Outdoor Services Crew

Monday, March 30, 2015

Newbie Blogger

I recently joined the Outdoor Services team.  In my previous career I sat in an office for hours, preparing reports, attending meetings and working on project deadlines.  Stepping outside meant a walk from the building to my car.
Since joining the grounds team at CU I have had a chance to raise my head up and look around.  What I see is the breathtaking campus I graduated from.  It was always a great place to bring family and friends.  Sadly, I never asked “how” or “who” kept it beautiful.  Well, now I am asking.  And with this blog will continue to share the answers.

The grounds team has entrusted me to blog and when I say entrusted, I mean they have taken a leap of faith with someone who has no experience working in a grounds department to explain what they do.  I have a lot of questions.  For instance, how does a place designed for 3,000 people in the 1800s now take care of close to 30,000 people and still stay safe, inviting and beautiful?
In the short time I have been here, I already have the answer to “who.”  It’s a team of professionals, many with college degrees, who have chosen to work on landscaping, irrigation, trees and grounds care.  I even have the answer to “why.”  It’s simple, they love being outside.  They weren’t meant to sit behind a desk all day.  I get that! 

Everything they do is new to me.  As the teams shift from winter tasks into new spring activities I’ve already begun asking “what” and “how”.  Stay tuned, answers are on the way.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Record Snow for February

Coloradans have a saying--if you don't like the weather today, just wait for tomorrow.  That’s  life when you live near the Rocky Mountains.  However, when a snow storm pattern hits like it did this February, even long time residents wonder when the change will come.  It was a record breaking February for the University of Colorado with a total snow fall of 56 inches. 

 A lot of work goes into organizing snow removal on campus.  For more information about that go to http://www.cuoutdoorservices.blogspot.com/search/label/Snow%20Removal     
February’s multiple snow storms took their toll on the Outdoor Services crew responsible for campus snow removal.  They dealt with weekly storms that dropped an average of 11 inches each time they passed through.  Out of four Sundays in February, three averaged 5 inches of snow followed by additional accumulation during the week.

103 inches of snow fell on campus from November 2014 through February 2015
When the campus gets this much snow all at once, it is a challenge to find places to put it all.  Much is shoved off onto the turf and the flower bed areas to quickly make campus safe.  It typically takes two hours to make a complete first pass on a snow route.  It took longer during the February storms.  There was a lot of snow to move and the crews often found their walkways covered in snow minutes after they plowed their routes.

As the February storms blasted through campus each week there was little time for the teams to recover.  In addition to moving snow, they battled high and low temperature fluctuations.  During the day, the snow warmed and caused water run off onto sidewalks and roadways.  During the night, temperatures dropped to freezing, and caused ice buildup.

Daily Lowest Tempretures/Highest Tempretures in relation to Snow Fall
Tempretures provided by on campus Weather Station 
Combine black ice with new fallen snow and the battle to make campus safe put all teams into high gear.   They came in hours before the campus opened hitting sidewalks, outside stairs and roadways with liquid magnesium, Ice Slicer, bags of granular ice melt and sand.  

What happens when plowing, sanding and ice removal stop?  The ground crews jump into their next campus phase. 

Turf damage caused by plows pushing snow off sidewalks
While most are enjoying sunny skies and relieved that winter is over, Outdoor Services crews are beginning repairs to areas damaged by snow and ice.  They patch turf, remove sand and repair cement.  For the grounds crew, the work doesn't stop just because the snow has stopped falling.

To give you a few facts about last year's snow fall.   Storms continued through March, April and May.  In fact, 7 inches of snow fell as late as May 12, 2014.  We are hoping Spring arrives with warm weather this year.   Spring showers are  welcome, but snow should stay where it belongs--in winter months.
Snow and sand piles awaiting removal

If you see someone plowing, shoveling, repairing turf or sweeping up sand, just know they are working hard to keep the campus safe and beautiful for all to use.  We are in Boulder, it's going to snow.  Be safe out there.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Snow Removal at CU Boulder

Snow Removal on Campus: How does it work?

Due to the fact that we have an on-campus residential population and ongoing research activities, and because the weather forecast can change very quickly, the campus prepares to clear snow and mitigate ice as soon as a snow storm is forecasted.

The University has a Snow committee made up of representatives from Parking & Transportation Services, Housing & Dining Services, Facilities Operations, city of Boulder, CUPD, Emergency Management, Risk Management and the Office of Disability Services. This group meets monthly year round to coordinate and review the snow removal process and make recommendations for improvements.

