From scorched earth to lush landscapes
Campus grounds crew returns construction-riddled sites to former glory, a job normally performed by contractors

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs



Groundskeeper Sam Lico puts in new plants following the installation of new steam and sewer lines outside California Hall.
Noah Berger photo

06 June 2001 | Throughout the last year, large areas of campus have been torn up to replace and modernize underground utilities. Though the construction is crucial, it’s extremely hard on the landscape.

The work transforms lush tracts of land — flourishing with grass, flowers and bushes — into war-like zones, riddled with pits and trenches. When the projects are done and the holes filled up, barren patches of earth are left behind.

Returning these areas to their pre-construction state is normally left to outside contractors. But a couple of enterprising staffers in Physical Plant–Campus Services thought the job might be done better in-house. Their boss agreed, and the pilot Landscape Renewal Program was born.

“It’s more economical and gives us a chance to get more creative on the job,” said groundskeeper Sam Lico, who, along with irrigation specialist Matt Walter, came up with the idea.

Their first project was the area west of California Hall, which was closed off for months to install new steam and sewer lines. Instead of putting back what was there before, Lico and Walters went the extra mile, making vast improvements.

They laid new sod; installed a new, state-of-the-art watering system; painted the flag pole and nearby light poles; replaced the asphalt pathway that circuits the area; and put in new plants — working extra hours to get it done in time for Cal Day.

This kind of work is a shift from the maintenance Lico and his crew normally do, which includes pruning, weeding, watering and detailing lawns, removing litter and emptying garbage receptacles.

The renewal project gave him a chance to expand upon his normal tasks and tap into long-dormant skills, he said.

“It’s more rewarding to care for something you’ve created yourself,” said Lico, who performs this work on top of his regular duties. “It was hard, but it turned out nice, and I feel really good about what we accomplished.”

Lico is currently renewing the area just east of Giannini Hall, along Strawberry Creek’s north fork.

“With all the construction projects on campus right now, there are lots of opportunities for us to renew and improve these areas,” said Bobby Newell, interim associate director of grounds services, who is seeking permanent funding for the program. “Having our own crews do improvements is not only fiscally beneficial, it builds morale among staff.”

Newell said it’s important for managers to listen to the people who do the work because “they’re the experts.”

He also embraced the staff-initiated proposal to create a “creek beat” to better coordinate the maintenance of Strawberry Creek. Right now, four separate crews are maintaining different parts of the stream. This is also a pilot program for which Newell is seeking permanent funding.

“Because the creek is such an important campus, city and state landmark, we thought it would be best served by assigning just one person to it,” said Newell. “That person’s main responsibility is the maintenance of the creek, and they will work closely with students, faculty and staff, Environment, Health and Safety, and other agencies to ensure it gets the care it deserves.”


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