Longtime Public Works staffer Jeff Williams says that if you’re really quiet, you can hear the grass grow in Farragut. Williams has been listening to that sound for 23 years, and when he hears it, it’s time to crank up the town’s six mowers. They run almost non-stop from March until November.
For a small town, Farragut has a staggering amount of manicured public space. The new Mayor Ralph McGill Plaza at the corner of Campbell Station Road and Kingston Pike brings the number of parks to five, and the outdoor classroom, Town Hall and the community center have extensive lawns. Add in greenways, town-owned open space and rights-of-way, and that’s a significant amount of real estate that requires attention.
In the town’s early days, several subdivisions gifted open space to the town in exchange for maintenance. That was put to a stop when the crew couldn’t take on more mowing. Now, homeowners associations are required to care for their own open spaces, says Public Works Director Bud McKelvey.
Monday through Thursday, each week of growing season, five mowers are put to work in the parks. At the same time, Public Works staffers run weed eaters and leaf blowers and pull weeds. In April, the work is enjoyable, McKelvey says. But by July, it begins to take a toll.
One of the ways the crew avoids burnout is to rotate duties. The exception is Eric Pickle, who has sole responsibility for the right-of-way tractor. He’s operated the machine for three years and knows every sound and vibration, and if something changes, he gets it fixed, McKelvey says. At $120,000, the right-of-way tractor is the town’s most expensive piece of landscaping equipment.
Another piece of the town’s lawn care puzzle is irrigation. The ballfields at Anchor and Mayor Bob Leonard Park, minus the turf fields, are irrigated, as is all of McFee Park. Founders Park at Campbell Station is irrigated along Campbell Station Road. McGill Plaza, the outdoor classroom, Town Hall and the community center are also irrigated. The systems run themselves until something breaks, which is often, and it takes two weeks to adjust the sprinkler heads at the beginning of the season, McKelvey says.
To get an idea of the hours required to mow and maintain properties weekly, it takes a crew of three four hours to mow, weed eat and rake McGill Plaza. The biggest question in McKelvey’s mind is how his crew will manage the addition of Phase 3 of McFee Park. The new section of the park is 17 acres and includes the Great Lawn. The grassed area is so large that it will have 94 irrigation zones, each with 4-16 sprinkler heads. McKelvey is in the process of adding new staff members to handle the addition, which is scheduled for completion in summer or early fall.
The positive side of all this work is the compliments the crew receives on their work. McKelvey has gotten multiple calls about the town’s landscaping, especially the beds at exit 373.
“They say it brightens their day when the see the flowers coming to and from work.”
Those positive messages keep the Public Works staff motivated, even as their workload increases.
“There’s more to do than the day is long,” says McKelvey.
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