william blake

william blake

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. William Blake

Blake would be right at home on campus during winter break. He’d likely get along with hibernating bears. He’d relish snowbound weekends.

Admittedly, it is very tempting to pull up the covers and nap through the darker, colder, slower days of January. But that’s probably more the privilege of your student body. We prefer the mindset of the more modern Paul Theroux:

Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.

Preparing as it relates to your campus can take many forms. Now is the ideal time to think of all the things that get daily use that you want to renovate or fix (student housing, a major pedestrian walk, parking) that can’t practically be done when students are on campus. Starting now and moving forward throughout the winter and early spring allows time to get design drawings complete and projects shovel-ready. It allows time to dig trees, avoiding summer heat, and affords lead time on items like lighting, cast stone, and furnishings. In reality, summer projects really need to be planned over the winter to really work. Seems Paul Theroux was the proverbial man after my own heart.

william blake

making a list

making a list

Tis the season for final assignments, final exams, and final evaluations for the semester. Like the fabled Santa Claus, many in higher education are making lists of academic accomplishments and checking them twice before issuing final term grades.

This concept of list-making is an important one. In fact, in his bestselling book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, author Atul Gawande encourages us all to develop checklists. In his own line of work ”“ surgery ”“ Gawande demonstrates the literally life-saving power of a checklist, from his own hospital in Boston to world-wide impacts through his work with the WHO. Further examples are shared from the aviation, construction, and financial services industries. The point is made: we can all be better with a checklist.

As the calendar year and the academic session come to a close, we are presented with the perfect time to evaluate. What projects succeeded and why? What areas of campus consistently look the best and why? What are the most popular parts of campus and why? Conversely, what areas of campus plague the grounds crew and why? What landscape/hardscape/facades/interiors require the most upkeep and why? Are you striking a balance between the desired aesthetic and the effort required to achieve it?

By starting your evaluations, and maybe even some checklists, you’ll move into the new year with a better handle on the past and a more defined roadmap for your future efforts. Who knows, your efforts might even get you on the Nice List.

making a list

harvest time

harvest time

The concept of giving thanks resonates world-wide, and throughout almost every level of society. In the United States, November is known for Thanksgiving celebrations. In other parts of the world, Thanksgiving celebrations are equally important, no matter when they are celebrated, but interestingly enough, most thanksgivings are celebrated after the traditional harvest time.

The link to the harvest is an important one and draws our attention to everything of which we have to be thankful. But it also challenges us to look back and evaluate the year that has past. So in order to be thankful, we typically need to evaluate.

Take a lesson from Sam Cooke and his lyrics for the song Accentuate the Positive. Think about your campus and what went right this year? What improvements were made? What lessons were learned? What did students enjoy most? Where did they congregate? What did they celebrate?

In harvest time, we reap. Let us all pause and be thankful for the year that past, working in the realm of higher education.

harvest time

beyond costuming

beyond costuming

It was reported that Americans spent $2.52 billion dollars on Halloween costumes in 2015 (http://www.statista.com/). Apparently we costumed our children, ourselves, and even our pets. (And that number is just for the costumes. Imagine the total when you include the candy and the decorations.)

So, what are you going to be this year?

This is an important question, whether you apply it to your students, yourself, your pet ”¦ or even to your campus.

What do you want your campus to be? How do you want your campus to look? What impression do you want to give to visitors, residents, and staff?

While most campus communities appreciate the importance of the physical environment, too often the opportunities to uncover and realize each campus’ power and uniqueness are missed. It is by connecting these unique qualities to the aesthetic improvements that allows us to go beyond simple costuming to effecting true campus transformation.

So this year, as you settle back with your favorite Halloween treat, take some time to reflect on your campus and the future. At a time when everything has been homogeneously pumpkin-spiced, what are the ways you can stand out, what are the tangents you can traverse, what paths have you yet to explore?

beyond costuming

ready for gameday

ready for gameday

Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso are hitting the road again. It’s time for College GameDay and campuses across the US are hoping to be picked to host the broadcast on their campus. And who knows where they’ll wind up next. Apparently not even the producers!

While one would think that ESPN has a pretty good idea of where the crew will go each week, Fitting [the show’s senior coordinating producer] said no final determinations are made until end-of-the-day Saturday ”” and occasionally Sunday morning. (The Making of GameDay)


Neither the unpredictable nature of the selection nor the work involved has deterred colleges and universities from doing all they can to try and sway the decisions from week to week.

Sounds a lot like another type of highly desirable visit also taking place at this time of year – high school senior visits. And although you can try to control this group, I believe many are much more unpredictable than Lee Corso has ever been.

But are you ready?

Are you ready for:

  • More cars
  • More people
  • More older people
  • Questions about housing
  • Questions about safety
  • Questions about the future of the campus
  • Tours of the campus
  • Tours of the surrounding community
  • People who wonder away from the tour

And what about the folks who don’t come for a tour at all. They just show up, unannounced, at the oddest times.

