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by Gail Marsh
(June 11)The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but it still has to be mowed.
And in the case of Harrison County schools, that's a monumental task.
"Looking at all of our grounds, I would estimate we're cutting about 200 acres of grass, plus doing all the trimming," said Joe Ammons, director of maintenance for Harrison County schools.
Grass cutting chores begin in the early spring and last until the growth slows down in the fall, Ammons said. On the average, it takes 10 employees working full time every day to keep ahead of the growth.
This year, maintenance has pulled a few inside custodians and three school bus operators on a temporary basis just to keep up with it.
Maintenance uses six big machines that can cut a swath from 5 feet to 15 feet wide. Workers also employ smaller mowers and more than a dozen trimmers to keep up with the detail work.
"That's what slows the work down most, having to maintain those areas that can't be done with the big machines. There are a lot of hills and banks in the system that can only be cut by hand," Ammons said.
Even rain brings little respite for the mowing crews. Unless there is a terrific downpour, workers remain outside cutting the banks and doing some of the trim work. If the day is a washout, then the workers move inside to sharpen blades, change tires and repair and clean equipment.
Except for Liberty's Hite Field, the schools use hand mowers to maintain their own football fields. According to Ammons, the heavy mowing equipment can damage the surface of the field, so the schools themselves prefer to do their own field maintenance.
Ammons said the crew has also lucked out when it comes to maintaining shrubs and flower beds. Most of the schools have supportive parent-teacher organizations that take on the task of beautifying the grounds.
"I have to commend the PTOs for doing a great job of making the school grounds look nice. Sometimes it makes more work for us to trim around, but you have to give them some of the credit for making things look so nice," he said.
Ammons said it would be hard to estimate the cost for the mowing chores, but said diesel fuel, blades, parts and machine replacement makes the cost of the job expensive.
"It's quite an undertaking, but we manage to stay ahead of it," he said.