Creating a beautiful campus while following strict guidelines
Changing with the times has been key to the evolution of the grounds management program of George Van Haasteren. In his 22 years as director of grounds and athletics for the Dwight-Englewood School of Englewood, N.J., he’s seen the private school grow from a 22-acre campus to its current 42 acres.
There are now 14 buildings on the main site serving the student body, which ranges from kindergarten to high school. Along with walkways, parking areas, ornamental plant beds, general landscape turf and athletic fields, his department maintains the property for the $2.5 million home for the head of the school. They also maintain a 2.5-acre site, .25 mile off campus, which previously served as the operations center for the grounds department until they relocated to an on-campus facility in 2006.
A 2-acre native soil, natural turf field located on campus is used for physical education classes, intramurals, field hockey and girls’ lacrosse. The 5-acre Solomon Field site includes two soccer fields, one baseball field and one softball field. The softball field is sodded over to serve as another soccer field in the fall.
Leggett Field is a multipurpose FieldTurf infill microfilament synthetic that was installed on campus two years ago. “The synthetic serves as the major PE and intramural field and our football teams practice on it,” says Van Haasteren. “It’s also the backup field for practices when action on the natural grass fields could cause damage because of weather conditions or when all other natural grass fields are in use. We had the perimeter boundaries inlaid and paint the other markings as needed.”
One of the biggest changes in the management program came about with the New Jersey School Integrated Pest Management Act. It was adopted in December of 2002 and was followed by regulations issued in November of 2004 with the purpose “to provide safe and effective pest management and to minimize the use of pesticides in and around school buildings.” Public, charter and private schools were required to adopt and implement a model policy for their own sites by June 12, 2004.
IPM procedures were already incorporated into Van Haasteren’s program. He says, “We’d always been good stewards of the environment and very protective of our student body. We’d established target thresholds for the degree of weed, insect or disease damage, using chemical controls only as needed when cultural practices did not keep the pests in check. We always followed the label directions precisely and made applications only when the students were off campus. All application information was recorded and the records maintained according to regulations and our own very stringent practices.”
Even with all this in place, the new regulations increased the workload. Each incident of any pest, inside or outside, needed to be documented and tracked. Prior notification of any use of a pesticide on the school property was to be issued to all staff and the parents or guardians of each student at least 72 hours prior to the use. The information was also required to be posted at least 72 hours prior to the application and to remain posted for 72 hours after the treatment.
Notification information was extensive and included the common name of the product; the EPA registration number and any statement on sensitivity; the potential adverse effects of the product; the reasons for the application; and the location, date and time of application. While only one potential application date was required for indoor product use, three dates needed to be established for outdoor applications in case of weather-related cancellations.
Additional requirements included annual notification to all on the details of the school’s IPM policy, including a list of any pesticide used on the property within the last 12 months. Records of any applications were to be kept at least three years.
The time and paperwork required for all this was extensive, making elimination of any pesticide application the desired goal.
Making IPM work
The Dwight-Englewood campus is 5 miles from the George Washington beltway, but it seems worlds apart. Van Haasteren says, “The campus is our showplace, the visitors’ first impression of our facilities. We’re retaining that level of beauty, with color, texture, shape and seasonal changes, but we’re incorporating more of the ornamental grasses, perennials and woody ornamentals than annual plantings. So, many of the changes we’ve made while implementing the new IPM program require more time spent monitoring conditions and more manual labor, so we need to compensate in other areas.”
Van Haasteren tries to avoid all pesticide applications. He says, “We used to apply preemergence controls to the landscape beds as well as the turf. Though we’ve done more mulching, the beds now require more frequent cultivation and hand-pulling of any weeds that pop up.
“We’ve adjusted the athletic field maintenance program, using more frequent aeration to relieve compaction of our native soil. We’re using less phosphorus in our fertilizer, but a little higher level of nitrogen. That, in conjunction with the aeration, helps cut down on the clover we used to spot-treat as needed. Now we pull it by hand. Our fields are a combination of bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. We’re now using endophyte-enhanced seed in our turfgrass mix and searching out more disease-resistant and drought-tolerant varieties. We’re overseeding and topdressing more often to keep the turf as dense as possible to crowd out weeds and withstand insect or disease infestations.
“We used to make a broad application of insecticide for grub control. Now we identify the specific areas of activity, count the number of grubs, record how they react to cultural controls and, if they reach problem proportions, give the 72-hour notification before treatment of those areas only.
George Van Haasteren is a strong proponent of giving back to the industry and the community. He’s filled multiple roles with the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS), including board member, president and past president. He’s worked hard on various committees and was instrumental in improving the Certified Grounds Manager program. The PGMS provides multiple educational and networking opportunities through its regional seminars and the national PGMS School of Grounds Management, now held in conjunction with the GIE + EXPO in Louisville, Ky. He says, “With most facilities experiencing some degree of budget stress and grounds managers being asked to do more with less, the close collaboration helps members better serve their facility users.”
His son Kyle, 14, helps him prepare and maintain Bergenfield’s Hickey Field for the New Jersey State Little League Tournament. This Little League field hosts over 300 games a year with continual use from March until November. Their goal is to meet the challenge and exceed the expectations for this field, giving the young athletes a playing surface that more than equals the leagues’ Eastern Regional Center at Bristol, Conn., and the championship field at Williamsport, Pa. Despite the weather and the limited budget, they make it happen year after year.
Marking and lining the fields is now on a four-day rotation because we no longer use growth regulators in our paint.”
Implementation of the program is time intensive, and it took a while for the campus to realize that. Van Haasteren developed a PowerPoint presentation to help other departments understand all the implications, because the regulations affect not just the grounds, but the entire school community.
As work continues on the IPM implementation, Van Haasteren is fine-tuning the master plan. He says, “It will take time to totally incorporate the transition, but it’s just one more of the many challenges of this profession.”
Van Haasteren has three full-time personnel in the grounds department. Jim Dusenbery has been on staff for 16 years, and Jose Hernandez and Santos Blanco for nine years each.
The staff has multiple responsibilities beyond traditional grounds care. He says, “From 7 to 8:30, one staffer will be working traffic control while another will be working litter and trash detail. Two of our staff members drive buses for student transport to sports events or activities such as field trips. They also shuttle the teams to the 5-acre off-campus fields, which could tie them up for the rest of the day by 1 p.m. We’re also in charge of snow removal, although we bring in personnel from maintenance and housekeeping to assist with that.
“I have a monthly schedule and coordinate that with the weather conditions, athletic schedule and bus schedule, plus the work orders that have come in, to set up the daily assignments.”
He also credits the cooperation of the athletic department for making it all work. He says, “We discuss field needs at least daily, and maybe two or three times a day. They take pride in our fields and are very willing to make adjustments and rotate activities to preserve field quality.”
Van Haasteren’s role was officially recognized in October of 2007, when he was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The school noted “his significant impact on the condition and safety of our athletic fields. His dedication to his craft, the well being of our athletes in the school and unselfish commitment to excellence has made our athletic fields among the best in the county and state. He has been recognized by national and state associations for his outstanding work in this field.”
He says, “That kind of recognition and the feedback from former students is uplifting. The students remember our fields as the best around. Many, even those that competed at Division I universities, state [that] our fields were the best they’d ever played on. That’s what drives those of us in this profession. The love of what we do, the pride in what we accomplish and the goal to make our facilities better each day than the day before.”
Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.