Now more than ever, we need to be ready ”“ have our lamps full of oil ”“ because you never know who’s coming or when.

ready for gameday

the most wonderful time

I can’t help it. Whenever I think of back to school time, my mind immediately remembers the Staples commercial from the 1990s. You know the one. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The euphoric, skipping dad.

And then there are the kids. Not happy. Not shopping. Not skipping. Grim.

Fast forward several decades and transfer from elementary school to higher education and what do you see during back-to-school time?

The move-in experience. Cars and people ”“ bags and boxes ”“ everywhere. Overloaded cars, people, bags, and boxes.

Where is the euphoria? Where is the skipping?

You can find it! Today, it already exists on some campuses. A combination of planning, management, student support, incentives, and flat-out sweat equity have returned a spring to the step of many a parent and student on this day.

From a facilities standpoint, there is even more you can do.

  • Clearly identify circulation routes set up specifically for this day ”“ both for vehicles and pedestrians
  • Create eye catching and visible signage – again, specifically for this day ”“ to help lead the way
  • Avoid as many stairways as possible ”“ inside and out
  • Make sure all walkways are in top condition ”“ if temporary fixes are needed, make them

And if you need to take a short break and want to enjoy a commercial classic,  see below!

the most wonderful time


need a break

Did you know that being too hot can have a negative impact on your intellect? It’s true!

So what better time to take a break in air conditioned comfort, challenge your intellect, and just think about the great (and hot!) outdoors.

Last month, we addressed some common areas in need of attention on higher education campuses in the summer. Here, we’ll dig a little deeper into one of those topics, the landscape.

Summer is a key time for general bed maintenance, weeding, proper mowing techniques, and watching plants for water stress (drought and/or overwatering if heavy thunderstorms prevail).   Some specific tips to help with your planning:

  • Cut down and remove spent bulb foliage ”“ do not yank from ground
  • Install seasonal annuals at key locations and in decorative planters
  • Maintain groundcover beds by cutting or mowing down shoots that expand beyond their boundaries
  • Begin summer weed control ”“ watch for and remove invasive species, known weeds, unwanted plant seedlings, etc.   Remove by hand weeding wherever possible (including roots); only use chemical herbicides if absolutely needed and follow manufacturer’s instructions and do not apply herbicide immediately prior to rainfall or in/ near ponds, streams, lakes (most are not safe for aquatics)
  • Monitor for insect and disease pests throughout planting beds ”“ use IPM techniques (Integrated Pest Management) and horticultural soaps and oils instead of synthetic chemicals whenever possible
  • Order bulbs for fall planting
  • Avoid planting new material from mid- to late-summer due to much higher risk of transplant shock and mortality.
  • Begin summer mowing schedule
  • Dethatch smaller event lawns
  • Mulch grass clippings directly into turf
  • Only apply fertilizer and other chemicals as needed and per manufacturer’s recommendation (do not apply immediately prior to rain)
  • Avoid mowing in wet conditions (after irrigation, right after rainfall)
  • If using an irrigation system, begin to implement watering schedule
  • Perform occasional selective soft pruning of shrubs to maintain natural form, height, or hedge dimensions.
  • Perform selective pruning of spring-flowering shrubs that have finished blooming (some exclusions apply)
  • Provide supplemental water to new planting installations as well as to key planting beds and species during extended periods or dry weather or high heat

With so many things to do in summer, it is also important to note that summer is NOT a time for heavy tree or shrub pruning, or for installing new plants due to increased risk of transplant shock and mortality.

Break-time’s over! Time to get back to it and help your landscape thrive through the summer and be in top condition when students return ”¦ in several weeks!


an eternal now

Summer time and the living’s easy. Unless you’re in charge of facilities on a higher education campus. If that is the case, you may be caught up in a cycle of perpetual improvement. Many of the best campuses are.

Looking back to April, remember how we discussed dotting i’s and crossing t’s? Well, we all know that campus preparations in the spring may have also involved making some temporary fixes to make the campus shine.

But now that summer has set in, it is time for permanent fixes to prepare for fall and beyond. Consider some of these likely suspects for needed attention and perpetual improvement:

Campus circulation system, both vehicular and pedestrian – take a test drive or a walk around campus, ideally with someone who has never been there before ”“ does the signage system lead them to where they want to go? Are the roadways and walkways in good shape? Are painted signs or finishes in need of maintenance? Have cattle-paths/desire lines appeared?

Identifiable places and spaces – it’s hard to know the exact outdoor spaces that will be remembered most fondly – a great number of variables impact the student experience and their specific sense of place on campus ”“ but providing ample options is important ”“ consider:

  • are spaces used at night or during the day?
  • is there opportunity for lots of sun and ample cool shade?
  • do spaces need to look great once a year or all year round?
  • do you have spots that are formal and others that are informal?
  • can the spaces host intimate groups, grand receptions, either, or both?
  • are spaces natural and organic or structured and formal?
  • are spaces secluded or out in the open?

What about the physical elements that impact your image and identity? Walkways, entrances and edges, site furnishings, banners and flags. Is everything in good condition and coordinated or are elements in need of attention?

And finally, think of the living landscape. Summer is a key time for general bed maintenance, weeding, proper mowing techniques, and watching plants for water stress. And next month, we’ll share a more detailed checklist to address many more specific landscape and landscape maintenance items.

