St. Andrews Parks & Playgrounds, Charleston, S.C.
1. What are your responsibilities as parks maintenance director?
I’m responsible for the maintenance of all the park system grounds, including the playing fields, as well as the building and vehicle maintenance.
2. What facilities do you oversee?
Our park system covers 50 acres spread over 11 different sites. The St. Andrews Playground Complex, our main park site, is divided by a major roadway. On one side is Volunteer Park, with two Little League baseball fields, eight tennis courts, our administration building and our maintenance facility. Across the road is one softball field, a baseball field with 80-foot bases, a multiuse pavilion and the parking area. There are playgrounds, concession stands and common-use areas on both sides.
We have many other park sites with playgrounds, picnic areas and open practice field space. Some have a backdrop and a total turf ball field with no skinned area. We have one property with no sports fields, just common grassy areas, a playground and a community activities building. We also have a family fitness center at a separate location. We also do the game setup for softball and baseball at our local high school for their games in exchange for using those fields for our programs when their teams have wrapped up their seasons.
3. What prepared you for this position?
After an industry layoff ended my six-year career in aircraft mechanics, I started working for a landscape contractor that provided services to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb. I worked during the day and took classes in photography at night. After about five years of that routine, the landscaping became dominant, probably because I grew up on a farm in Wahoo, Neb., and enjoyed working outdoors. Along with mowing and general landscape maintenance, I started doing a lot of heavy equipment work.
I’ve had no formal schooling in sports field management, but have attended numerous seminars and read many books about it to augment my hands-on experience. I’m a licensed pesticide applicator and earned my certified sports field manager status after testing at the STMA Conference this past January.
4. How do you organize your staff?
I oversee four full-time staff members for outdoor maintenance and one individual who works full time on the custodial side. He’s based at the fitness center and travels to the other building sites. Though I develop and post a master schedule noting on-field events and special projects, I meet with the other four staff members at our maintenance facility each morning to confirm assignments for the day.
I see my role as a trainer, using my hands-on management style to demonstrate procedures, then working with staff members to set the pace so they can move forward on their own. We’re constantly striving to improve, bringing our skills and our facilities to a higher level.
5. What changes have you made to the facilities?
Both the administration building and our maintenance building were constructed in 2002. I built the pad for the maintenance building, raising the elevation of the site to prevent flooding. I helped develop the layout for optimum efficiency, including my office in the design. Roll-up doors are positioned at the front and back so we can drive in one way and out the other, or stage equipment for use the next day. Ceilings are high for equipment access. The shop area has built-in storage space for tools, equipment and supplies, and can be closed off for working inside.
The two fields at Volunteer Park were renovated in 1996. The restrooms and concession stand were built at ground level with two press boxes above it. We replaced the three front windows with one large roll-up window to speed concession sales, made some internal modifications and partitioned off the back half to store our hoses, tools and supplies closer to the fields to reduce transport time.
We closed in part of the 30-year-old pavilion that is positioned between the two fields on the other side of our main park to create a new concession stand. We did the majority of the work in-house during the winter.
6. How do you set up the turf management program for your game fields?
The two fields in Volunteer Park were renovated using donated supplies and volunteer workers. They’re a modified native soil that we’re working to upgrade through topdressing and other cultural practices. The two other fields were constructed in the late 1940s. They’re native soil that has been gradually augmented for adequate drainage and moisture retention.
All have a base of bermudagrass that we overseed, using perennial, rather than intermediate, ryegrass for the first time this past year. The rye is the playing surface for most of the spring season since practices start in March. Temperatures start transitioning out the rye in early June with the switch back to bermuda hitting for tournament play. We’ll core-aerate in multiple directions in late June, stimulating the bermuda to fill in any weak spots.
We’ll apply a PGR in early July once the tournaments are completed and again in early August to slow turf growth when field use is less active. I may apply it again in late September, about a week before the early October overseeding with rye, to reduce the competition factor. We’ll core-aerate just prior to overseeding.
I’ve raised our mowing heights, going to 1.5 inches for the bermuda and between 1.75 to 2 inches for the rye. It works well with our level of play, there’s less stress on the turf at those heights and the aesthetics are better. We mow the fields Monday, Wednesday and Friday using a John Deere 797 mid-mount rotary mower with a 72-inch deck.
I adjust the fertilization timing to fit turf needs, applying about .75 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. We follow standard IPM procedures, using control products only as needed and on the smallest area possible. We have a small hand-held sprayer for spot-treatment and a Lesco Z-Two with a rear-mounted rotary spreader and a belly-mounted spray tank for larger area applications. I’ve used MSMA for grassy weed control and Momentum for the broadleaf weeds. Fire ants were a major issue on some of the practice fields. We use TopChoice insecticide and an aggressive scouting program and those give us season-long control.
7. How do you manage your skinned areas?
When I came here, the skinned areas were high in clay content and extremely hard. They’d been using sand to dry them after rains with much more in some areas than in others. We’ve been working the areas daily during the season to increase the uniformity.
We’re now to the point with all four of our game fields that even heavy morning rains will dry down for afternoon play with a little cooperation from Mother Nature. For rain events closer to game time, we use quick dry conditioner as our drying agent.
8. What do you consider your most important piece of equipment?
We were able to upgrade my truck replacement to a 2008 Ford F350 with a hydraulic lift gate, which definitely makes my job easier. The lift is great when we have to transport the painter or other heavy equipment. I use the truck to pick up supplies. I even have a stand in it for my laptop computer, which gives me access to records and schedules when I’m off-site.
9. How do you use your digital camera to benefit your program?
Because we have parks in so many different places, with different amenities and conditions, it’s become a quick way for me to show a staff member the exact location of something that needs attention. I also use it to document problems, such as graffiti on a building, or tough situations, like the need for so much conditioner to keep that field in play. The before and after photos become excellent documentation.
10. What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is allocating my time and staff time efficiently to balance the maintenance needs of the recreational grounds, playing surfaces, buildings and vehicles. It’s more than just checking things off the to-do list. My staff and I continually strive to meet the high standards we’ve set for our facilities.