Dec. 20, 2022
A large part of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities’ focus is on the sustainability of campus. Landscape Services often partners with professors and student organizations to make improvements to MSU’s many green spaces.
Operations supervisor, Josh Ridner, bored holes in the soil as part of Project Wingspan, a three-year project through the Pollinator Partnership designed to increase the quality, quantity and connectivity of pollinator habitat across the Great Lakes region. Students in the College of Natural Science then planted native species in what was once an overgrown area on Trowbridge Road, transforming it into a pollinator garden full of plants that support bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
“We’re adding a lot of pollinator gardens on campus,” says Matthew Bailey, Landscape Services manager. “We installed a garden north of Shaw Hall with the Sustainable Spartans group, and we’re also restoring the banks of the Red Cedar River to create a pollinator corridor. This Project Wingspan grant is another step on our way toward a bee-friendly campus.”
Photo by Nick Schrader
Beaumont Nursery, a little known but very important location for Landscape Services, is located south of MSU’s main campus.
“The Beaumont Nursery serves a lot of functions,” says Jerry Wahl, campus arborist. “As often as we can, we like to grow trees from the seeds of trees that were removed from campus, and this is where we grow them.”
The seeds are planted and grown in a greenhouse, then transferred to a pot once they’re big enough to survive outdoors. After a year or two, the trees are transferred to a field at the nursery where they continue to grow until they’re strong enough to be planted on campus.
The Beaumont Nursery also houses many plants from MSU’s Beal Botanical Garden that are not native to the area and can’t withstand the temperatures of a Michigan winter. This includes pineapple plants, chilis and many tropical plants that visitors can learn about and enjoy in the warmer months.
Landscape Services hosts many workshops and events related to tree maintenance for students in MSU’s Department of Forestry as well as students from the Lansing-area community. Outside of the IPF building on the south side of campus, arborist Allen Matthews worked with a local 4-H student as part of Landscape Services’ “Tree”mendous Care activity earlier in the year.
The event taught students how wood is milled, how to spot a girdling root and correct it, how to identify different types of trees on campus and more. By far the most popular activity, saved for the end of the workshop, gave students a chance to don an arborist harness and make their way up the trunk of a tree, just as MSU arborists do for trimming and pruning maintenance.
“Not only do we teach the kids about what an arborist does and how we keep trees healthy, we give them a chance to use some of the equipment we actually use in the field,” says Matthews. “By the end, they always want to climb all the way to the top.”
Arborists Trent Slee and Dustin Bates secure rigging to a branch in an oak tree on the banks of the Red Cedar River. Tree removal is often done in winter to minimize the ecological impact to wildlife on campus.
MSU is an urban arboretum — an outdoor living laboratory — with over 20,000 trees. Landscape Services is the steward of the university’s Campus Tree Management Plan, which was created to ensure the health of MSU’s trees and also maximize carbon sequestration, an important step to a greener campus.
Trees are removed from campus due to decline, storm damage or construction. Every tree that is removed from campus is replaced by a newly planted tree as part of a one-to-one replacement plan. Trees that are removed are repurposed into lumber via the MSU Shadows program. Items made from MSU’s lumber, like tables, chairs, benches and coasters, are sold in the Surplus Store and Recycling Center.
Not all trees that are removed from campus become part of the MSU Shadows program. Some are returned to campus in the form of outdoor seating. Arborists Andy Spitzley, Trent Slee, Dustin Bates and Adam Young prepare benches out of cottonwood, white oak, Norway spruce and Scotch pine.
“The furniture can be used as an outdoor classroom or a small group meeting area,” says Yun Cao, a landscape architect with Landscape Services. “It’s also a place where students, faculty and staff can gather to just enjoy the outdoors.”
Last year IPF worked with the College of Education to install seating areas outside of Erickson Hall and recently worked with the College of Veterinary Medicine to create more modern-style pieces for its adjacent outdoor spaces.
After significant snowfall, Landscape Services staff head to campus regardless of the hour to begin plowing roads and sidewalks, as well as applying ice melt as needed. Snow crews use small utility vehicles, pickup trucks and heavy commercial trucks to clear areas outlined by priority in a documented snow plan. They monitor campus activities, such as conferences and athletic events, to ensure the university is always accessible.
Before the snow starts, workers apply a salt solution to walkways to slow snow accumulation and give themselves more time to start clearing snow and ice. The salt solution melts 1/4 inch of snow on contact and doesn’t allow it to adhere to pavement or sidewalks so IPF crews can clean it up easier and use less salt in the future. It requires four times less salt to prevent ice accumulation than to remove ice after it has formed. On average, IPF goes through about 3,000 gallons of the solution a day, focusing on high-traffic walkways, roadways and parking lots.
Sometimes Landscape Services staff must clear snow without the comfort of a heated vehicle.
A November snowstorm filled Spartan Stadium prior to a home football game and needed to be cleared. Landscape crews grabbed shovels and leaf blowers and began clearing the stadium along with staff from Athletics, IPF Custodial Services and others. Utility vehicles with plows then worked to clear the concourse area.
Gardener Branden Linton (left) and Mitchell Kauffman remove leaves and dead vegetation near the T.B. Simon Power Plant. During the winter, crews remove the material to provide for spring growth and plantings. Much of the material is recycled as mulch or soil amendments to be included with chipped up downed trees. Crews use large vacuums to collect plant material and transport it elsewhere on campus.
Kauffman, a Laborer I, has worked at Landscape Services since March, helping with mowing and related duties on the main campus south of the river.
“I really enjoy being outside and in nature,” says Kauffman, adding he appreciates the opportunities for growth MSU provides personally and professionally. “I’ve felt the impact that the MSU community brings to the workplace.”
In September, Brandon Piercefield joined more than 60 Landscape Services team members to collect refuse left at tailgating sites across campus. After each home football game, crews start work before sunrise to pick up stray garbage and transfer bagged and unbagged trash to utility vehicles, and then ultimately to garbage trucks for disposal. They want campus to be picture perfect and ready for the upcoming week’s classes.
Piercefield, who has worked as a temporary laborer for six months with the Hard Surfaces crew, typically spends his workdays maintaining parking ramps by collecting trash and power washing surfaces. He said he came to MSU because of its reputation as a good local employer and the opportunity to join the team that maintains MSU’s park-like campus.
“I thought it’d be cool to be a part of that,” he said, adding that the best part of his job is the positive atmosphere his coworkers create every day.
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Jennifer Trenkamp, MSUToday editor