4-out-of-4 star accreditation awarded to UC Davis landscape management operations

4 star accreditation group photo of UC Davis Grounds and Landscape Services

Article written by Dave Jones, UC Davis Dateline

Every institution of higher education knows the importance of accreditation, like UC Davis’ recent 10-year renewal from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Now we have another accreditation to be proud of — for landscape management and operations on the Davis campus. The best-in-the-nation accreditation is from the Professional Grounds Management Society, which evaluated UC Davis Grounds and Landscape Services’ principles and practices for “attractive, healthy, sustainable and high quality” grounds.

The accreditation program is new this year: Only three campuses made the cut in the first round, with UC Davis the only one in California and the only one to get the top rating of four stars.

“I could not be more proud of our team,” said Cary Avery, an associate director in Campus Planning and Community Resources. He leads Grounds and Landscape Services and has his own accreditation from the Professional Grounds Management Society, as a certified grounds manager.

“The group of employees that we have working to maintain the health and safety of our campus environment is a top-notch group of people,” Avery said. “They care about each other, this place and the environment.”

The accreditation team had good things to say about Avery: “After talking and listening to Cary’s direct reports and representatives from the work force, it is clear that his leadership style and focus on relationship building are key factors to a harmonious, caring and dedicated workplace environment. “

Which brings us to the work itself: “Many people think that we are just a ‘mow-and-blow’ operation,” Avery said. “They’d be wrong. We have a hand in everything that happens outside.”

Here is a partial list, beyond the mowing and the blowing and raking:

  • Tree care.
  • Cleanup after storms.
  • Irrigation.
  • Sports turf maintenance (including the application of chalk lines).
  • Assist students in their use of landscape installations for school projects, and help faculty members with tree care demonstrations for students.
  • Manage everyday trash and recyclable collection, as well as event cleanup and zero-waste operations.

And, because they’re out and about all day, groundskeepers also give directions to lost visitors, Avery said.

“We have even been contacted by the Raptor Center to rescue an injured bird from a tree top! If this team can help, they will be there. They are incredible people.”

From Green Star to 4 stars

In 2006, the campus earned the highest rating of Grand Star in the Professional Grounds Management Society’s Green Star Awards program, which, according to Avery, was more about aesthetics. “The Grand Star wasn’t about our management practices, how we treat our customers or employees,” he said. “There’s no team that visits to make sure you are doing what you say you are doing.”

The new accreditation program, including site visits, focuses on environmental stewardship, economic performance and social responsibility.

“Collectively, the landscape management team projected a wealth of knowledge on contemporary grounds management strategies as well as a good familiarity with emerging management ideologies and innovations,” the accreditation team wrote. “Cary’s knowledge and effective use of sound grounds management strategies is evident from observing the results of site appropriate work processes and procedures and the delivery of an appreciable grounds product.”

Year-to-year water savings: 20 percent

UC Davis’ sustainability score reflected water savings of about 80 million gallons since Jan. 1, a reduction of more than 20 percent from the year before. Amid the state’s three-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked all institutions of higher learning to reduce water use by at least that much by the year 2020.

“We’ve done it already, and we hope to do even better next year,” Avery said.

He said the campus has 10 years of experience with “smart” control irrigation, and this allowed for an immediate cut of 20 percent or more in turf watering except on fields that are used for athletics or that have heavy use.

Continued analysis will allow for irrigation cuts of up to 50 percent in certain areas, depending on tree irrigation needs.

“New technologies now also allow our team to further refine irrigation settings with more site-specific information, including plant and soil type, and sun exposure,” Avery said.

“Landscapes where this technology has been implemented only receive water application when the soil and plant material reach a certain allowable depletion level.”

Also, the grounds crew has shut off all fountains and fixes irrigation leaks and overspray problems as quickly as possible after learning of them. To report leaks or overspray, call Facilities Management, (530) 752-1655.

Unique features

In its executive summary, the evaluation team observed: “The University of California, Davis, has a very attractive campus with a visual appearance that can quickly and effectively generate interpretive discussions.

“There are a variety of landscaped areas and features that do not typically appear with as much regularity in the traditional campus setting” — the diversity of drought-tolerant and adaptive plantings (including those in several landscape conversions), the ground cover materials, bio swales and rain gardens, living walls and fences, and naturalized areas strategically interwoven throughout the campus.

“Clearly the integration of these types of sustainability elements with older or existing landscaped areas is a great challenge, and required strategies from a different maintenance and management paradigm,” the review team stated. “The University of California, Davis, campus displays a keen responsiveness to this reality.”

The accreditation report concluded: “The Grounds and Landscape Services unit (of the Arboretum and Public Garden) is playing a vital role in the university’s aspiration to provide an extraordinary experience as a visitor-centered destination, particularly at a time when the campus is in the midst of a historic and severe drought.”

Arboretum and Public Garden

Cary Avery isn’t just applauding his own team for UC Davis’ accreditation in landscape management and operations.

“Grounds and Landscape Services is part of a larger team that helped make this possible,” he said, referring to the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, an initiative that draws on the people and expertise of Grounds and Landscape Services, the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve, and the Arboretum.

“Working together we’ve been able to get much more accomplished than ever before,” Avery said.

The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden initiative, begun in 2011, recognizes opportunities all across the campus to engage the campus community and visitors alike in environmental education, as modeled for years by the arboretum — in programming and facilities like the GATEway gardens along the arboretum waterway. (GATE stands for Gardens, Arts and The Environment.)

The accreditation report also acknowledged the public garden team, led by Assistant Vice Chancellor Kathleen Socolofsky in partnership with Bob Segar, assistant vice chancellor in charge of Campus Planning and Community Resources.

The public garden team, the accreditation report states, “has the responsibility for taking the campus to a higher level of excellence in the stewardship of the campus landscape and with making UC Davis a world-class, visitor-centered destination.”

Here’s some of what the team has accomplished:

• Water-wise landscape projects — Including the La Rue Road median, Mrak Hall Circle, Arboretum Drive and the Oak Grove Meadow. By removing turf and/or putting in low-water plants, the team has cut water use significantly, reduced the amount of labor needed for maintenance, improved stormwater quality and enhanced aesthetics.

• Visitor-entry improvements — The Arboretum GATEway Garden (formerly called the California Native Plant GATEway Garden) sits behind the Davis Commons shopping center at the east end of the arboretum, and another improvement project is underway in the Health Sciences District on the west end.

• Student learning — All three units of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden are using the “Learning by Leading” program framework, whereby students lead real projects.

In awarding accreditation to Grounds and Landscaping Services, the review team noted how the achievement was “very likely unattainable if pursued as an independent endeavor.”

“Satisfying many of the best practices requires the nurturing of good interdepartmental relationships and the explicit support from informed senior administrators,” the reviewers said in their report. “The leadership at UC Davis is to be commended for providing the Grounds and Landscape Services unit (of the Arboretum and Public Garden) the resources necessary to excel and to be an effective contributor to the university’s vision for a sustainable future.”

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