The day before snow is predicted to start, the department of Public Safety and Facilities Management begin having conversations and gathering information as to what actions are needed and identify potential issues and decisions that would need to be made if the storm develops as forecasted.  This includes participating in conference calls with the National Weather Service to get the most up to date forecast, and having discussions with senior administrators, that continue throughout the duration of the storm, who have a key role in determining whether the campus needs to be closed or otherwise change its operating status. Campus operations groups with snow removal responsibilities are making sure their ice abatement inventories and snow removal equipment are ready to go for the storm.

Based on the forecasted time of the snow beginning to fall, Facilities Operations, Housing Facilities Services, and Parking Services all determine when they will have crews and/or contractors report to start the snow removal process and ice abatement if necessary. These personnel typically arrive on campus anywhere between 2:00am and 6:00am depending on their role and responsibilities. During this same time frame, key operational personnel are providing information to Campus Administrators, who are responsible for making decisions about the campus operating status. Factors such as the rate of snow fall, accumulation of snow on campus, campus road and sidewalk conditions, the short and long term weather forecast, local and regional road conditions, public transportation operating status, and other safety considerations are used to determine if there will be any change to the campus' operating status. If a decision is made to change campus operating status, University Communications will get that notification publicized through a variety of methods.

For each snow storm the operations groups are able to devote the following resources to snow removal efforts:
Facilities Operations has 16 plows ranging in size from street plows to smaller tractors deployed on streets, sidewalks and loading docks. Our hand removal team consists of 12 employees from Outdoor Services, 10 student employees, up to 45 custodial staff and 12 staff from the trade’s shops helping to clear snow from building entries, stairs, ramps and bus stops. 
Housing Facilities Services has 18 employees working with 6 plows deployed on sidewalks and parking lots, and additional custodial staff working on building entries, stairs and ramps. 
Parking Services utilizes their pre-established snow removal contractor to clear out parking lots, and Parking Services staff attended to areas such as ramps, pay stations, and smaller areas that plows cannot access.

The snow removal crews and/or contractors work to clear snow and ice to ensure that our affiliates and guests are able to safely move around campus to the greatest extent possible, and to make sure our essential services (dining halls, emergency services, etc.) for our on-campus residential population and research projects can continue.

Another partner I need to mention is the city of Boulder who is responsible for clearing some of the streets on campus, such as Regent Drive. Our campus Snow Marshall stays in close contact with the City to make sure we are coordinating our efforts.

As the snow fall winds down, the operations groups are planning for post storm activities such as pile removal, plowing out sidewalks to their full width, opening all building entries to their full width, and continuing ice mitigation efforts. How long these activities continue is dependent on the amount of snow received and the temperatures that follow the storm.

As you can see, it is a well thought out and multi-faceted operation to clear snow on campus.

Don Inglis

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Looking Back Part 2

I received a lot of feed back on a post I did last year called Looking Back .  Many people ask for another one with more pictures of the past and present, so without many words, here is part 2. Also in case you didn't know you can click on the pictures for a larger view. This is true of any picture posted on this blog.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Turfgaurd Sensors

Over the past few years a new tool has come around for the Turf Industry and after letting things mature a bit I have moved forward in deploying this technology here at CU. It is called Turfgaurd and is a soil moisture, temperature, and salinity monitoring tool that will help us monitor the soil profile directly. The system is wireless and uses the backbone of our current Network 8000 Central control system.

There are two pieces to the system, one is the soil probe itself that is inserted into the ground and the other is a small radio transceiver that is mounted inside our current VP controlers and draws power from the controller for operation. There is a small base station in the Turf Office that receives the signal and is viewed through the Sitevision software on the computer in the office. The main display screen, seen above, shows a quick overview of the readings of each of the sensors. Currently we have 9 sensors deployed in locations throughout campus. The main display screen shows soil moisture (top) soil temperature (middle) and the soil salinity(bottom) in a easy to see quick glance.

The soil sensors themselves are self contained and have a battery life of about 3 years. They have an in-ground range of about 500' to reach a transceiver. There are 6 probes on each sensor, 3 on top and 3 probes 5" below.

In the picture above you can see the upper set of probes and the lower set of probes. Each probe is responsible for a different reading. The install is pretty easy.  We used a golf course cup cutter to create a clean hole so the sensor can be inserted into undisturbed soil. We chose to place the upper probes at a depth of 2 inches from the top of the soil profile. We recieve readings at 2" and 7" depth in the soil profile.

In the pictures above you can see the sequence of the installation. The cup cutter makes the perfect hole to insert the device into as well as provides us a clean sod plug to put back on top when we are finished. Once the hole is cut to the proper depth to put the top probes at 2" below the soil surface, the probe is then pushed into the side of the hole into the undisturbed soil profile to ensure good tight contact with the soil profile. To make sure we were able to find them we took exact measurements to triangulate the location of each sensor as well as put a large metal washer on the top of the sensor allowing us to use a metal detector to pin-point their exact location.

