Messiah College crews get their daily marching orders online


Tim Clarenbach, groundskeeper in sports turf, saw-pruning a tree.
PHOTOS BY SARAH DIPAOLA.

There’s a lot of turf and landscaping to cover at Messiah College’s 475-acre campus in rural Grantham, Pa., a suburb of Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg.

For Jared Rudy, manager of grounds maintenance at the college, and his crew, keeping a pristine campus through detailed landscaping and turf care to please visitors, students, families and faculty is a priority. Since Messiah is located along the Yellow Breeches Creek, the college is also a popular stop for recreation enthusiasts and families who enjoy tubing on the creek or hiking the campus trail.

Rudy and his crew of eight full-time and 11 seasonal workers (10 from April through November, and one high school worker) manage to take care of Messiah’s developed and undeveloped land that includes landscaped areas around buildings, green space, athletic and outlying fields, and the college’s satellite properties.

Division of labor

The campus is divided into five zones that are overseen by specific crew leaders. In addition to the zone crew leaders, there is a sports turf crew leader, a grounds mechanic and an herbaceous plant specialist. Crew leaders can find daily duties outlined on Messiah’s Grounds Services’ web page at www.messiah.edu/offices/facility_services/grounds-services. “It is online for two main reasons,” Rudy says. “It illustrates to the Messiah community, visitors, potential students and even other colleges what high expectations we have for our campus grounds. And, [it] also provides a benchmark and/or example for other colleges in the same situation as our grounds crew.”

There are specialized crews for specific turf zones. For example, the sports turf crew co-leaders, Mark Graybill and Chris Carbaugh, oversee 10 natural sports fields and one AstroTurf playing field; manage the annual turf program on all athletic fields; paint and prepare fields for all regular season and playoff games; take care of six private and three public tennis courts; prepare fields for special occasions, such as summer camps, Special Olympics and commencement; and oversee bonfire preparations and creek-side picnics.

There are seven varsity fields and three recreation sports fields, which round the total to 22 acres of sports turf that require specialized care. “We mow all of our fields twice a week, and during the sports season, three times a week,” says Rudy. “Grass heights in season are maintained at 1.5 inches. Grass heights off-season, during the summer, and on rec sports fields are maintained at 2.5 to 3 inches.

“Line painting on practice fields and rec sports fields is done once a week, and line painting for game fields is done before every game. The AstroTurf field is painted twice a year.”

Messiah College does outsource some of its turf maintenance to Tomlinson and Bomberger Lawn Care (www.tbll.com) in Lancaster, Pa., which takes care of all athletic fields, campus turf areas, tree and shrub fertilizer treatments and pesticide treatments. According to Rudy, Tomlinson and Bomberger puts 10 applications per year on the athletic fields, two applications on campus grass, and three treatments on the trees and shrubs dotting the main campus.


Messiah College grounds crew comprised of equal number of full-time and seasonal employees.

Another Lancaster County lawn care company, River Valley Organics (www.rivervalleyorganics.com), located in Wrightsville, Pa., is contracted by Messiah College to perform express mulch blowing services on all mulched flower beds on campus. “They apply around 700 cubic yards of mulch each year,” says Rudy.


Bill Charron, grounds services, mows grassy banks at Messiah College’s Starry Athletic Complex with a Kubota L tractor.

Elizabeth Sobrevilla, the herbaceous plant specialist, is responsible for the annual hanging baskets around campus, indoor plant care, and the annual and perennial flower beds. She also oversees more than 10 specialized flower gardens at Messiah College: Legacy Park; Eunice Steinbrecher Dedication, Love, Serenity and xeriscape gardens, Orchard Hill, Eisenhower Campus Circle, Climenhaga Homestead, and several other dedicated gardens and landscapes. The college has approximately 10 acres of mulched and/or wood chipped areas on campus.

It takes a lot of equipment to maintain over 400 acres of turf. Messiah College owns seven half-ton pickups, two dump trucks, two full-size Case tractors, a Caterpillar backhoe and skid loader, a midsize Kubota L tractor, three 3685 Kubota mowers, a Kubota RTV utility vehicle and five John Deere Gators. Additionally, all five grounds crews are equipped with two Stihl weed trimmers, two Stihl backpack leaf blowers, a Stihl hedge trimmer and chain saw, a Little Wonders edger and Exmark push mowers, as well as many hand tools and pruners.

Snow removal

During the winter, the ground crew is responsible for 25-plus parking lots and driveways, miles of sidewalks, and over 5 miles of roads that surround the campus and connect parking lots. Eight-foot plows are hooked up to six of their trucks, and three trucks are outfitted with salt spreaders. Plows, brooms and blower attachments are put on the 3685 Kubota tractors for clearing sidewalks. Ten-foot plows and salt spreaders are used with the dump trucks, and Rudy’s crew uses two Gators with spreaders to apply ice melt on the sidewalks. “We buy all of our own material, including salt for the roads and ice melt,” says Rudy.

Landscapes, lawns and trees, oh my!

“We use organic fertilizer on the athletic fields two times a year,” says Rudy. “And this year we are using a broadleaf herbicide from Dupont called Imprelis, which has a low toxicity to mammals, low environmental impact, and lower application rate than most broadleaf herbicides. We compost all of our grass clippings, leaves and shrub clippings. All of the brush and downed trees are recycled into wood chips and reused on the Fit Trail, a walking trail through the wooded perimeter of campus; on wooded areas; and tree-covered banks across campus.”

Messiah’s ground maintenance department also does the majority of tree work on campus, but they do outsource some large tree removal, tree removal near buildings, and tree pruning and tree maintenance jobs.

Like all reputable landscape crews, Rudy encourages continued learning for his employees. “All of our full-time employees need to be certified by the state with Category 23 pesticide applicator licenses. We also have two guys certified in chain saw skills and safety. And, yes, we encourage continuing education during all times of the year with seminars, hands-on training and Internet courses,” explains Rudy.

Rudy didn’t start out in the landscape field. He graduated in 2000 from Messina College with a sports and exercise degree. However, he worked at a local nursery throughout his college and post-college years. “When I graduated from college, there weren’t a lot of job openings in the sports science field. I was a personal trainer for awhile, but it wasn’t for me. And, working at Country Market Nursery through college, I grew to totally love learning about trees, grass and any plant, really,” relates Rudy. “I found it rewarding to help people with designing and picking landscapes for their personal gardens.”

Rudy’s years working at the nursery have helped him tackle the job of managing Messiah College’s vast property. He and his crew take their work seriously to the point that they show the world, in precise detail, what is involved with taking care of the grounds at Messiah College.

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