Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grounds crew keeps campus beautiful rain or shine

By Courtney Westlake

At times like the bright, sunny, 75-degree days that Central Illinois has been experiencing, members of the UIS grounds crew have been hearing many comments about how lucky they are to have outside jobs.

But weather like this is a definite rarity for the crew.

"We get a lot of comments that people want our jobs on days like today. But on days like the hot, humid days of the summer or the cold windy days of winter, we don't get too many people asking to trade places," laughed grounds supervisor Joan Buckles, who has a degree in ornamental horticultural from UIUC and has been at UIS since 1991.

The UIS grounds crew, committed to the exterior of the campus rain or shine, consists of 11 members, plus Buckles. The grounds crew cares for all of the trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, turf, parking lot, sidewalk maintenance and more.

"Pretty much everything outside, we've got work to do on it," Buckles said. "We've got 370 acres we maintain. The university owns 750 acres, but only 370 of those are landscaped at this time."

A beautiful campus is important to the sustainability of the university and attracts people to visit and attend school at UIS.

"It's first thing potential students and their parents see when they come to campus," Buckles said. "It's important to have a neat, tidy, landscaped area. It shows off the buildings, and it creates a nice place for people to relax and play. Additionally, the Sangamon Auditorium in the PAC brings in a lot of the general public."

The grounds crew has several upcoming projects for campus. One of the biggest includes two new soccer fields that were planted in the spring and are expected to be ready in the fall.

They will also have their hands full with the new landscaping for Founders Hall when the building is completed in August, and they plan to do some correction for drainage issues, and possibly create gardens out of those, in lower campus areas, Buckles said.

"We see maintenance issues and try to eliminate them or make the maintenance easier on them by landscape design," she said. "And we just keep expanding along with all the construction. There are new landscape issues that come along with all that, and it's just ongoing."

Buckles speaks very highly about the diligence her crew has shown throughout the years while creating a more appealing campus, maintaining the grounds and handling any problems that arise.

"This is a very dedicated crew that we have right now, very knowledgeable, and there are a lot of landscape backgrounds in most of the individuals," she said. "They've done an excellent job at keeping the campus looking neat and tidy at all times."