Creating a healthy, safe, and visually appealing environment is always conducive to a fun place to play, a good learning environment, or a better community to live in. Often overlooked in contributing to a municipality's overall objectives, a grounds management operation is critical in accomplishing a community's long-range goals.

Listen To The People

It is vital that public works officials work with their grounds manager when developing long-term goals for the grounds operation. However, when it comes to formalizing such goals, the community's voice should speak the loudest. Your grounds operation's long-term goals should be determined by the end users. Their feedback should be combined with input from grounds management staff to determine if these wants and needs are a workable fit within the constraints of your budget.

Kevin O'Donnell, former president of the Professional Grounds Management Society, has served as a grounds management professional in the public sector for several years and says the first step to creating a long-range grounds strategy is to evaluate your community's needs. He suggests conducting a citizen survey. Another tip he offers is to examine demographics. Does your city or county have a declining school enrollment? If so, adding new sports fields and playgrounds is probably not a priority. However, adding walking paths for an aging community may be what your municipality really needs.

Maintenance Vs. Management

A key component in setting and meeting strategic goals for a grounds operation is understanding the difference between maintenance and management. Grounds maintenance is charged with the day-today upkeep of a facility's landscaped and paved areas, so they are viable and usable in the future. Going beyond maintenance, a public works department also should have a strong grounds management function that advises decision-makers of the costs of maintaining such facilities before they are built.

“This factor is where some municipalities really get into trouble,” says O'Donnell. “For instance, they determine that they need a new multi-purpose recreational area and do a great job raising funds for its construction, but run into trouble because they didn't take into account the budget implications of maintaining the site. A lot of times this happens because the organization doesn't have a grounds manager on staff or didn't take their consultation into proper consideration.”

Education Is The Key

You should maintain full lines of communication with your grounds department and with the public via community groups. This involves having your grounds department educating your customers on what costs go into maintaining a facility or site.

For instance, maybe your city has a beautiful meadow that gets mowed once a month. Perhaps community members think it would be simple to turn this open meadow into a useable practice or playing field by increasing mowing to a weekly basis. What they aren't taking into account is that in addition to increased mowing hours, this will also require more equipment and additional maintenance such as aerating, fertilizing, leveling the field, and adding soil amendments.

Whether you oversee a small township or an urban landscape, meeting your citizenry's recreational needs is becoming increasingly important. In order to meet these needs it is vital that you listen to your community and enlist a highly trained grounds management staff to meet community needs and educate constituents on the real costs of grounds maintenance.

— Eric Grammer is the communications manager for the Professional Grounds Maintenance Society, headquartered in Baltimore.