Taking care of the grounds at Alvernia University

Photo by John Komancheck.
Mike Laws, in the back, with the grounds crew at Alvernia University.

“It’s all about curb appeal,” says Michael Laws, assistant director of facilities and campus operations at Alvernia University (www.alvernia.edu), Reading, Pa. The city of Reading is the county seat of Berks County, which is 45 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Craig Wojszwillo is the grounds supervisor for Alvernia University. Laws says, “He has been with Alvernia approximately 10 years, but not [always] as a grounds supervisor.”

In addition to Wojszwillo, Alvernia has four full-time employees, two students who work part-time, and other college students who work for the grounds crew throughout the year. The grounds crew utilizes Hustler zero-turn mowers, as well as equipment from Bobcat and Toro. “We have five main pieces of equipment, along with a handful of push mowers and hand-held equipment,” Laws says. “Our goal has always been to make the campus look clean, friendly and maintained.”

Part of the curb appeal includes a new area that’s been transformed from a parking lot to a green space. It’s called the Campus Commons, another sign that the campus is evolving with the times, as well as growing from a small college with 1,200 students in the early 1990s to a robust university of over 2,200 students in 2009. The campus exists on part of 123 acres of land that is shared with the Sisters of the Franciscan Order. The university utilizes 55 of the 123 acres.

Laws explains that the new Campus Commons, which will be unveiled in spring 2009, will bring the university together. He says, “This originally was an asphalt parking lot converted to a grass area that includes design implements of landscape plantings, concrete walkways and brick retaining walls. The goal was to make a core area in the center part of campus for activities, recreation and socialization. The Campus Commons is completed. The area was sodded and has an irrigation system. The purpose of reclaiming the parking lot to a grass area was to create a place where students can congregate and [bring] synergy to the campus.”

Alvernia’s grounds crew retains the curb appeal by constant care of the turf areas. Laws says, “It takes a lot of care and management. A full campus trash run is completed daily. Replanting grass is typically done twice a year. We have seasonal programs to which we address turf, athletic fields and bed maintenance.”

Alvernia uses Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass as their primary turf. There are 32 weeks of grass cutting throughout the year. Of course, a dry or wet spring, summer or fall determines the exact number of weeks that turf will be mowed.

“Naturally, we need to adjust the mowing schedules according to weather. Additional fuel usage for mowing has not been an issue. Cost of fuel is a different story,” he says.

In addition to mowing, Alvernia’s turf schedule consists of annual flower planting, topdressing, aeration and seeding, which is completed on a biannual basis. They also outsource some of their landscaping needs. Laws says, “We are partnered with several different companies that give us support in tree management, pesticide and fertilization applications, turf maintenance, topdressing, coring and reseeding. The companies and processes are either annual or biannual.”

Laws describes taking care of Alvernia University’s turf as, “time-consuming, expensive [and needing] constant care. The benefits are the ability to support athletic functions and to create a campus that is pleasant looking and inviting with natural grass and landscaping features. Weed and feed, mowing and topdressing are all expenditures of significant dollar amounts. In order to have a campus and athletic fields that are appealing, playable and maintained, the university has committed resources in support of growth and sustainability.”

Photos Courtesy of Alvernia University.
One of the many sports playedon Alvernia University’s turf. A class discussion takes place outside onAlvernia University’s many open spaces.
Alvernia Universityview from theschool’s library. Class discussion on one ofAlvernia’s lawns.

The grounds crew uses limited IPM practices. Law says, “We utilize some grub and insect control.”

The university is in constant use with the 594 students living on campus, and the many students who commute to classes from the morning through evening hours. The school has been evolving in the past 20 years or so, with new buildings being added on a nearly annual basis. The grounds crew proves their flexibility and innovativeness with the constant reshuffling of turf and landscaping needs around the continual construction projects.

The Crusaders, the school’s athletics program, has 15 sports teams that require heavy turf use. These sports include soccer, cross-country, lacrosse, golf, baseball, softball, tennis and field hockey, plus a host of intramural sports. Since the athletic fields require constant use, they also need continual care. In recent years, Alvernia also gained four new athletic fields, the Sovereign Park Fields.

Alvernia’s baseball, softball and tennis teams play at adjoining Angelica Park. Laws says, “The university has a long-term lease with the city [of Reading] and is responsible for the capital upgrade to the athletic areas. This area is roughly about 8 acres. We are responsible, in conjunction with the city, for maintaining this property.”

The curb appeal that Laws and the ground crew strive to maintain at Alvernia University goes beyond all expectations.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ephrata, Pa. She writes for various trade magazines focusing on landscape companies, agriculture and business.