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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 29, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 13
The Greening of the Grounds

Brian Phiel, horticulturist; Albert Capitos, manager of the Homewood grounds; and landscape architect Bob Galvin, director of grounds operations.

New campus landscaping practices aim at reducing runoff and chemical use

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When Albert Capitos tended the field at Camden Yards, blemishes and weeds on the baseball diamond were unthinkable. These days, however, the former Baltimore Orioles head groundskeeper lives happily with a stray clover patch and the odd ant mound. In fact, Capitos, the manager of Homewood grounds, takes a level of pride in the natural, but tidy, look of things.

The goal of Capitos and others who look after the campus has been to maintain the beauty and natural look of the 130-acre campus while significantly reducing its environmental footprint. An impetus for adopting green practices was the Homewood master plan of 2000, a guiding principle of which was to preserve and enhance existing natural systems, as it was determined that the woodlands, water quality and stream character in and around the campus were threatened.

Since the implementation of the master plan, the university has hired staff with formal training in landscape architecture, turf management, propagation and horticulture and has steadily shifted to more environmentally friendly landscaping practices. Most prominently, staff has significantly decreased the use of chemical products and supplanted them with organic-based ones, including fertilizer made from crab meal and kelp and insecticides made from natural oils. Grounds crews also have created several buffer areas and leaching and infiltration areas in order to reduce runoff into nearby streams and storm drains.

Bob Galvin, the university's landscape architect and director of grounds operations, says that runoff has decreased significantly since he came to Johns Hopkins six years ago. One key factor, he says, is that many of the bituminous walks that used to intersect campus have been replaced with brick footpaths that sit on beds of sand, allowing water to filter down and not run off.

"Stuff that would have gone to the storm drains, and ultimately to the watershed and the Chesapeake Bay and pollute, is now getting infiltrated at a greater rate than it ever was before," he says. "And by us staying out of the forested areas, where we historically mowed, we are creating natural filter buffers away from the streams and the top of the slopes."

The grounds crew has also built up organic matter around the perimeter of the campus to provide another layer of filtration for the runoff while at the same time rebuilding organics in the soil.

"It is things like this that we have done over the last four years, and continue to do, that represent a radical change from the way it used to be. It is a combination of a desire to aesthetically improve the campus and the philosophy of getting more environmentally friendly in the day-to-day maintenance of the campus," he says.

A lion's share of the credit for the greener practices, Galvin says, has to go Larry Kilduff, executive director of the Facilities Management Office, who has been instrumental in moving away from the "mow and blow" groundskeeping approach to a more state-of-the-art operation.

Kilduff says that while JHU seeks to improve its practices each season, it already has made great strides in cutting down on the amount of potentially cancer-causing chemicals it introduces into the environment — and not at the expense of the campus's good looks.

"From the onset, I wanted to know that as we transition to these greener standards and practices whether or not we could maintain the desired look of the campus," Kilduff says, "and I was comfortable in feeling that we could."

Capitos, who came to Johns Hopkins in September 2003 after four years with the Orioles, currently has a 13-member grounds crew, including a turf specialist, an agronomist and a horticulturalist. Today, his crew rarely uses any type of fungicides and herbicides. In the place of synthetic fertilizers, it uses turkey litter, manure, feather and crab meal, and other organic-based products.

The crew has also adopted a less-is-more approach, Capitos says.

"Before, we would generally use chemical pesticides and herbicides to try to eliminate something as soon as it popped up," Capitos says. "Now, we tolerate some of these things, whether it be a small insect outbreak, turf damage or cluster of weeds. We ask ourselves, Is this tolerable or not? Will it multiply into a bigger problem, or is it just an isolated occurrence and we can deal with it? In the past, one bit of damage and the grounds crew would blanket spray. Or it would be part of the routine — like saying, It's May, better put down the fertilizer — even if it wasn't really necessary."

Capitos says the benefits of using organic products are cost savings and a decrease in health risks. Even though the crew has to use more of an organic product, he says, it's cheaper and, when used properly, lasts longer.

The greener practices at Homewood are being duplicated at other Hopkins campuses, in particular Johns Hopkins at Eastern and Bayview Medical Center, Galvin says. While grounds operations are required by federal and state laws to utilize "best management practices," he says that Johns Hopkins will continue to strive to far exceed government requirements for the benefit of people and the environment.


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