Ensuring campus safety


Jeff Skoog and Brad Gischia, members of the Grounds Department work on a deteriorating manhole near the handicap parking in Lot 36. To ensure safety, they are temporarily fixing the crack in cement before the foundation can be entirely replaced. Photo by Maggie Duly

Maggie Duly

As the snow slowly begins to melt, transiting from winter to spring, the NMU Grounds Department ensures the safety and overall appearance of the 360 acres campus entails, making it one of the most high maintenance times of the year.

This spring, one of the main focuses will be the area around the new University Center and along Lee Drive. Renovations to the planting area and benches around the Carlen Towers in front of the University Center are scheduled for this summer.

“I think spring and early summer are probably some of the busiest times, like the next six to eight weeks here in our department will be quite busy,” Grounds Department Supervisor Andy Smith said. “Campus is very much in poor shape after a winter like we’ve had. There’s about 300 tons of sand that we’ve put down on campus throughout the winter to keep things safe. Well, all that sand is now on the grass and on the sidewalks. It all needs to be swept up.”

Smith joined the NMU Grounds Department in October 2017, but he’s no stranger to the trade.

“I’ve spent 25 years in the landscaping business, just prior to coming to Northern I ran my own design and consultation business. I still do to a small degree when I have time,” Smith said.

The Grounds Department is in charge of maintaining everything on campus outside of the buildings, including snow removal. On a typical winter day, the staff begins clearing snow from campus roads, sidewalks and parking lots at around 4 a.m. Smith and his crew also help evaluate overall campus safety when it comes to canceling classes.

Smith describes winter as a “demanding” and “stressful” time for his staff. There is a lot of turn around to be done in the spring, clearing debris from the harsh weather during the winter months and preparing for planting. The grounds staff will be dealing with a lot of ice damage to the campus landscape.

According to Smith, staff members don’t just control upkeep, they also work on alternative projects that keep campus quirky, like the Wildcat statue.

“There’s a whole story behind that, that most people don’t know. The statue arrived 15 hours before it was to be dedicated,” Smith said. “So my staff, along with some outside contractors, worked all night in the pouring rainstorm to get that Wildcat installed. In the year and a half I’ve been here, that was probably the most interesting and unique project I’ve been involved in.”

The Lang Memorial Garden in front of Jamrich Hall was designed and installed by the department, as well as the area surrounding the Wildcat statue. Smith and his crew look for ways to improve the landscape as much as possible. Another addition by the department includes the contemplative garden across from the Wildcat statue, where the garden accents a pathway to a collection of benches framed by trees and shrubs.

Student hires also work alongside Smith and his crew. There are usually six or seven student workers in the fall/winter months and generally 14 to 15 in the summer. The department is currently hiring students for summer, applicants must be enrolled in fall classes. For more information, visit the Handshake website at mynmu.nmu.edu.