A source of pride for campus: Groundskeeping in the summer

Jul 21, 2014

Quite often, Heidelberg staff members are asked, "What are you doing this summer?" In a series of web features during the month of July, we answer the question by profiling several offices who are busy during the summer months, preparing for the upcoming school year. In fact, for some, summer is the busiest time of the entire year.

Grounds“The campus has never looked more beautiful.” That observation is frequently heard from alumni returning to campus and others who visit during the summer months.

Making the campus aesthetically beautiful is an intentional effort for the university’s grounds crew, led by head groundskeeper John Hoffman. This year presented some challenges, coming off of a brutally hard winter. A large number of perennials and grades had to be replaced.

“Depending on the weather, we like to start in mid-April, edging flower beds and beginning to mulch,” Hoffman said. If the weather cooperates, annuals are planted in very early May, in time for graduation.

Hoffman and his crew believe in buying locally. About 90 percent of the flowers come from Wagner’s Greenhouse. People are particularly fond of an unusual black petunia, often paired with red geraniums for a nice contrast. About 360 yards of mulch, which arrives in semis, is laid around campus.

“The crew takes a certain amount of pride in what they do,” Hoffman said.

It seems to be paying off. “I think our grounds are a source of pride not only for us but for the city of Tiffin,” said Rod Morrison, associate vice president of facilities and engineering. “I know of people who go out of their way to drive through the campus and take note of its beauty. People do appreciate the asset Heidelberg is, not only academically but in terms of its physical presence.”

There’s more, however, to keeping up an attractive physical presence that planting flowers. A full-time crew of six is assigned to maintain the grounds throughout the year. In the summer, there’s mowing, spraying, fertilizing and weeding. It takes about 16 hours to mow the entire campus and an additional day for Peaceful Valley and Hidden Valley.

During the spring sports season, the grounds crew is charged with athletic field maintenance and repairs. “We are steadily working on improvements,” Hoffman said. They’ll add Frann’s Field, the new softball field, to their list beginning this fall, when it is expected to be ready for practice.

Winter can be an entirely different beast. Depending on snowfall, the grounds crew often gets an assist from the plumbers, HVAC technicians and craftsmen from Krammes Service Center, who all have assignments to assist with snow removal.

“This past winter was nothing like normal,” Hoffman said. “A couple of times, we had to load snow and move it down to Peaceful Valley.” Despite the bitter cold, many of the crew came in on weekends to help with salting and snow removal.

Winter seems far off now, but for sure, the cycle will begin anew for the grounds crew, as it does every year, despite what Mother Nature throws their way.