In an email to the campus on Nov. 5, President Urgo informed the community that St. Mary’s had been recognized by the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) with the Grand Award indicating that the campus has “one of the best maintained landscapes in the colleges and universities category.”
According to Superintendent of Grounds Kevin Mercer, St. Mary’s award-winning landscaping began with the students’ concerns for our effect on the environment. “The way we were doing our normal day-to-day operation from a textbook grounds maintenance program back in 2005 had to be adjusted,” Mercer said. In doing so, they reduced both our stormwater pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the direction of Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson, Mercer explained that the goal became to value function and practical maintenance over aesthetics, which could require pesticides and fertilizers to maintain.
Mercer explained that the College won the award for two reasons: the students made him aware of the important issues the grounds facilities face today, “and the grounds staff working through all kinds of challenges to make the grounds look impressionable.”
Mercer also gave credit to Lesley Urgo, founding member of the arboretum. “All her work goes on unnoticed at times, but she has made [significant] changes to our landscape in regards to trees, rain gardens and green spaces.”
Winning the Grand Award places St. Mary’s in the company of other past award-winners including the Disneyland Resort, the Smithsonian Gardens, the National Zoo and Penn State University. This year, St. Mary’s was up against other universities and programs with large endowments and much larger grounds budgets with which we can’t compare. “So for us to win the Grand Award not only says a lot for the College grounds staff,” Mercer said, “but for everyone at our college in general for making the grounds what they are,” noting that students, staff, and faculty often volunteer to help beautify the campus by planting trees and flowers or picking up trash.
Urgo also praised the grounds crew and College staff, explaining that he considers the grounds crew to be “landscape faculty,” in that they “[demonstrate] in the laboratory of our natural setting how one cares for and enhances the natural beauty of the found world around us.
“The award is significant and important because it provides external validation for a core value at St. Mary’s College,” Urgo said. “We are stewards of this beautiful landscape, and as an educational institution we are [committed] to imparting the value of stewardship to our students.”
Mercer is pleased with winning the award, noting what an achievement it is for a small college like St. Mary’s and how it demonstrates that the College is somewhat ahead of the times. “Right now [winning this award] means we are leading the way in our grounds maintenance program,” Mercer said, “and showcasing it every day.”