The real power of the system though is in the data monitoring. I am able to pull up the individual sensors in the field and look closer at the data and determine the profile situation.
In this graph you see two colors, these represent two different sensors. Both of these sensors were placed on Franklin Field. The yellow line is the center of the field where we have decent soil and the orange line is the north section of the field where we have major challenges with the soil profile. You can clearly see the top graph shows that on the 16 of October we ran an irrigation cycle.  You can clearly see the spike in the graph representing the applied moisture as it reached the 2" depth. We have always known that the north end of the field holds moisture and does not drain very well at all.  This graph clearly represents our past knowledge from a scientific perspective. You can see that the yellow line is showing the moisture moving through the profile at a quicker rate than the orange line, thus showing the profile drying quicker. Then at the end of the line you can start to see the moisture increase from the rain snow mix we just recieved.

This graph represents two sensors we have deployed on Farrand Field. One sensor(orange) is in the center of the field where we have the Quickdrain drainage system and the other sensor(green) is in the west end of the field outside of the drainage system. Again as we have always known the drainage system works great at allowing moisture to pass through the profile. This shows how much faster the drainage system prevents standing water on the main field portion. You can see a spike on the orange sensor which shows an irrigation cycle we ran on the field, the green represents the non-drainage portion of the field which we did not water because the soil holds moisture and there was not a need to irrigate that portion.

As you know, CU is a very compact campus which provides many challenges. One major challenge is parking on campus, especially during large campus events. The first priority of the recreation fields is to provide a safe playing field for all the rec sports that are played on them.  Secondary uses include events and in some cases parking cars on the fields for even larger events.  During large events there are times when mother nature does not cooperate with event plans.  At those times the decision is made based on in-the-field inspection as well as the Turf Crew's knowledge of what moisture level is safe to allow cars to park on the fields and not damage the fields. Obviously when the decision is made to close parking for an event there are impacts to all facets of the event. This includes dissapointment with not being able to park directly on campus for whatever event you may be attending.  Inevitably there are questions about the necessity of the closure. This new system will help greatly with providing scientific data to help support the Turf Crew's knowledge and experience with the ability of the field to handle each specific type of event and if the field condition is right for the type of usage.

Recently there was a need to close the field for parking for an event. In the top picture you can see that our soil moisture level was at 46.6% at the time parking was supposed to begin. The biggest challenge for the turf crew is not evaluating the field for foot traffic, that is easy.  The real challenge comes with knowing that vehicles can greatly vary in weight compaired to human traffic and you could have vehicles weighing from 2,000lbs to large SUV's weighing up to 6-7,000lbs.  This will dramatically increase the need for the soil profile to be at the proper moisture level to be able to resist these kind of forces without altering the grade of the field.  In the second picture above you can see the field soil moisture was much lower 37.09% at the time for another field parking event.  That may not seem like much of a drop in percentage but the field condition was much improved and we were able to allow parking for an event on that day.  The field was noticeably dryer but it was still not in the ideal condition.  But that is where the human factor plays the biggest roll in the decision, for the turf staff to know, from years of experience with field parking, what the "feel" under the foot is makes a huge difference.  Just relying on the data is not enough for these decisions.  Remember that the moisture reading is from 2" below the surface and depending on the recent temperatures you could still have the surface of the soil very soft, but if it has been warm and dry the surface could be acceptable for parking.

This is going to be a great tool in the tool bag to help support the knowledge and decison of the turf staff with scientific data. As we have these systems longer we will continue to learn what a % moisture content truly is like in the field and this will help us to gauge the proper uses of the field and what damage is received from the different types of events at that moisture level.

Finally, this graph represents a sensor we have on Benson Field. What is really interesting is the data helps to show that our "in the field" decisions of when to water have been pretty close. If you notice the "dry down" level is very close to when we then make an irrigaiton application in each instance of watering. This time of year, as we are stretching water for root developement, we are averaging every 5-7 days for a cycle. What is interesting is we have started testing the limits a bit with our "dry down". You can see in the graph where we let the moisture level drop much further than the previous times we would make an application. The part we are trying to learn is based on our root structure, how low on soil moisture can we go before the turf starts to stress. You can see we stretched the moisture level out  futher and found that in this location we can go longer than we thought based on visual determination. As you can see we threw a large amount of water to replenish from the dry down.

We will continue to deploy more sensors as funds become available and continue to refine our irrigation practices even further with the use of this new tool.