UNI sees landscaping budget cut, UI sees increased investment

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MAY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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With a change in seasons comes a change in temperature and color across the University of Iowa campus. Officials also say flood-recovery projects will result in a prettier campus in the coming years.

Excluding residence halls, athletics, recreation, and the UI Hospitals and Clinics, the annual budget for the 34-person staff for Landscape Services — a branch of UI Facilities Management — stands at roughly $2.9 million, associate director Bob Brooks said. The department oversees maintenance of nearly 861 acres of the UI’s 1,900 acres.

“Probably the most popular plantings are the annual flower beds, flowering trees, and spring bulbs,” he said. “They seem to draw the most attention.”

Although the past five years have proven to be turbulent as a result of record flooding in 2008, operating budgets have held fairly constant, Brooks said.

“Most of the cleanup after the floods relating to grounds was not covered by FEMA, so we spent considerable time recovering turf areas and cleaning outside areas around flooded buildings,” he said.

After the flood, Brooks said the department started annual training for the installation of Hesco barriers and removable floodwalls. This not only alleviated flooding concerns, but also makes future installation easier.

Approximately 50,000 hours annually are spent on all aspects of landscape maintenance and beautification in the department. That includes mowing, turf and tree care, installation of new plantings, concrete repair work, institutional road maintenance, trash/litter pickup, snow removal, and minor landscape repair projects.

Although much of the beautification efforts had to be redirected to protecting vital campus buildings facing the Iowa River during the flood, Facilities Management strategic communications manager Wendy Moorehead said investment in newer campus public spaces remains a priority.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said a vital city center goes hand-in-hand with the ever-expanding UI campus. Recent initiatives included a $15,000 snow-removal program and proposals for downtown, Pedestrian Mall, and North Side Marketplace streetscape touchups.

Geoff Wilming, the Quality Care Lawn Care vice president of operations, said that although the company’s initial investment remains small now with the donation of plants to the Ped Mall and a stretch of Washington Street, the company hopes to play a larger role.

“We’d just like to be thought of as a provider in the downtown beautification process,” he said. “We’d like to do what we can.”

As the UI and Iowa City communities experience improved beautification projects, one regent institution has faced budget limitations and a shrinking student population.

University of Northern Iowa landscape architect and planner Paul Meyermann said the college’s student population of just over 11,000 and a campus land area less than half of the UI’s can still prove to be a challenge.

“Basically, the operations budgets up here have been shrinking over the past 10 to 15 years,” he said. “The grounds shop would have had 23 people 15 years ago, and now there are 13 people.”

Meyermann said between $2,000 and $3,000 is spent annually for flower planting, whereas $30,000 to $40,000 is funneled for sidewalk repairs.

UNI received an $800,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency eight years ago to manage water run-off in the nearby Dry Run Creek and has also since converted 125 acres into burning prairie every three years.

“This isn’t a nature preserve, this is a college campus, but we’re trying to do things in an ecological manner,” he said.

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