School grounds maintenance in District 58

school grounds maintenance

The springtime poses a challenge for the appearance of our school grounds. The moderate temperatures and frequent rainfall coincides with the flowering cycle of dandelions. As those bright yellow flowers fade to upright stems of white seeds, the lawns look very unkempt even with weekly mowing. As a reminder, the Downers Grove Park District mows all large area fields of the school grounds. In other areas, custodians mow and trim.

As we look at the heavy areas of dandelions at various schools, considerations of weed treatments come up. While a few weed treatments have occurred over the years, It has been very infrequent and not been common practice at any school. Consideration of treatments brings together both economic and environmental discussions. From an economic perspective, the additional costs of herbicide treatments may be significant. In addition, any weed treatment program would be best accompanied by a fertilization program. Fertilization would significantly increase costs and also increase the need for frequent mowing which we are somewhat limited by due to the availability of the park district mowing cycle. From an environmental perspective, opinions are divided. Some believe herbicide treatments to be commonplace; whereas, others feel pesticides have no place in lawns and especially not on school grounds. Programs such as the healthy lawn initiatives occurring in places such as Benedictine University demonstrate how some feel about pesticide applications.  Additionally, the 415 ILCS 65 Lawn Care Products Application and Notice Act from the State of Illinois lists a strong statement.  It states that the Department of Public Health must recommend that day care centers and schools use a pesticide free turf care program to maintain their turf.

We are open to evaluating the balance of aesthetic appearance versus economic and environmental impacts. Doing so will take substantial time for evaluation, and proposals and contractor availability in peak season will be difficult. We’ve also been in contact with the DGPD about their ability to treat and fertilize the field areas.

On the bright side, as the dandelion flowering season moves past the peak window and weather conditions change, our grounds’ appearance typically improves.  Additionally, a contractor was added to assist in maintaining the landscape bed areas. Last year was the first year of contractor assistance and results have been good as they learn our schools and spaces. The use of a contractor has improved conditions, freed up custodial and maintenance time, and relieved PTAs and volunteer groups of the costs and management of the school exteriors. Unfortunately, we did not receive any bids for landscape maintenance for 2022. To fill the need, we will divide the scope between a variety of local firms to accomplish the work.