Western's Facilities Management struggles to balance differing groundskeeping methods
Construction is changing the face of campus as new landscaping and bike pathways focus on sustainable groundskeeping rather than simply keeping up appearances.
The appearance of the grounds is the second reason students choose a school, according to Kathy Wetherell, interim vice president for Business and Financial Affairs at Western.
Groundskeeping methods at Western depend on balancing appearance with sustainability, two concepts that are not always compatible. Despite a tight budget and a small staff, groundskeepers from Facilities Management at Western are building a sustainable groundskeeping program literally from the ground up. These gardeners have spent the last decade reducing pesticide use, testing organic fertilizers and experimenting with creative ways to control weeds.
Many of the groundskeeping decisions on campus come down to money, said Gary Hodge, a maintenance specialist with Facilities Management. Some of the more innovative methods have been cheaper and more sustainable than conventional ones, but others are not as feasible because appearance outweighs their cost or efficiency.
Athletic fields: pesticides and fertilizers
The athletic fields are the only areas on campus still treated with both chemical fertilizer and pesticides because they receive so much use, said Gary Hodge, a maintenance specialist with Facilities Management. Ruts and gouges tear up grass and are a safety hazard for players, so the fields were temporarily closed for treatment.
Are used only on Carver field, behind the Chemistry Building, and upper and lower Fairhaven fields, not the softball or turf field
Need to be applied approximately once every five years per field
Need one application to halt weed growth so grass can re-establish roots after fields are torn up by overuse
Close fields down for one to two months for renovation
Increase potential risk to utility crews who apply them (as opposed to not using any pesticides)
Increase potential risk to organisms and water quality
Are more expensive than natural alternatives
Will need to be applied more often as the campus population grows and fields get more use
Reduce the amount of chemicals applied to fields
Produce slower-growing grass
Lead to grass that holds less color
Lead to less homogenous-looking fields
Are more expensive than synthetic fertilizers
Are cheaper than organic fertilizers
Put more chemicals into the soil
Result in more pristine-looking fields
Wood chips versus bark:
Instead of using bark, Facilities Management now uses wood chips donated by Bellingham tree services on most areas of campus. Crews first lay corrugated cardboard from the Associated Students Recycle Center on soil, then put several inches of wood chips on top. Water can permeate the cardboard, but weeds have a harder time growing up through cardboard than through bark, said Randy Godfrey, a grounds and nurseries specialist with Facilities Management. This allows Western to support local businesses and maintain campus in a more effective and sustainable manner, Hodge said.
Are free from local tree services
Prevent weed growth for at least two years in areas covered with cardboard and wood chips
Last several years before breaking down
Hold more moisture than bark, so plants need less water
Are moist and benefit soil as they decompose
Do not have places for weeds blown in by wind to attach (unlike bark), so fewer weeds grow
Are donated, so there are not always enough to cover large areas
Do not have as homogenous a look as traditional bark
Costs $24 per cubic yard
Breaks down after approximately one year
Is still used around places such as the Wade King Student Recreation Center, because the desired consistent look cannot be achieved with wood chips