As director of operations for the North Scott Community School District in Eldridge, Iowa, I oversee the multiple facets of the district’s physical plant, including the sports fields. Over the years, I’ve created a series of Excel spreadsheets detailing all the components that are involved in the operations of our grounds department. These spreadsheets serve as an ongoing means of recording and tracking our maintenance procedures and as the primary format to document them.

I develop my turf management plan during the winter of each year, using it as the base for my budget planning. I review the spreadsheets to evaluate the previous year’s maintenance program and frequently tweak it a bit, always striving for the most efficient and cost-effective methods to achieve what I want to accomplish.

I use a three-ring binder divided into sections for each individual field. I create the fertilization program based on turf needs, making adjustments according to the field’s performance under the previous year’s management program with that year’s level of field use. I compile a list of the materials that go into the maintenance of each field: fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, growth regulator, topdressing, calcined clay, seed, sod, paint and chalk, along with a miscellaneous line item for any additional materials.

The spreadsheets are set up in an Excel program with the formulas included. The square footage of each field is part of the data entered in the initial setup, so when I enter the type of product required, the amount of the product needed per thousand square feet, the unit size (gallons, ounces, pounds or tons) and the cost of the product per unit, the program will calculate the amount of material needed and the cost of the material for one application.

I strive to make our maintenance records all-inclusive. For example, game field preparation for football and soccer fields includes labor costs for setup, and labor and product costs for each application, including painting. Game field preparation for softball and baseball fields includes labor and material costs for painting and chalking, as well as skinned area maintenance, watering and grooming. Our water costs reflect the source, with the entry for municipal water showing a dollar figure in the product cost section and a dash in that section showing no expenditure for water when the word ‘well’ designates its use for our on-site water resources.

Post-event cleanup has a cost that will be different for each field depending on the multiple factors involved. Even simple procedures, such as dumping a trash container, take time. I’ve tracked the actual time expended on cleanup at each field for each of the personnel assigned there, and developed an average for the total time required for each event.

The lighting costs are another factor. I determine field light costs per hour, how many hours lights are required for evening events at each field, and how many evening events will be held on that field.

I annually refigure the labor costs to include any changes in tax and benefit costs as well as base salary costs. My budget worksheet includes line items for: salary, overtime, LTD (long-term disability), life/AD and D (accidental death and dismemberment), FICA, IPERS (Iowa Public Employees Retirement System), health and medical, dental, optical, uniforms, and staff dues and fees. I’ll calculate the costs of these additional factors beyond base salary to create a percentage of salary figure that I’ll include as an automatic multiplier in my labor cost formula for all labor hour calculations. For 2011, that percentage amounted to 20 percent of the base salary figure. Once I enter the formula into the Excel program, that base plus the percentage multiplier is the figure automatically plugged in as the labor cost per hour across all spreadsheets.

For mowing, I have tracked the actual time in hours that it takes to mow each field. Using the per hour figure derived from my salary/taxes/benefits spreadsheet, I can plug in the labor costs per hour. I then can enter how many times I anticipate each field will be mowed per month to determine projected mowing labor costs per month and per year.

All mowings are recorded on an activity log spreadsheet, allowing me to track when each mowing actually takes place and determine the related labor costs per month and by year to-date, with the final actual cost determined by the total when mowing wraps up for the year. The same process is used to record all other activities on the log and on the individual field spreadsheets.

The field maintenance spreadsheet is set up by month, with the dates of each product application within the month a separate line. Running totals are automatically calculated by month, and by year to date. The year-to-date totals, following the final application as scheduled, give me the total costs for all material inputs for that field for the year.

Another spreadsheet for each field provides a summary of that field’s estimated maintenance costs. It lists the description of the activity, such as the number of mowings per season, the labor hours required for that activity, the personnel costs to accomplish it, the product used (if any product is related to that activity), the cost of that product, and the total cost for that activity. Each field maintenance cost summary spreadsheet shows the total estimated annual maintenance program cost for that field, along with the field size and the total estimated cost per square foot.

To help facilitate the budget review process for our superintendent and school board, I include notes to further clarify specific line items on these maintenance cost summary spreadsheets. For example, on the football stadium field spreadsheet, this information is included for the mowing season: 33 weeks at 1.5 mowings per week, for a total of 50 mowings at one hour for each mowing equals 50 labor hours. The line item for the electricity used for sports lighting is explained by this notation: These lighting estimates are based on 15 events, each four hours in length, operating 48 1,500-watt lights.

For products that may include delivery costs as well as the costs of the materials, such as topdressing, I calculate the complete cost of getting the material on-site. I use that figure to plug in as the product cost to more accurately document the true cost. Under the topdressing product section on the summary spreadsheet, I give the breakdown of the material (85-15 sand peat) to document what is being used. The labor hours required to make the applications and the labor hour costs are also included in that line item to provide the total activity cost.

Putting it all together

Using all this data, I develop the grounds department budget worksheet. It lists each line item by account number and description, showing the proposed budget for each line item, along with the current year’s budget as approved for each line item and the current year’s year-end figures as projected. It also shows the total figure for each of those three columns. An additional section, under the heading ‘justification,’ allows me to document the reasoning behind any of the larger variations from the previous year – either up or down. Noting above-normal rainfall during a specific season would justify a proposed water cost budget figure more in line with the current year’s proposed budget than with the projected year-end costs.

An additional document, the budget justification worksheet, breaks everything down by line item account number. It lists the actual expenditures for the previous two budget years completed for that account number and shows the details of the actual expenditures within that account number for the year, along with the total of current expenditures for the year-to-date, the year-end estimate, and the current year’s budget as approved, along with the proposed budget figure for the coming year.

Long-range budget planning

I use the same level of detailed documentation when developing the budget for equipment expenditures. One of the equipment record keeping spreadsheets details a complete inventory of each piece of equipment, including the serial numbers, along with the date each item was received, the supplier, the cost, the estimated life span and the estimated replacement date. A preventive maintenance log tracks all maintenance for each piece of equipment.

I’ve set up a 10-year equipment replacement plan and track both the cost per year of the equipment use and the average use hours per year. All this clearly shows when a piece of equipment is approaching the 10-year replacement point so that planning for that replacement can begin in advance.

Fiscal responsibility requires that every expenditure be applied properly, that the funds can be tracked, and that the purpose of their use can be explained and justified as it relates to the school’s resources. Should anyone ask a question about a specific expenditure, I have all the details there so they can see that each expenditure is a fiscally responsible one.

John Netwal, CGCS, is director of operations for North Scott Community School District, Eldridge, Iowa. He’s a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences on field management issues, record keeping and budgeting.