At N.C. State University, even the groundskeeping and building maintenance staffs are still learning.
Just this year, Charles Craig has been certified to operate and maintain a solar-powered lawn mower in his work as main campus turf supervisor for NCSU. Saturday, at an open house to highlight the work Grounds and Building Services is doing to take better care of the environment, Craig patted the shiny steel frame of “Mean Green,” the mowing machine.
“This is the future, right here,” Craig said. “Sustainability. This is where everything is heading.”
The open house, held at the department’s headquarters on campus, had a strong appeal for little boys, who got to climb on lawn tractors and take a seat in the cockpit of a campus garbage truck.
The littlest ones got to drive around in Big Wheel Safety Town, populated by toddler-sized cars and earth-movers.
“They are loving these machines,” Toni Thorpe said of her grandsons, Ryan, 3, and Ryce, 1. Thorpe is program coordinator for the African American Cultural Center, and she said that in the 25 years that she has been on campus, she’s noticed that students, staff and faculty have become much more aware of their environmental footprints.
One of the university’s mottos is “One Pack, One Planet,” said Lani St. Hill, outreach coordinator for the waste reduction and recycling department on campus. St. Hill said she looks at NCSU as a city of 40,000 people, with nearly all the waste streams a municipality would have. There’s yard waste, electronics, hazardous materials, glass, plastic, even animal waste from the NCSU vet school.
Where possible, she said, the university has tried to find ways to reuse and recycle, and through technology, the campus also is trying to generate less waste.
This is the future, right here. Sustainability. This is where everything is heading.
Charles Craig, of N.C. State groundskeeping and building maintenance staff
On display at Saturday’s event were prototypes for new recycling dumpsters, with football-shaped cutouts on the side, that will be placed outside Carter-Finley Stadium to collect materials from tailgaters that would otherwise go to a landfill.
Horace Blue, a maintenance supervisor, and two of his co-workers were there to talk about some of the landscaping that goes on across campus. This fall, the department planted 10,440 pansies, and next spring, those will be replaced with summer annuals. All those flowers now get fed with fewer chemicals and more organic fertilizers.
When Blue started work at NCSU a quarter-century ago, “we used a lot of RoundUp,” the chemical weedkiller. “We sprayed and sprayed and sprayed,” he said.
Recently, landscaping crews have been making their own, less toxic weedkiller mixed from vinegar, water, salt and soap. Though it’s indiscriminate — it kills pretty much every plant it hits — it’s safe, if bad-tasting, to people and animals. One thing crews are watching is whether the salt in the solution remains in the soil and makes it difficult for desirable plants to grow later.
David Sanderson, brick crew supervisor, had an exhibit at the event, too, where children could use a trowel to smooth a fine gravel base before setting a brick into the pattern. Then they leveled it with taps from a rubber mallet.
It’s a job Sanderson’s crews do every day, taking care of the miles and miles of brick sidewalks that wind through campus. Much of their time, he said, is taken up with replacing the bricks that students pry out of the sidewalks and take back to their dorms or apartments.
“Last year, we kept logs for the first time, and we had 1,900 lost or stolen bricks,” Sanderson said. “I don’t know what they do with them. Souvenirs, I guess.
When crews take up a section of sidewalk, they save the bricks, he said.
“We put them away and reuse them somewhere else.”