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Maintenance staff in charge of university grounds, fields

December 11, 2008

Nearly a month after the final football tackle was made and the final soccer goal was kicked at the Ramer Field complex, the playing fields will be at rest until the snow melts in the spring. Those responsible for the field upkeep will remain busy.

The University Grounds Maintenance Staff is responsible for upkeep on all of the outdoor athletic fields on campus. Manny Kenney, assistant director of grounds maintenance, has worked at UWRF since 1992. He said the staff breaks tasks down into several categories to be more efficient.

“Each of our employees has an area of expertise. General turf, athletic turf, lining and landscaping for example, but all participate to some degree. As far as the athletic fields, usually two people on staff do the bulk of the work, but that is not all they do,” Kenney said.

The grounds maintenance staff consists of five full-time employees and two full-time seasonal employees that work from May through October. According to Kenney, up to eight work study students put in 10 to 12 hours per week assisting the staff.

Duties include manicuring and improving the grounds all around campus. Clearing walking paths, sidewalks, parking lots and building entryways have become the focus of the staff now that the snow season has arrived.

During the height of the fall season, including football, soccer, rugby and various intramural offerings, as much as 60 hours a week can be spent to keep the outdoor fields in shape, according to Kenney.

“The time spent varies with the type of activities, amount of use and weather conditions. Football is probably the most demanding due to the high level of use,” he said.

Kenney also said keeping fields in the best possible shape takes a lot more work than keeping things level and mowing the grass.

“It’s kind of a combination between science, farming and landscaping. Along with that you have to be an artist, as well as a mechanic. The equipment used needs quite a bit of special care,” he said.

Kenney said he and his staff truly enjoy working outside, although certain situations, like a sudden snowstorm, can become more stressful than others.

“Everything we do is meant not only to keep the grounds looking great, but we have the safety of our students and players in mind too. Our staff takes pride in the work we do, and I think it shows,” he said.

Steve Stocker, director of Hunt Arena and Knowles Center, noted that the grounds keeping team from the Kansas City Chiefs budgeted $30,000 for labor and materials used to keep the football fields in shape for training camp alone in 2007. 

According to Kenney, the Chiefs and UWRF have maintained a great working relationship for the past 15 years.

“The Chiefs actually lease the use of the fields from us. They also bring in their own mowing equipment and have hired student interns to work with them for the summer which is great experience,” he said.

Kenney listed several processes that the grounds crew implemented this fall to help battle the wear and tear that sport seasons put on the fields.

“We fertilized the fields in late October, and in early November added dormant seed to the wear areas. We also rolled the rough spots on the fields, especially concentrating on the crown at Ramer. We will look again in April and reseed if necessary. If wear spots aren’t showing improvements by May, we will place new sod in those spots,” he said.

The trend in the WIAC has seen several schools switch to artificial playing surfaces recently. UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Platteville all use field turf at their home stadiums.

Dominic Derricks, a senior linebacker for the falcon Football team, played two seasons on artificial field turf at UW-Stout before transferring to UWRF.  He said that there are several advantages to playing on a natural field compared to artificial turf.

“The biggest difference is the amount of carpet burns you get. Any time bare skin hits the turf you seem to get one. They are very slow to heal and if not taken care of can get seriously infected. The other thing would be on hot days the turf really heats up. On a day when it’s 85 degrees, it might be 95 or 100 on the field. It’s nice to be on real grass then,” he said.

Assistant Director of Recreational Sports, Matt Fencl, said he has been impressed with the way the grounds maintenance staff prepares all fields for the rigors of a lengthy intramural season.

“Manny’s group does a great job with all of our playing surfaces. We may have to set out some cones or put up a goal, but other than that they do the rest,” he said.

Keeney also said he is proud of the fact that grounds maintenance has been part of the campus wide effort to be conscious of the environment in their work.

“Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, the chemicals and fertilizers we use on the campus grounds are much safer and much better than before. We test the soils annually to be sure we are doing our part to protect the environment around us,” he said. 

“Again, we are trying to keep the well being of those on campus in mind.”