When many people are away enjoying vacations, maybe it will help to reflect on what has been written about Disneyland’s Main Street, described as “a perpetual tale of creation and re-creation, an eternal now.” The Disneyland Book of Secrets 2014, Leslie LeMon


an eternal now

Triple Crown and Data Sets

Triple Crown and Data Sets

Last year, a horse named American Pharoah swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes to claim the Triple Crown. This hadn’t happened since 1978 and this year, many eyes will be set to see if a horse will win the Triple Crown again this year.

Statistically speaking, it is unlikely. A quick Google search will offer up all the statistics you would ever want to study to draw your own conclusion. Only 12 horses have ever captured this prize ”“ the first being in 1919. Only 23 horses have managed to win 2 of the 3 races. Many years, the Triple Crown title is not awarded at all but 1977 and 1978 are the only time it was awarded in consecutive years.

In fact, every modern day sport seems to have its own language, statistics, and data sets.

Yet in our data-crazy world, where do many colleges and universities keep their data? If your institution is like most, you have a plan room, packed full of important campus information…and no good or orderly way to access that information. Perhaps you also have an employee who has a mind full of information that no one else knows.

Perhaps, with some work, that employee could tell you how many parking spaces you have on campus. And of those spaces, how many are ADA compliant. They may also be able to tell you the amount of linear feet of sidewalk that needs to be replaced in the upcoming season. Or show you the exact location of all campus housing in relationship to campus dining.

With GIS (geographical information system) and geospatial data, you could answer all those questions and many more, faster than I could tell you American Pharoah has 0% chance of winning the Triple Crown again – only three-year old horses can run in the Triple Crown races.

Triple Crown and Data Sets

be prepared

Presenting a graduation card and enclosed check to my young great-nephew, I was met with a blank stare. In the age of gift cards and pharmacy online shopping, I thought perhaps he wasn’t familiar with what a check was. Which, sadly, was true. But worse, my heart-felt and hand-written message inside the card was undecipherable to him.

As many elementary schools across the United States have dropped cursive instruction, we find even high school students transitioning to college without their own signature. And the act of dotting i’s and crossing t’s is not relevant to them.

I have no desire to get into a QWERTY verses cursive debate (at least not right at this moment), but instead want to focus on that concept ”“dotting i’s and crossing t’s ”“ completing the task, being meticulous, paying attention to detail.

As graduation season approaches, it’s time to do just that on campus. This can be such a fun time. Your focus can be on the spit and polish and finishing touches:

  • Adding fresh flags and banners
  • Seeing to container planters and hanging baskets
  • Erecting tents and organizing seating
  • Touching up paint
  • Shopping for a new bow-tie or scarf (hey, you have to look good too!)

The figurative dotted i’s and crossed t’s.

But the fun ends if you discover that a bulk of hard work also needs to be completed, not just the finishing touches.

Spring time may seem like an odd time to be talking about fall and winter maintenance but it may be the perfect time to help you in years to come. And it is actually the best time to evaluate what is lacking or wanting in your maintenance plans.

What are the things your facilities staff are spending time on now that could have been taken care of in the fall or winter?

  • Cutting back plant material and edging beds
  • Fountain maintenance
  • Walkway repair
  • Umbrellas ”“ taken down, labeled, cleaned, and stored

Here are a few suggestions of seasonal operational tasks that will relieve some of your pre-graduation, campus preparation burden next year.


  • Perform fall turf weed-and-feed conditioning
  • Begin leaf removal throughout campus (can be composted and turned into natural leaf mulch)
  • Plant trees and shrubs that are not fall digging or transplant hazards (examples of hazards include Oaks, Birches, and many evergreens).
  • Re-apply mulch to garden bed edges and winter-sensitive plants as needed
  • Clean up summer perennial foliage as plants go dormant ”“ Hostas, Daylilies, Irises, Daisies, etc.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs and seasonal annuals; dig and divide Iris clumps and replant.
  • Perform irrigation system winterization


  • Clean summer pruning tools, shovels, rakes, trowels
  • Clean and service lawn maintenance equipment
  • Begin snow removal tasks ”“ avoid dumping snow directly on top of shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses
  • Apply snow melt chemicals with care ”“ do not overuse and do not apply directly on top of shrubs, perennials or ornamental grasses
  • Remove broken limbs from trees and shrubs damaged in winter storms
  • If time permits, gently brush snow loads from shrubs and low evergreens (do not attempt to remove ice from limbs ”“ this will cause them to break)
  • During occasional warm periods, check exposed mulch layers and re-plant any perennials, grasses or small shrubs that may have heaved in freeze-thaw cycles
  • Track any larger shrub or tree damage that will need to be addressed in spring
  • Organize and begin to place orders for next year’s seasonal annuals, other plant material
  • Organize and begin to place orders for next year’s tool and equipment needs, work gloves, plant tags, soil amendments, etc.

Let’s all remember the words of Benjamin Franklin (which I’m pretty sure he wrote in cursive):

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

be prepared