As Fall Semester Comes to a Close, Presence of Green Flags on Lawns Is the Norm

Increasing lawn access a stated priority for Campus Operations; fewer lawns to require protection from turf blankets this winter

Students tossing a frisbee during one of the many green flag days in the fall 2017 semester

As the fall semester winds down and Columbia students begin their preparations for finals, one sight that may have seemed more prevalent this semester than past years was green flags on the lawns of lower campus. The Grounds team within Campus Operations made a concerted effort this fall to make the lawns available for passive recreational use as often as conditions allowed, always balancing the goal of maintaining a picturesque setting fitting of a world-class university.

Since September 1, green flags flew on the maximum number of lawns available for more than 75 percent of the days. The flag system is in use for South Lawns East and West, and Hamilton and Furnald lawns. (Note that the maximum number of lawns available was three until September 28 when Hamilton Lawn was restored to service following its use during and recovery from new student orientation.) The lawns had at least two green flags on 90 percent of the days during the semester, with the majority of those days being three or four green-flag days.

“The lawns on campus create a quiet sanctuary within the city’s hustle and bustle, and they are among the most sought after areas for students to enjoy the outdoors on campus,” said Don Schlosser, assistant vice president, Campus Operations. “The goal as it relates to the lawns is to balance the sometimes competing priorities of providing maximum access to the lawns for the University community while maintaining the lawns’ natural beauty that people inside and outside the University have come to expect. This fall semester, due to the hard work of our Grounds team, we were able to make the lawns available quickly after a weather event to keep those green flags flying as much as possible.”

The end of the fall semester also marks the beginning of the winter care season. Some lawns, including the four flagged lawns, will be covered by translucent turf blankets beginning December 11. The turf blankets provide several benefits, including protection from winter weather and incidental stress and damage (such as people walking on a dormant or snow-covered lawn), and keeping the soil temperature up to prevent winter desiccation of the dormant grass.

The use of the turf blankets in the winter allows for the lawns to be ready for use by the Columbia community in the spring – when demand for their use returns to its peak – at an earlier time than they would be ready absent that protection. The turf blankets also preserve the health of the lawns for the upcoming season, such that they have a shorter recovery time after a bad weather event than they would have absent the protection in winter.

There are some lawns on Upper Campus whose individual maintenance needs no longer require turf blankets this winter. Kent Lawn, Lewisohn Lawn South and Math Lawn South will not have turf blankets and will be available for passive recreational use throughout the winter.

In addition, this past summer’s renovation to Butler Plaza created a more welcoming gathering place around Butler Lawn, with benches along the perimeter. With this new setup, the Grounds team will experiment with not covering Butler Lawn with turf blankets over the winter. For Butler Lawn and all lawns that are without blankets this winter, the Grounds team will monitor their condition and use.

The goal is to remove the turf blankets in early spring, beginning on April 1. As spring approaches, the Grounds team monitors the weather forecast and will remove the turf blankets earlier as forecasts allow, as was the case in spring 2017.

Campus Operations has been recognized with multiple awards for its grounds maintenance at the Morningside campus, including from the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) in the Urban University Grounds category for exceptional grounds maintenance in 2007 and again in 2010.