A Lot of Work Goes Into Keeping Grounds Looking Good

Published Thursday, June 30, 2016
Jeff Jennings
Jeff Jennings

SMSU is the youngest of the seven Minnesota State institutions, and while a lot of effort has gone into the physical buildings, the outdoor landscaping has certainly not been left behind. Over time, those early plantings have matured, and a dedicated staff of Physical Plant employees spend hours year-round to keep the campus looking its best.

The summer beauty is the highlight of the year. Some areas in their prime right now, according to Jeff Jennings, Grounds and Roads Maintenance Supervisor, include the spaces outside the BA-CH link, around the Student Center, and the native areas near Sweetland Hall. “The people who visit in the summer get a real treat!” he said.

Jennings has been at SMSU for 14 years. He grew up on a farm near Miller, S.D., and carried his love for the outdoors through his college years at South Dakota State. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture with emphases in Landscape Design and Horticulture, and a master’s degree in Geography with an emphasis in Urban Forestry.

Jennings worked in Grounds Maintenance at Drake University and Black Hills State University before coming to SMSU.

Keeping the campus in top condition aesthetically takes dedication from the crew. Including Jennings, the grounds crew has four full-time employees. “I think we really do well with the staff we have. We have a lot of experience here, and their efforts pay off.”

This summer, two students are on the crew as well, working 20-30 hours each week. Hudson Walton, a sophomore from Cedarburg, Wis., is getting a double workout this summer as part of both the grounds crew and the SMSU football team.

Caring for the plants and grass around campus in the summer means a variety of tasks. The work begins with planting and fertilizing, then mowing, weeding, spraying, trimming and irrigation are added to the list.

Weeding, spraying and trimming take up a large portion of the workers’ time. A crew of two or three people start on one end of campus and work their way across over the course of about a week. After a short break to work on other projects, they start the process all over again.

Including the athletic fields, there are over 100 acres of grass on campus. Stretching from the green lot where tailgating happens, to McLaughlin Drive, to the retention pond adjacent to Highway 23, to the baseball fields at the far corner of campus, there is plenty of turf to keep the mowers busy. The grounds workers also mow the paths in the nature area. Irrigation has started on Central Field and the sports fields to keep them soft and green in anticipation of students’ return in the fall.

Rain and heat do not slow the work. If its raining too hard, the crew will take the day to sharpen blades, change oil, clean equipment and finish other indoor jobs. “One of our mowers has a canopy, so if we still need to keep going in some light rain, we will,” Jennings said.

Now that the landscaping around the new entrance sign is complete, Jennings hopes the geese will let the plants grow as they move on to other projects. The rose garden by the Conference Center is getting some attention next. A retaining wall will go in this year, and a brick patio will be added next summer. Other tree work is also on the list for the near future.

It is clear the grounds crew takes pride in making SMSU a beautiful place, and it is worth a trip to see and appreciate the results of their efforts.