NIU Grounds Department moves from plowing snow to mowing grass


April showers bring May flowers and the NIU Grounds Department.

After a grueling winter, warmer weather has come to NIU and brought greenery. Now the Grounds Department must change jobs from plowing snow to mowing grass.

James Murphy, a planning coordinator for architectural and engineering services who used to work for the Grounds Department, said as soon as the snow melts, Grounds concentrates on grass until it is time to plant.

“They’re restoring some of the damage that occurred over the winter right now and when the grass gets going, it’s essentially trying to keep the grass mowed until it’s time to plant,” said Murphy.

After winter, the Grounds Department assesses the damage done to the grass from snow plows and salt, and then proceeds to put sod back in the damaged areas.

During planting time, the Grounds Department moves its stock of flowers and cultivated plants from its greenhouse to the NIU grounds.

“We usually don’t plant flowers until the middle of May, around Mother’s Day, because Rule of Thumb is you still got a frost up until then,” said Darryl Grayson, interim superintendent.

All growing, planting and maintenance is done by the Grounds Department with no contracting from outside help, which makes things cheaper for the department.

Grayson’s department receives much work. He said his department is short-staffed, leaving 20 people to maintain about 700 acres, 56 flower beds and to plow about 17 miles of road, 30 miles of sidewalk and 9,000 parking spaces in the winter. Some volunteer positions are accepted to assist the Grounds Department.

Still, Grayson said it has all been manageable.

“The guys on Grounds, they pretty much know what they’ve got to do,” said Grayson. “I got a good crew and they take care of things.”

Planting and growing tasks are left to grounds gardener Bill Heal, who has worked at NIU for 22 years.

Heal’s planting and growing has suffered from the harsh winter.

“It’s been a bad winter this year because it’s been hard to get the seeds sowed in here [the greenhouse] because of all the snow in February and March,” Heal said, “We were shoveling snow in February and March when we needed to be in here sowing seeds, so we’re a little late.”

Most of what is planted are durable flowers that do not require high maintenance, Heal said.