Laramie County School District # 1Cheyenne, Wyo.
1. What is your job?
I am the integrated trades supervisor for the school district. My department is responsible for all of the grounds, including the athletic fields, the parking lots and sidewalks, and all the playgrounds, playground equipment, pest control and signs. We handle all the turf, flower, shrub and tree care; irrigation management; and snow removal. We do some of the inside concrete and asphalt work. We’re also responsible for special activities setup inside as well as outside. Basically, if it touches the ground, it belongs to us.
2. How many sites does your department maintain?
Laramie County School District #1 is centered in Cheyenne, Wyo., but our sites are spread over a wide area. One of our elementary schools is 37 miles from Cheyenne. We currently have 38 facilities. That includes 26 elementary schools, three junior high schools, two high schools and an alternative learning high school. We also have an outdoor education area in the mountains about 25 miles outside of town with natural areas for nature study, walking paths and a building for overnight stays.
The remaining sites are administration, transportation and other support facilities. We’ll add a new elementary school in the fall of 2009 and open our third high school in the fall of 2010.
3. Does your department operate from a single site?
Our maintenance facility houses my integrated trades department and three other departments: the custodial department, the building trades department and the mechanical trades department.
4. How is the outdoor field space allocated?
The majority of our elementary schools have some outdoor turf area, and some have asphalt walking tracks. All of the junior highs have a combination football-soccer practice field. One junior high has a complete stadium with a competition running track; one shares the stadium field and track with one of the high schools.
Each of the traditional high schools has a football-soccer practice field, along with the multiuse stadium field and track. We have freshman, junior varsity and varsity programs in all of our boys’ and girls’ sports. Football is the primary fall field sport, with soccer and track and field in the spring. The high schools also have hard-surface tennis courts.
Baseball and softball are not high school team sports in Wyoming due to the limited number of schools we have per capita and our short warm season. I do anticipate we’ll add both in the future because of the growing interest in softball.
5. What changes have you initiated to manage the workload?
I spent nearly 27 years in the construction field before joining the school district in 1996. I’d learned through that experience how to effectively utilize cross-trained personnel to complete projects and accomplish goals in-house. I instigated changes to better use those principles within our programs as a way for the district to save money so we can afford to continue building and upgrading. We now hire outside contractors only for more specialized projects as needed.
6. How do you organize your personnel?
I supervise 15 full-time employees within the integrated trades department. Two are mechanics who handle the maintenance for all the department’s vehicles and for the district support vehicles. Two are irrigation technicians, two are playground technicians, two are dedicated to concrete and asphalt, two for pest control and two concentrate on the fields and sports surfaces. The remaining three work wherever we need them to be, giving us the versatility we need for the multiple areas we cover. We also have 16 temporary employees during the summer. I usually assign them to the mowing and trimming, which allows greater flexibility for our full-time personnel to work on special projects and on the fields.
7. How do you lay out the typical annual field maintenance program?
The soil in our practice and competition fields is a clay-loam mix. The turf is primarily bluegrasses, with a little turf-type fescue in some areas. We continually experiment with different blends of bluegrasses to find those that best hold up to our challenging weather conditions.
We’re in basic maintenance mode during the fall sports season, doing some slice aeration as weather and schedules permit, mowing, and keeping the fields striped and in safe condition.
Football goes into early November if we make the playoffs. Our cold winter season usually holds off until late November or early December. That gives us one or two weeks to perform our fall maintenance. We fertilize, then core aerate, overseed and topdress. For the past six years we’ve topdressed with a combination of 80 percent sand and 20 percent compost, gradually improving our soil profiles.
Soccer practice begins for both boys and girls in mid-March, as weather permits. Games start at the end of March. We’ll often need to plow snow from a field at least once so a game can be played. After spring soccer we’ll again fertilize, core aerate, overseed and topdress. We hit the stadium fields first, starting with the high school that uses their stadium for outdoor graduation ceremonies. The practice fields are used for PE until the last of May or first week of June, when the school year ends. That gives us a short window for renovation before summer heat and winds move in. We do try to aerate our high school competition fields every three to four weeks during the summer.
We use rotary mowers, cutting our fields twice a week during the summer and maintaining a height of 3 to 3.5 inches to help retain the moisture in the subsurface. About three weeks before fall practices begin, we start gradually dropping the mowing height to get to 1.5 to 2 inches. We maintain that height during the playing season. By mid-August, the bluegrass growth has slowed, so we reduce mowing to about once a week.
8. How are you updating your facilities?
Funding for Wyoming school districts is augmented by mineral royalties, so we’ve been able to incorporate grounds-related upgrades into the building remodels and new building construction.
All of our fields, lawn areas and shrub and flower beds were equipped with inground irrigation when they were installed. We’re gradually converting the old systems from galvanized pipe to PVC and upgrading to Rain Bird heads and irrigation components. We’re converting the shrub/flower beds to drip irrigation. We’ve also installed a Signature controller that allows our head irrigation technician to monitor the system via computer 24 hours a day.
We’ve done some major landscaping, creating outdoor education areas with hardscapes, picnic benches and greenery at some of our older elementary schools. These spaces are used for classroom work, meetings and as an outdoor lunchroom for faculty.
We’ve made improvements at the main outdoor education site, upgrading the facilities and adding picnic tables and benches. And, we’re continually working to improve our athletic fields and create additional field space as opportunities arise.
9. How does outside training fit into your program?
I believe training is essential to keep current with technological advances and bring new ideas and techniques into our program. During the winter months, I work to balance seminar attendance for my staff and myself with the ongoing need to keep adequate staff for potential snow removal.
I’m a certified pest control applicator and require my employees to become certified. All but two are certified, and those two are working toward certification. If one of the organizations we belong to offers a certification program, I strongly encourage our staff members to achieve that certification.
10. What are your biggest challenges?
I have great support from our administration and an extremely dedicated staff that is willing to do whatever it takes. Though high winds and pine beetle kill have caused extensive tree damage at our outdoor education site, our crew has handled all the removal and cleanup in-house. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had only two full snow days, because our crews will work 24 hours a day if necessary to keep our facilities accessible.
I’ve been researching the synthetic field systems for several years now and meeting with our athletic director and district superintendent to keep them informed, so if we decide to take that step, we’ll be prepared to do it efficiently and effectively. I see each challenge as an opportunity for improvement.