by Ray Bennedetti
Many members of our association belong to various school districts around western Canada and the United States. After interviewing Len Spaurel from the School District #67 (Penticton/Summerland), I was astonished and impressed with the job that a maintenance supervisor for a school district is faced with each year. Apart from all the other duties, the maintenance of the grounds is definitely a challenging endeavor for them and I would like to salute Len and all others like him for the huge work load that they take on.
Len Spaurel has been a member of the WCTA for over 15 years, and has been a part of the turf industry for over 24 years - since he took over as maintenance supervisor for school district #67. Len's background mostly involved the construction business. He started out in construction as a carpenter, then became a Forman. One company he worked for mainly built schools. It was this extensive experience with schools that led him into the job he now has. He took the job as maintenance supervisor at age 33.
Len has 35 people on staff during the peak season and 24 year round. Electricians, Computer technicians, plumbers, carpenters, a welder, and a grounds staff all work out of the same roof. The maintenance building also does the warehousing for all the schools, so a shipper/receiver is also employed. I was especially amazed to find out that most projects are done in-house, provided that it is more cost-effective. On the grounds, Len and his staff do all their own irrigation design, installation and maintenance. They also do their own renovations, sod work, and playground planning (including construction ). Len's responsibilities include overseeing the maintenance of all facilities and grounds, warehousing, manufacturing ( tables, countertops, etc. ), and snow removal. He entered his job with a great deal of knowledge about school construction, but has had to continually expand his horizon's in order to effectively meet all the other requirements for his job.
Mr. Spaurel has had to educate himself through the years by going to conferences, establishing contacts, and through reading about the latest products and maintenance practices. Len states that " demands are greater now for better conditions on school grounds. Better quality sports fields are now necessary to handle larger traffic loads and provide safer play areas." A great many fields are now multi-purpose ones because the school district can no longer afford to buy large packages of land. It is not uncommon now to see a soccer field combined with a grass hockey field and a baseball diamond. As you can guess, the traffic on these fields both during school and after, is incredible.
Len's greatest challenges with the school grounds within the district are the increasing demands for better playing surfaces, a limited budget, and the time frame with which to perform cultural practices. Although Len has 5 formen and 30 crew members, only 1 Forman and 4 crew members look after all the grounds. On a regular rotation most fields will be cut only once in five days. Topdressing is an impossibility due to budget restraints, and aeration (which can only be performed in July and August) is extremely difficult due to the increasing amount of traffic on the fields these days, and even more difficult if it is done in wet conditions, as the aeration core's do not chop up or mat in very well. To further complicate things, the children have mud fights with the wet cores ( you can imagine the result - a mud bog!!). Len feels that in the future it is hopeful, and perhaps very important, that budgets will allow for a more complete turf management program for the school fields.
Len relies on publications (such as Turfline News) and Conferences to maintain and expand his knowledge. He also has a former golf course Superintendent on staff (Lloyd Fulton - who is also a WCTA member) which lightens his load considerably. Len feels it is his duty to keep informed with new turf maintenance and construction practices so that effective decisions can be made, and so that he can be comfortable with the results of the jobs that are delegated to various departments.
Len sees school districts in the future needing people with horticulture backgrounds and education's, as community demands are greater, and because of the increase in job loads as a result of districts amalgamating together, as did Penticton and Summerland. "I hope to see more school districts participating in the WCTA, as I feel that there is an excellent source of information within the association and it is extremely helpful in educating us and keeping us up to date. A manager like myself must stay abreast with all avenues of the Turf trade, and it is helpful to have someone like Lloyd on board with horticultural experience that I can count on to advise and make certain decisions where necessary. One key to successful management is to hire the people with the ambition and experience to handle the jobs that are within their field of expertise. We have a Forman with a wealth of turf experience that looks after a crew of four people who maintain the grounds of all the schools within our district. It is important for them to work with their own initiative and have the leeway to come up with new ideas and solutions to most problems without too much intervention from myself."
At our conferences Len takes the time to make new contacts and study the exhibit area closely. "The WCTA holds the best conference available for the school district maintenance managers as we can make many of our purchases, and keep up with all of the new technological changes. The WCTA seems to be growing bigger every year, and it is exciting to see the changes that are taking place in the industry. As the expectations are greater from the public for the condition of our turf, it is nice to know that others are faced with these challenges as well. Together we can come up with better solutions to our difficulties, and find the best ways to make improvements."
Turf Line News October/November 1999
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