Blooming trees when you look up, blossoming flowers when you look down, and tidy grass, mulch, and plants all around: our campus is simply beautiful.
But sometimes we take it for granted, going not far beyond just appreciating the luscious life that adorns our grounds. Yet, behind the curtain, intricately planning every aspect of this exhibition is Haverford’s Sodexo grounds team.
Grounds Manager Mr. Andrew Stevenson leads this team. Having always liked to spend time outside, Mr. Stevenson jumped at the opportunity for this position.
“I’d worked in different facets here for a pretty long time, and then there was a position open in Grounds, and I decided that I was going to give it a try, and I kind of fell head over heels for it. I love working with plants, and I wanted to learn more about them, so that’s kind of how I ended up [with this position].”
His team of three begin planning the plants for the season with a design process.
“You want to kind of make sure when you’re designing that there’s going to be something that pops. So when I go to make a design, I try to look at what flowers or shrubs or perennials might be available to me, and then I try to plant them accordingly,” Mr. Stevenson said.
Every season requires different work. For example, in the spring, planting seasonal flowers and cutting grass are the foci; in the summer, watering and cutting grass; in the fall, collecting leaves; and in the winter, preparing for and shoveling snow.
“Each season does have its kind of unique challenges that we’ve come to expect,” Mr. Stevenson said.
Most of the major projects occur over the summer.
Haverford’s Sodexo General Manager Mr. Robert Wisler said, “[Summer is] the best time to do it from a safety perspective, when students and faculty are not here. And so we’re not working around students and faculty and staff.”
One of the major projects, but one that occurs annually, is mulching.
“Mulch is very expensive, but it also only lasts like a week, but it is nice. We need to have the moisture of all the roots,” Mr. Wisler said.
For larger-scale landscaping projects, the Grounds team must get approval from an aesthetics committee, which is composed of a group of managers at Haverford. While Mr. Stevenson does not recall having needed to undergo this process yet, he does try to keep the Haverford spirit in mind when designing.
He said, “I don’t think I’ve done anything large-scale enough that I had to have approval from the committee, but I think one of the rules that I do try to follow is when I do put flowers and I try to make sure that they’re the school colors.”
Mr. Stevenson then buys the plants he has chosen from two different stores, depending on the type he is looking for.
“When I get the flowers that you’ll generally see in the island beds or in the planters around campus, I go to Thaddeo’s Greenhouse, which is actually not far from here [in Havertown], but when I have to go a little larger and I get shrubs or trees, I go to a SiteOne out in Aston,” Mr. Stevenson said.
Another important point that the Grounds team must consider is the chemicals used to upkeep the plants. To avoid students, faculty and staff, and even visitors from having adverse reactions, such as an asthma attack, the team uses organic solutions where they are needed.
“When we spray plants and so forth, we use organic material where it’s necessary, just because we want all of the students to be safe, we want the faculty to be safe, we want any of our visitors to be safe.”Mr. Robert Wisler
“When we spray plants and so forth, we use organic material where it’s necessary, just because we want all of the students to be safe, we want the faculty to be safe, we want any of our visitors to be safe,” Mr. Wisler said.
The team faces various challenges throughout the year. One persistent challenge is the weather, especially in spring when the temperature can change drastically day to day as new plants are bedded out.
“Weather is always a huge challenge. Sometimes you get that random cold snap in April and it’ll kill every flower you just bought, so, along those lines, we do get kind of mystery box challenges. But we’re getting a lot better at handling it,” Mr. Stevenson said.
Another unwavering challenge is the budget, but money is more predictable than the weather.
“It’s a balancing act of making sure the campus looks nice and, at the same time, ensuring that the cost is kept within budget,” Mr. Wisler said. “If I had an endless budget, this [school] would be like being somewhere down on a tropical island, but unfortunately we can’t do that. But the school has no problem in spending money on the grounds where it makes sense, and then my job is to make sure we stay within that budget.”
Still, the concern most unique to Haverford is, in itself, the fact that we are a school.
Mr. Stevenson said, “Working at a school you don’t really know what to expect. There might be kids out playing in the quad and the ball gets away from them, destroying a plant. It happens, it’s part of working at a school.”
For Mr. Stevenson, one more personal challenge comes with managing the grounds: he must keep track of all the plants on campus.
“When I was getting started in the manager’s position, I had to learn all of that stuff really fast [where and what each was] because before it was just like ‘oh that tree over by Virtual Village,’” he said.
While there have not been major changes in school landscaping, in terms of plants and general greenery, within the past five years, the team is looking to start two big projects soon. One plan currently in the works will add stone planters to the steps between the lower school and the business office and the area by the café and the dining hall.
Mr. Wisler said, “That area’s kind of looking a little bit drab, and we want to make sure that we make that pop.”
Another significant project in the near future will be re-turfing fields, and possibly making new turf fields around the campus.
We are looking at new fields: replacing [the Class of] ’75 field this year with new turf, replacing Memorial Field the following year with new turf. And then we’re looking at what it would take to spruce up Eagle Field, because it’s always a challenge to spruce that up. That’s our only natural grass field right now, so we’re kind of deciding whether we want to turf that field.”
Regardless of how the landscaping looks in the future, one thing will always be certain: spring will signal the rebirth of color-filled, vivacious grounds. For this reason, spring is Mr. Stevenson’s favorite season in regards to landscaping.
“Winter is such a drag, and then when you kind of get back and everything kind of pops and comes back to life all at once, especially here between the cherry blossom trees that we have out front and the daffodils that come in,” Mr. Stevenson said.
For Mr. Wisler, spring is equally as exciting as autumn, when the community returns to campus.
“I love it right before and right when school starts because the campus is looking fresh, the campus is looking alive, and our projects are done, so we can relax a little. Then, welcoming all the students and staff back is always exciting for us and seeing their reaction being back on campus.”
“We’re always excited to share with the students because this is what we do for a living, and we love doing it.”Mr. Robert Wisler
But both Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Wisler are excited for people to enjoy their hard work, which mainly occurs when the community is not watching.
Mr. Wisler said, “We’re always excited to share with the students because this is what we do for a living, and we love doing it.”
“I sometimes wonder if anyone notices,” Mr. Stevenson said, “so it is nice to see some interest.”