scale.

“Everyone in the facilities department is committed to the mission of the University,” Dietz says. JCU

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