College of the Holy Cross

When this college began to experience cost overruns and plant damage from salt use, it implemented a five-step plan to solve the problems.

Careful preservation and maintenance of the campus are a tradition at the College of the Holy Cross, centrally located in Worcester, Mass., 45 miles west of Boston. Its 175-acre campus is situated on the Northern slopes of a modest hill named Mount St. James and is terraced on five levels. Its grounds annually attract many visitors from neighboring states.

Recognition of the college’s beautiful landscape, as well as its maintenance program, have come from many sources. In 1977, Holy Cross was cited by the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) for having the best-maintained school or university grounds in the United States. In 1979, the school received an Honor Award from PGMS for the appearance and condition of its major athletic field, Fitton Field, along with a $10,000 grant from the Stanley Smith Horticulture Trust for the care of campus trees. In 1980, PGMS again awarded the college its Grand Award—Best-maintained school or university athletic grounds in the United States. Then, in 1986, the Beam Clay award was presented to Holy Cross for the “Best of the Best” college baseball fields in the United States.

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Achieving these awards would not have been possible without an expert maintenance crew and a high-priority mandate from the college administration for careful grounds preservation and maintenance. The grounds-maintenance crew consists of 15 full-time personnel and 15 summer workers.

One of the grounds-maintenance department’s greatest concerns has been the harmful effect of the deicing salt that we use to clear roadways during the winter. The salt may cut the ice but also can damage woody plants and vegetation. Roadways at Holy Cross are only 20 feet wide, with specimen trees planted virtually everywhere along the salting and sanding routes. This is especially true on Linden Lane, the main entrance to the college campus. Divided by a median strip, the college planted 22 Skyline Locusts along this median in the early 1980s. Along with the more than 2,000 other trees on the campus, and more than 114 varieties of trees and shrubs, the health of these trees is always of great concern to the grounds-maintenance crews.

The crews could not solve the deicing problem of the college’s roadways through the use of most conventional sanding units because, although they can be regulated for throw width, nothing prevents the salt from bouncing and rolling off beyond the designated path. The problem is further complicated by passing vehicles splashing the salt-filled slush and water up to 15 feet beyond the roadway. Yet public safety, particularly on this hillside campus, demands bare sidewalks and roads.

Therefore, the department started a five-step program to reduce the environmental hazard caused by the salt:

  • Erect a portable salt bin inside a heated garage to keep the salt/sand mix at the proper consistency and to eliminate leaching.
  • Limit salt to hills and rises, while using sand alone on flat ground.
  • Design and install a baffle at the rear of the salting unit. This limited the bouncing and rolling of salt to the width of the truck. Plus, it allows the diver to follow the salting route without having to shut off the machine to avoid spraying pedestrians or passing vehicles.
  • Inject tree root zones with gypsum. Because gypsum is an excellent agent for counteracting salt injury to plants, the grounds department began injecting the soil around all the trees along the salting routes with gypsum. Because many of the trees were too far from the existing water supply, the employees employed an unused 350-gallon outdoor gasoline storage tank to bring the solution to the distant trees.
  • Install granite curbing in critical areas to control salt-contaminated runoff.

In the 12 years since implementing the program, salt consumption has been cut in half. In addition, no new salt damage has been observed, and we’ve seen visible improvement in previously damaged trees.

James D. Long is superintendent of grounds at the College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Mass.).

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