One for All

David Garner of Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., has learned firsthand that there is no substitute for having the right equipment. When you're maintaining a large fixed site, having the right equipment can mean the difference between getting the job done on your own terms or having to contract it out.

Garner is a 22-year veteran with the hospital's maintenance department, and has been operating various kinds of equipment since he was a youngster. Over the years, his experience has shaped how he chooses equipment, and taught him to evaluate machines based on versatility and productivity. Just as important to him is equipment size and its gentleness on turf.

GETTING EQUIPPED

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The general maintenance of a major metropolitan hospital campus can be a daunting task for any seasoned landscaper because of the variety of factors involved. The job can take you from removing snow to moving dirt to construction projects and more. Construction in particular can be a significant issue for landscaping experts, and the construction growth in hospitals doesn't appear to be slowing down. According to a report published in 2003 by Solucient (a healthcare information company), the demand for hospital beds in the next 25 years is expected to grow by 46 percent.

How grounds maintenance specialists, including Garner, handle these challenges can be addressed with the appropriate set of equipment, including compact machines for landscape and construction projects that can't be done with larger equipment due to space restrictions.

A NEW ADDITION

As the lead groundskeeper at the 341-acre hospital campus in Superior Township, Garner is responsible for insuring that the staff, patients and visitors can get to their destination safely. This is no easy task and Garner has a staff of four who help him with the ongoing maintenance of the campus. The staff works year-round to maintain the grounds with the assistance of a small fleet of equipment. From moving snow to replacing or repairing irrigation lines, he has learned the benefits of using equipment that can take him from one job to the next through the use of various attachments.

According to Garner, productivity is crucial in the overall success of his department, which always includes finding better ways to get things done without going over budget. This means exploring new methods to keep machines working year-round. Garner's most recent solution to maintaining high productivity was the purchase of a new all-wheel steer loader. Garner says with this new machine, he will be able to keep his staff working during the summer months, whereas other machines were put away for the warm-weather months because of the damage they might inflict on the turf of the hospital grounds.

“Our other machines would sit all summer because they were too heavy or too big for the project,” says Garner. What was a turn of luck for Garner became a cost-effective stroke of genius for the groundskeeper, who came under budget when he purchased the new machine. Concerns of ripping the existing turf caused Garner to explore this new option. He wanted something that had low ground disturbance, resulting in less turf repair and re-work after excavating or other general digging projects. The all-wheel steer (AWS) loader is different from traditional track or skid-steer loaders in that it has four steerable axles. The AWS feature works to reduce turf damage and extends the life of the unit's tires. The AWS has both skid-steer and all-wheel steer capability — bringing two machines into one.

But prior to worrying about using the machine in the warm months, Garner and his crew put the machine to use in the cold and snowy months in Michigan. They used the loader to clear the handicap parking spots and transported the snow into an area where another machine could push it safely out of the way. The loader works in tandem with trucks in areas, going where only a compact machine can fit due to space restrictions. Garner says keeping the emergency room parking lot clear is a top priority.

“Access to the hospital's emergency room includes the one-mile roadway, parking lot and walkway to the entrance,” says Garner. The loader has been assigned to this duty based on the early success Garner has had with the machine. Its industrial tires give it traction and enhance its maneuverability. Again, productivity is improved as the AWS and pickup trucks work together to accomplish the task of moving the snow in a faster manner.

Keeping the hospital's roads and walkways clear in other areas — not just around the emergency room — is also a top priority to Garner. The hospital has 13 miles of sidewalks, one mile of roadway and 10,000 parking spots that need to be cleaned of snow quickly.

Monitoring the weather conditions with his personal computer's Internet service and radar helps Garner prepare for approaching storms. The crew begins with salt and sand and will send the machines out to clear the snow after one inch has fallen.

Garner says his staff — in one instance — used the loader for 24 consecutive hours, minus a few breaks here and there. As of mid-March 2004, the loader had acquired 200 hours on the job. The equipment operators noted that the machine was comfortable enough to use for extended hours without experiencing significant fatigue. Serviceability was also mentioned by Garner as an important option for choosing a new loader for his staff. He wanted to be able to do simple maintenance himself instead of having to take the machinery to the dealership.

ATTACHMENTS EXPAND POSSIBILITIES

Compact equipment, by itself, has limitations on its usefulness. The attachments are what really make the equipment versatile on the jobsite. Garner recognizes the need for attachments for his loader and purchased several to help him with projects this spring.

In addition to his snow bucket and an 8-foot snow blade, Garner looked ahead to warm-weather projects that would require digging and handling palletized materials. During the spring, the landscaping crew digs in the turf to repair existing irrigation lines. The ground frost can cause damage to these lines during the winter. According to Garner, his crew plans to save a “tremendous amount of time” by using a backhoe attachment on the loader to dig with a narrow 15-inch bucket. Because he has to deal with space restrictions and turf damage, Garner can use his loader to reach those difficult spots to dig while, at the same time, keeping the turf in good shape. And the time needed to install the backhoe attachment on the machine is minimal. In a matter of two minutes, according to Garner, he can mount the attachment on his machine and prepare to dig. With the flip of two levers, the mounting system is put into action for switching between attachments. And loader operators can flip a switch to raise the levers hydraulically and begin the process of removing the attachment or connecting the attachment.

Besides the use of the backhoe, the all-wheel steer loader is used by Garner's crew for rough grading the ground before the fine work is done. Some of his time each spring is spent repairing areas of the campus damaged during the winter months by larger snow removal equipment; while in the summer time, construction vehicles have the tendency to also cause some damage to the turf. The use of compact loaders has helped Garner repair these spots quickly.

His loader is also in demand from other departments at the hospital. Garner was contacted recently for assistance with unloading materials that were delivered on pallets. The loader, with its 3,000-pound rated operating efficiently transferred the materials from the truck to the ground. For Garner, it was another example of productivity.

BUDGET APPEAL

Funds for purchasing equipment at the hospital can be tight, so when Garner went to his supervisor to request a new loader he knew it had to be a cost-effective solution. What he learned is that with the new loader he is capable of doing more work in less time, which saves money that might have been needed to purchase additional equipment. And with the ability to add more job-solving attachments down the line, the loader is sure to replace other, older machines that are no longer needed.

ALL JOBS, BIG AND SMALL

Compact equipment certainly has earned its spot in the grounds maintenance department of hospitals and other facilities where productivity, versatility, cost and space limitations are key elements of the jobsite. And while these machines can't replace all construction or landscaping equipment, they can be used in tandem with other machines to improve efficiencies.

Ryan Johnson is a writer for Two Rivers Marketing Group in Des Moines, Iowa.

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