When Maintenance Gets Rough

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Randy's looking for YOUR ideas on how to handle maintenance issues in these tough economic times.


“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is an old axiom, but these days, public- and private-recreation maintenance managers have an uphill climb to take that adage to a new level.

These unprecedented times are having an unprecedented impact on leisure services, and generally maintenance is one of the first functions to be examined for cutbacks.

This situation calls for imagination, and help from friends, and, in this case, hopefully friends and fellow PRB readers.

Through this column, I hope to generate discussion about recession-busting ideas some of you are using to find new ways of doing old things. I’d prefer to stay positive in this column, stressing what people are doing to overcome difficult circumstances while continuing to meet expectations.

I will do my best to go out and “catch people in the act of being innovative.” But I am really relying on help from some of the 15,000 PRB readers.

That’s right. There are now more than 23,000 combined magazine and digital-edition readers of PRB. Imagine if just 2 percent of readers would offer up suggestions--that’s 460 people by my math-challenged calculations. Think of the wealth of ideas there would be!

There is no idea too big or too small; if I start getting too many ideas to handle, well, that’s a good problem.

So I’m going to seed the effort with some ideas I’ve been able to glean from various sources. Hopefully, these will stimulate some thought.

Water Woes
I’ll start with a common issue these days--saving water--since the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Drought Monitor map shows three-quarters of the country with anything from “abnormally dry conditions” to the highest level of “exceptional drought conditions.”

It’s the most widespread area of abnormal dryness in the 12-year history of the drought-monitor map.

Of course this is not a new issue; there have been drought conditions in many parts of the country since the beginning of this millennium. But over time the water tables have not been replenished, so the impact has possibly been more apparent in more places.

Many areas started years ago to make parks and recreation facilities more “sustainable,” that is, “needing less water.” Saving water not only is good for the planet, but normally saves money in the long run.

“Xeriscaping” has become a familiar term. It’s a fairly simple concept, though it’s a hard word to spell, and it’s not pronounced like it looks; it’s not “X-ER-SKEY-PING,” but “ZEER-I-SKEY-PING,” and yes, I had to look that up on dictionary.com.

Xeriscaping is the process of landscaping that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation.  Anything from rock gardens to cacti has replaced water-gulping green plants--and when done correctly, they also look good. Using native plants that have proven drought-resistant is another method.

Waterless Urinals
Another potential solution to the problem is waterless urinals in public restrooms, which can save 20 to 30 percent of water usage. These facilities are relatively new, appearing in the 1990s.

I have personal knowledge of these because they were installed in a public park in 2000 when I managed a city parks and recreation agency in Georgia. There were no problems, and they worked great.

The science behind these devices is rather ingenious, based on the fact that urine is heavier than oil. Urine sinks through an oil-based sealing liquid and is trapped in a low-oxygen environment, trapping the odor as well. Gravity and displacement carry the urine into the normal plumbing system.

There are no buttons to push, no need for smelly air-freshener tabs. They require little maintenance other than regular cleaning and periodic checks and replacement of the sealing cartridges, which are relatively inexpensive ($40 to $100 each, depending on models, capacity, etc.). Filters are generally changed two or three times a year.

Installation costs will vary; our work was done with new construction so there was economy of scale. If in-house crews do that type of work, that’s even better.

Like any restroom device, the key to proper performance is proper installation and regular maintenance. You can’t just install and forget. These facilities actually require less maintenance because you aren’t dealing with water connections, leaks, breaks, etc.

Anybody who has an opinion about waterless urinals, please share your experience. I can only say that our devices were properly installed and maintained, and we never had any complaints, often a key indicator of success.

Rethink Landscaping
Lacking capital investment, which many localities are, there are other ways to save water.

One simple method is to examine where you are irrigating to see if there are zones you can do without to save water. Understanding that sports fields are going to be a priority, are there common areas around the fields that can be left unwatered and still be acceptably maintained?

High-profile landscaped areas may also need to be examined to see if watering can be reduced, or even eliminated and converted to a “xeriscaped” area.

I’m sure there are dozens of other water (and money)-saving ideas out there just waiting to be shared. There are so many fields, facilities, pools, pastures, playgrounds, parks, and a host of other areas PRB readers maintain or produce products to help maintain.

So, I hope that at least “the 2 percent” of readers will respond and start a conversation--about water, or about any other money or time-saving maintenance ideas you might have.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration and now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.