Lawn Access and Improvements Continue through 2018

Year Ends with Winter Protection Changes as South Lawns to Remain Open through Winter

December 07, 2018

Over the course of the year, the Grounds team has made several upgrades and improvements at lawns across campus, while also keeping lawns open and available as often as possible.

Throughout the fall semester, the Columbia community saw green flags flying on the lower campus lawns. The Grounds team, part of Campus Operations, continued its concerted effort from last year to make the lawns available for passive recreational use as often as conditions allowed. October exhibited that point, with four green flags flying every day of the month except the three days that experienced heavy rainfall. The flag system is in use for South Lawns East and West, and Hamilton and Furnald lawns.

In addition to its efforts to keep lawns open and available, the Grounds team made several improvements at lawns all around campus to encourage more use:

  • Philosophy/Kent: The lawn area was enlarged by replacing an ivy ground cover with grass, and was made more visible and welcoming with the removal of perimeter shrubs. Three new benches were also added to the area.
  • Mathematics: Perimeter shrubs were reduced to widen walkways and increase access points. In addition, the trunk of a historic sycamore tree had expanded into the walkway, and Campus Operations staff redirected the path around it.
  • Earl and St. Paul’s Chapel: Perimeter shrubs around the lawns in front were removed to create more open and welcoming lawn spaces and building entrances.
  • Lewisohn: Improved landscaping and a new drainage system addressed the prevalent oversaturation problem and improved the overall condition of the lawn.
  • South Lawn West: Grounds team installed a new drainage system on the southern portion of the lawn to speed up recovery time following heavy rain.

Other changes to increase lawn access continue into the winter months.  Last year, the Grounds team experimented with keeping Butler Lawn uncovered and available for use through the winter.  The team will expand that initiative this winter by not using turf blankets on South Lawns East or West.

“South Lawns East and West and Butler Lawn are unique among green spaces on campus in that the extreme stress placed on them during Commencement Week activities require that they are re-sodded in the summer,” explained Brad Larson, Grounds Manager. “The grass on other lawns reap the blankets’ lifelong health benefits, but since these three lawns are re-sodded each year, the benefits are more limited, especially when weighed with the labor required to lay down the blankets.”

South Lawns East and West will remain open throughout the winter, regulated by the same flag system based on weather conditions.  In addition, all other campus green spaces will be open and available to the Columbia community throughout the winter months with the exception of Hamilton, Furnald and three select upper campus lawns – specific to their individual maintenance needs – which will be covered by translucent turf blankets. 

St. Paul’s Chapel lawn: Perimeter shrubs around the lawns in front were removed to create more open and welcoming lawn spaces and building entrances

The use of the turf blankets in the winter allows the lawns to be ready for use by the Columbia community in the spring – when demand for their use returns to its peak.  The turf blankets provide several benefits, primarily keeping the soil temperature up to prevent winter desiccation of the dormant grass, along with protection from winter weather and incidental stress and damage (such as people walking on a dormant or snow-covered lawn). Immediately prior to setting down the blankets, the Grounds team applies seeds to the lawns, particularly in areas that are barren. The higher soil temperatures allow for early germination and healthier, green lawns when the blankets are removed in spring.

As in previous years, the goal is to remove the turf blankets in early spring, beginning on April 1. As spring approaches, the Grounds team monitors the weather forecast and will remove the turf blankets earlier as forecasts allow.

Campus Operations has been recognized with multiple awards for its grounds maintenance at the Morningside campus, including from the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) in the Urban University Grounds category for exceptional grounds maintenance, and a Green Star Award from PGMS for its work at the Baker Athletics Complex.

Mathematics lawn: Perimeter shrubs were reduced to widen walkways and increase access points