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School Maintenance: Greening Grounds Tips

Staff can embrace green principles in their upkeep of school grounds.

As more education institutions embrace environmentally sensitive practices related to school maintenance, facility managers must take into account not only the buildings they maintain, but the land that makes up the rest of a school campus.

The Colorado chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council has put together a Best Practices Guide for Sustainable Operations of K-12 schools that provides school personnel with advice for maintaining the outdoor areas of a campus in ways that do minimal harm to the environment.

Among the recommendations:

Landscape Maintenance. Minimize the use of chemical fertilizers. Promote the use of locally adapted plantings and alternatives to fertilizers that have artificial chemicals; use organic fertilizers when possible. Mulch or compost landscape waste so that it does not end up in a landfill; composting can take place on site or be sent to a facility dedicated to composting organic materials.

Turf areas. Conduct spot treatments when applying chemicals, and apply fertilizer only to areas that need it. Determine the nutrients that are deficient before applying amendments by performing regular soil tests and monitoring the color of turf. Use "grasscycling" (leaving clippings on turf) as a means to compost clippings and reduce soil pollutants.

Schedule mowing so that no more than one-third the length of the grass blade is cut at any one mowing. Monitor turf conditions and moisture levels when mowing to determine if aerating, nutrients or other measures are needed. Select turf-maintenance products that maximize the use of organic materials, including animal manures and compost.

Maximize watering in the early morning to reduce inefficiency from evaporation, but avoid watering in evening hours; prolonged dampness can promote disease. Water turf deeply and less frequently, and consider intermittent watering cycles that split the times for an area so that the water can soak in more effectively.

Site hardscape. Clean hardscapes regularly; check for hazardous materials or pollutants, and remove them. Avoid hosing for cleaning purposes in arid climates, and do not hose areas where hazardous or polluting materials exist. Select low-emission maintenance equipment.

Where cleaning agents are used, select environmentally preferred products, and avoid using products that contain chemicals or other pollutants that can harm vegetation or pollute groundwater.

Pest management Use an integrated pest management program (IPM) that uses a combination of strategies (biological, cultural, physical, mechanical, educational, and chemical) to keep pest numbers at an acceptable level.

When application of pesticides is necessary, use the least toxic pesticides—ones that have low or no acute or chronic toxicity to humans, affect a narrow range of species, and are formulated to be applied in a manner that limits or eliminates exposure to humans and other non-target organisms. Use spot treatments rather than area-wide applications.

Identify a problem or pest before taking action. Provide routine school maintenance to keep vegetation, shrubs and wood mulch at least one foot away from structures. Seal or eliminate cracks and crevices in walls, floors and pavement. Clean garbage cans and dumpsters regularly. Follow local ordinances or notify building occupants at least 72 hours under normal conditions and 24 hours in emergencies prior to the use of pesticides.

Snow and ice management.

Make sure that mechanical equipment is well-maintained to minimize environmental impacts such as leaking gas, oil or other lubricants. Provide equipment operators with access to safety goggles and ear protection along with yearly orientation and safety procedures.

If de-icing chemicals are used, select products with potassium and magnesium chloride instead of those with sodium and calcium chloride. Apply deicing compounds with a spreader to minimize the amount of product used.

Prevent the formation of ice after storms and reduce the need for use of de-icing chemicals by removing snow expeditiously using shovels, snow blowers and plows.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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