University opts for more open, grassy areas

Kevin Kolus

Students take advantage of Kent State’s green space to play a number of recreational activities including touch football. Clean pathways, frequently mowed lawns and foliage add to the feeling of a park on campus. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

The Kent campus has been embracing a new look over the past few years, emphasizing open areas with trees and grass as opposed to the flower beds that once dominated the grounds.

Michael McDonald, director of campus environment and operations, said large flower gardens are a thing of the past. Fifteen years ago, the campus planted 50,000 flowers annually. The present count is 10,000 flowers a year.

“The tuition payers couldn’t keep up,” he said. The English gardens that populated the campus were too expensive to take care of because they required labor hours the grounds staff could not afford.

Because financial support from the state has been declining, McDonald said the campus had to adopt a different type of look. With more than 850 acres of grounds to maintain, the small-sized staff has placed importance on improving trees and lawns.

“Gardens are much higher maintenance than trees,” Grounds Manager Heather White said. Only the areas receiving a high frequency of student travel, such as the M.A.C. Center, feature gardens.

For the past two years, some smaller beds on the corners of sidewalks have been turned back to grass.

“They spoke to a small community,” she said. “Students don’t get off the beaten path all too often and appreciate the smaller gardens.”

Due to the size of the staff she manages, White said having a large amount of gardens would be detrimental to the look of the campus. She explained that many gardens wouldn’t get the attention they deserve because the staff would not be able to handle the upkeep of such a large number. The most important quality of a flower bed, she said, is that it looks its best.

Although gardens are expensive, White said their existence helps draw people to the university.

“It shows that we are thinking of the students,” she said.

White said the main focus is on front campus, from Hilltop Drive to Main Street. To maintain lawns, the university started a program in 2006 called “Weed and Feed,” which involves spraying for weeds and fertilizing grass.

McDonald said compliments on the campus look have increased within the past three years.

White said she has been e-mailed comments about the quality of the campus appearance.

In addition, independent contractors working on building construction have praised the look, she said.

“People are starting to notice, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Anna Dowell, a sophomore anthropology major from Manila, Philippines, said she enjoys the park look of campus.

“Coming from a big city, I like the open areas, the grass and trees,” she said. “I think it’s well-kept.”

Contact building and grounds reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].