Grounds Maintenance Crews Care For More Than Just Campus Flower Beds

Photo by Peter Longno

Dale Greavs’ chapped red hands are folded across his chest as he leans back in his chair. Flyaway hairs peek out from under a baseball cap, tell-tale signs of the time he has spent outside in the nearly 50 mile an hour gusts of wind that are flinging dirt and grit against the window panes on a late February afternoon. It is readily apparent that this guy spends a lot of time outside. A lot.

“There are so many tasks. I kind of like it all. You don’t do the same thing every day,” Greavs says about his job with the Texas Tech University Grounds Maintenance Department. “You don’t know day-by-day what is going to go on or where they are going to need you. I like working everywhere and doing a little of everything.”

Greavs has been employed with the Grounds Maintenance Department since 1988, tending to the campus – which is a simple explanation for a very big job.

“I work around the Rec Center, Urbanovsky Park, the tennis courts, and the leisure pool. I work at the beds inside [the leisure pool area]. I do some mowing off campus, and I go to the [Texas Tech Federal Credit Union] and mow it and around the marquee [at Indiana and 19th],” Greavs says. “It’s a lot to take care of. You start walking around and looking at it, it’s a lot to take care of.”

Gene Gibson, director of grounds maintenance, spoke of the challenge Greavs faces every summer: working near the Rec Center and leisure pool while annual cheerleading camps are in session. Gibson says that on several days, Greavs and other maintenance employees have to find other tasks to fill their work day until the camps wind down.

“We do have people who appreciate [what we do]. They stop and thank us. It’s nice,” Greavs says. “People see that we are trying to keep it nice for them.”

Keeping the campus nice is a priority for the department, Gibson says, and not just for current students, but for potential students as well.

“We realize it’s a recruiting tool,” Gibson says. “It’s our job.”

This attitude is evident at all levels within the department. Greavs says he considers this one of the primary focal points of his job.

“You want to make it look good. You show pictures and you want it to look like that when [potential students] come see your campus,” Greavs says. “You really want people to see it looking like the picture.”

For many students and alumni, the pictures Greavs is referring to are often snapshots of the large flower beds near Broadway and Memorial Circle. Traditionally, these beds feature the spring’s tulips, the geraniums that blossom during the summer, mums blooming for homecoming in the fall, or the pansy and kale plants that give campus color during the winter.

“It all started en masse back in the late ’70s,” Gibson says. “At that time we were [still] growing all of our own plant material, and we grew pretty much everything. We started planting geraniums [and] tulips.”

Most of the plant material is ordered from an outside vendor today, with the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences occasionally growing some plants for the Grounds Maintenance Department, but the blooms are still the traditional flowers that have been grown in the flower beds for more than 40 years.

Recent drought conditions have made this job more challenging, Gibson says.

Gibson says that the geraniums at the front entrance of campus were struggling due to the lack of rain and last year’s intense heat. Once campus began to see a little rain late in the season, Gibson says that the geraniums improved. However, he does worry about what the future could hold for these traditional plantings if the drought continues. “We’re evolving. We’re having to evolve with the circumstances. The drought last year certainly was an issue for us,” Gibson says. “We’re having to look at options, but – hopefully – we don’t have to look too far. I think our alumni and the administration want [the current] look. We want a Garden of Eden, so to speak.”

One way the department achieves that look is with a little help from the students. Charles Leatherwood, senior grounds superintendent, oversees the annual Arbor Day event.

“We’re getting ready for Arbor Day. We go in with our summer annuals. That’s going to be our geraniums, lantana, and that’ll stay there, give or take, roughly until September,” Leatherwood says.

Students and student organizations spend about two hours planting geraniums in the flower beds. Leatherwood says that the event usually goes off without a hitch.

“We have a [grounds maintenance employee] at every bed or two. We give [the students] some instructions, and I’d say 99 percent of them do a really good job,” Leatherwood says. “It’s a real cost savings to us. We can plant all those annuals in about an hour and half, two hours. That’d take our guys two and a half weeks. We like Arbor Day.”

Next time you see the grounds keepers prepping the flower beds for an overhaul, think twice before walking off with a pulled up geranium or tulip.

“As silly as it sounds, it’s state property. But, we do recycle,” Gibson explains. “We take it out to an area we have where we take tree limbs and mulch them. We do the same with our other material, stock pile it and hopefully get a little water on it, break it down.”

Gibson says that the mulched material is then brought back to campus and used in the flower beds.

“ Most of what we’re using is for mulch on top to keep down the evaporation when we do water and it keeps the weeds down,” Gibson says. “If we do it long enough, it’ll turn into a top soil.”

Before you think this job is just a stroll through the tulips, however, the grounds keepers are not only responsible for weeding, watering and tending the flowers on campus.

“Grounds maintenance employees are responsible for all the walks and edging, small mowing, trash pick-up, emptying trash receptacles, cigarette urns,” Gibson says of the crews who work in grounds maintenance. “Then, we have street road repair people that do minor repairs. They do a lot of the brick work on campus that we don’t contract out. We have equipment operators, and they do the mowing, edging, even demolition of smaller projects. And, all of the crews are responsible for sand and ice removal.”

Leatherwood also says that the department oversees the manufacturing of all of the signage on campus. Leatherwood says that every sign seen on campus is made in-house by the department.

While the department handles so many tasks, both Leatherwood and Gibson say that the employees of the department make every effort to blend into the background. Gibson says that more than 8,000 trees are growing on campus – not including the trees at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center – and occasionally those trees need to be sprayed or treated. Leatherwood says grounds maintenance workers always consider the students before doing any task like spraying a tree, trimming limbs, or anything else that could be potentially dangerous.

“If we have to treat [a tree] — and we haven’t had to do it in a while — but if we have to use chemicals, we’ll do it early, early in the morning or late at night when there isn’t anybody around,” Leatherwood says. “We’re here for the students. We don’t need to be out there during class change trying to spray a tree down. So we do a lot after hours.”

Gibson says that, ultimately, the grounds maintenance people do not go to extremes to make the campus “extra nice” just for football games, graduation or other events. Instead, he and his employees work to make campus look especially beautiful every day.

“Every day is a special occasion for us,” Gibson says. “We want it to look good every day.”



About Summer Chandler


  1. Kippra Hopper says:

    You need to credit the photo by Peter Longno, a student photographer.

    Kippra Hopper


    • Jennifer McKown says:

      It is set up to show the photographer credit when you mouse over the image. I’ve added a credit at the beginning of the article to make sure there is no confusion.

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