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September 3, 2010

ULM wakes up: behind-the-scenes work enhances and beautifies campus year around

Their names may not be immediately recognizable to some ULM supporters, but the kind of behind-the-scenes work performed by Lavell Pier, Aubrey Ashton and Robert Jackson probably impacts first impressions of the University of Louisiana at Monroe more than just about any other work being done on campus.

Pier, Ashton and Jackson are among several ULM groundskeepers who work year-round to enhance the nearly 240-acre ULM campus along the banks of Bayou DeSiard – hard work that typifies the sort of preparation it takes to bring the university to life every fall.

The first day of classes was Aug. 23, but hours before the first interaction between faculty members and their students, the groundskeepers were already busy making improvements to flower beds and other heavily trafficked areas before the stifling heat of late-August grew too oppressive.

“It gets hot, but we drink lots of water,” explained Jackson, as he dug into the fertile soil in front of the Natatorium and inserted gorgeous greenery as fill-in to a maroon-and-gold flower bed.

While the groundskeepers keep hundreds of acres mowed and cultivated, other employees of ULM’s Physical Plant spend several weeks before the start of school double checking thousands of lighting fixtures, waxing miles of floors and attending to assorted last-minute maintenance requests that signify another academic year is about to begin.

“The closer it comes time for students to move in, then work on things that are most noticeable gets your attention, like the front of flower beds, the mowing, the trimming. But we get requests from all over campus with people needing certain things done before school starts,” said Assistant Director of Physical Plant Greg Smith, just as students were arriving for annual “move-in” day mania.

Smith’s staff constantly works with administration to see what concerns ULM officials have, and recently helped faculty and staff move back into the newly re-opened nursing building. Physical Plant is responsible for the maintenance and repair of all campus buildings, building equipment, vehicles and grounds, including athletic fields, and they also perform emergency work after hours. Workers also manage construction and renovation projects as necessary, such as the nursing building, the types of jobs that do not end once the school year begins.

“You’ve got fresh eyes looking at the campus all the time, which is helpful,” said Smith. “You know when something is not what it’s supposed to be.”

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