Campus water woes causes muddy mess

The maintenance department juggles an increased workload after grappling with budget cuts and a hiring freeze.

The smell of standing water combines with fresh-cut grass and saturates the air. You look around trying to find the source of the stench, but by now it’s too late. Standing ankle deep in mud, you’re perplexed by the drain just three feet away that doesn’t seem to work.

Situated on the south side of the C Building at Santa Ana College, the offending muck sat in the grass surrounded by the N and P Buildings. Lead groundskeeper Joe Lokos dug a trench that ran from the water to the drain.

The depressions are a result of a portable building that used to stand on the site, said Vice President of Administrative Services Paul Foster. Dirt has since been added to fill in the low-lying areas.

The water appeared the week of Sept. 26, well before the season’s first rain. Foster pointed out that the campus irrigation system is part of the  ongoing problem.

“Timers are changed as the seasons change,” Foster said. “But our timers and sprinkler heads can get out of adjustment when they are slightly bumped,” he added.

In speaking of the irrigation policies at SAC, Foster stressed the importance of continuity. “One of the things I want to do is get it all on one system,” he said.

Recent budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult to manage campus landscaping. All the landscapers that work on campus are SAC employees, but the district contracts outside companies for additional work on the athletic fields.

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SAC employs four full-time grounds keepers at 160 hours a week to maintain 65 acres of land.

“Our grounds crew works hard to keep the facilities looking great and all the irrigation systems operating efficiently,” Foster said.

In addition to budget cuts, a hiring freeze has made it difficult for landscapers to keep up. “Over the last three years,” Foster said, “we’ve lost two full-time grounds workers.” The fully landscaped areas adjacent to new buildings on campus also fall under the responsibility of the grounds crew.

The new Facilities Master Plan includes provisions for continuous landscaping projects, but as the campus grows and staff shrinks, the workload continues to stretch.

“We can only hope that the economy will turn around so we can adequately restaff the maintenance department,” Foster said.

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