Thu, 27 Oct 2016 16:46:00 CDT — by: David Evans
The University of the South was recently listed as USA Today’s #3 “Best Beautiful College Campus” in 2016, and with good reason, it seems like the University appears on such lists at least once a year. List makers often cite the iconic gothic architecture, recognizable sandstone façades, and impressive blend between built and natural landscapes, but how does this University stay in such an attractive condition? How does the campus stay so meticulously cared for? Who defines such a large portion of our experience of the campus that we don’t even realize it could be any other way?
The answer to that question is, of course, Physical Plant Services (PPS). PPS’s grounds crew looks after over 300 acres of campus–stretching from Elliot Hall to the Sewanee Inn, and from the east side of 41A to Lake Cheston–speckled with little gaps such as leaseholds that are cared for by separate contractors and home owners. In this large area, the grounds crew runs two to four mowers for an average of six hours a day for about eight months out of the year then trims and edges to make the lawns look extra sharp. They also care for some areas of the downtown, at entrances and overlooks, and along Brakefield Road near Lake Cheston in addition to many tasks typically carried out by a municipality's public works department — snow removal, salting roads and sidewalks, trash and recycling pickup, roadway vegetation management, and site review for new homes. Foresters on the crew maintain tree health and selectively prune and remove vegetation blocking right of ways–a luxury we can enjoy. Trimming back vegetation in right of ways keeps streets visible around corners and therefore safer, and our selective trimming method maintains trees’ health and aesthetics much better than indiscriminately hacking off tree limbs within a certain distance of the road.
A skilled team of dedicated individuals accomplishes this broad set of works that sustains our campus’s remarkable aesthetic. Wayne Caldwell, the Grounds Supervisor, oversees most of the day-to-day grounds crew operations while William Shealy, Superintendent of Landscape Planning and Operations, focuses on planning, design, and policy management including a current request for proposals on a storm water management master plan.
This team’s decisions come from a desire to strike a balance between safety, aesthetics, community needs, tradition, and vegetation health as they work throughout the year. Mr. Shealy, in an attempt to reduce mowing area, seeks out areas that can be left a little more “wild” than the groomed appearance required on lawns such as the main quad. This mix of management styles for various areas weigh those five priorities differently and maintains the fundamental differences between spaces such as the central campus lawns and the wooded trails of Lake Cheston. By doing so, our grounds crew ensures that Sewanee stays beautiful, and that all campus users can find a space that meets their idea of “the right kind” of landscape.