gearing up for summer

Readying outdoor spaces for the summer crush is a routine but  important and time-consuming task for the staff.  At the golf course, there’s  mowing, mowing and more mowing. In the parks, public works employees clear debris, weed and plant greenspaces, check playgrounds for safety including the new handicap-accessible equipment at Martha’s Playground. They also repair and spruce up picnic shelters and other outdoor facilities.

¥ou’re sitting at a picnic table in Mt. Lebanon Park on one of those fine, blazing hot, cloudless blue-sky days in late July, watching the beads of condensation form on your refreshing beverage and anticipating the last flip of the burger on the grill. Yeah, you’re thinking. This is nice. Or you’re teeing off in the 7 a.m. cool of an August morning, surrounded by lush, well-tended greenery. Nice. That’s what you’re thinking.

main1But you’re probably not thinking about how that greenery got to be so green, or what went into keeping the picnic shelter standing.

In Mt. Lebanon, parkland takes up about 200 acres in 11 parks, including five ball fields, eight basketball courts, eight children’s play areas, and six picnic shelters. The golf course is another 70 acres.

The goal is to have all of the green spaces, play spaces and equipment ready to go by Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer. For Public Works Director Tom Kelley, who is responsible for the parks, this involves cleaning up the leaves, dead tree branches and any other winter detritus, weeding the planters and checking on the condition of all the pavilions, walkways, grills and other structures.

Since springtime is as busy as any other public works season, Kelley dispatches laborers to spruce up the parks in between cleaning catch basins, repairing potholes and taking care of any other damage winter may have inflicted.
The forestry crew takes stock of damaged trees that may need to be removed, and does trail maintenance to remove hazards or items that are blocking the trails.

Public Works laborer Tony Mazurek has completed a weeklong playground safety inspector course, conducted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, that covers topics such as identifying potential safety hazards and implementing a risk reduction program, as well as routine repairs and maintenance.  He inspects every piece of play equipment monthly, and recommends repairs or improvements as needed.

Read how the Recreation Department prepares for July 4 festivities

Facilities Manager Bob Hlebinsky manages the swim center. This year, construction of the new swim pool and bathhouse disrupted his normal prep plans. “Mainly, we were moving items that had been placed in storage back to the pool when the pool was ready,” Hlebinsky says. “With new systems in place, we then had to train and learn how the new stuff operates.” By next spring he and his staff will have re-established a regular pre-opening routine that includes checking out all facets of the interior and exterior equipment, painting, cleaning and making repairs as needed.

Spring, summer and fall may be the time to play golf, but winter is the time for equipment maintenance at the golf course. Golf course facilities manager David Ames uses the time to prepare the course’s dozen or so mowers for the heavy demands of the next three seasons.

In the off-season, Ames is a one-man crew, before the seasonal help he needs arrives to keep the course running smoothly. “I’ve been pretty lucky the past few years,” he says, “the same guys have been coming back, so there’s not a big learning curve.”

The first few weeks of fair weather are taken up with a large-scale cleanup of the course, clearing the area of sticks, dead branches and leaves. After that, when we’re no longer likely to have freezing temperatures and it’s all right to turn the water back on, it takes a few days to test the irrigation system for breaks and leaks, and repair any damaged sprinklers. Once the course is clear enough for use, keeping the grass in check takes up most of the maintenance crew’s time.

“We’re mowing every day,” Ames says. “Greens, fairways, tees and aprons, we have about eight hours of mowing every day until things start to slow down around mid-summer.”

Once parks and recreation are ready for warm weather, there is still a lot of day-to-day work that goes on. Public works budgets $429,240 for ongoing maintenance and repairs in the parks, including mowing the grass at least once a week, scheduling equipment inspection and maintenance and controlling weeds and invasive plants. Contractors handle the grass cutting in the parks and on the ball fields. Long ago, the department did work in-house, but for the last 22 years, it has been more cost effective to job it out.

Iroquois9Also contracted out is planting and maintenance of flower beds in the parks and whatever maintenance is needed to keep the playing fields in shape. Although volunteers care for many of the public flowerbeds in the community, this summer 31 are covered under the contract, at a cost of $32,910.

Crews empty trash receptacles every day in all of the parks. While there, they check to see if something’s broken; and if so, send a public works carpenter or a plumber. As a further safeguard, the parks advisory board regularly inspects the parks and submits its findings to Kelley.

“We can’t be everywhere at once,” Kelley says, “but we have lots of eyes and ears out there.”

If you are at a municipal park or recreational facility and see something that is broken or looks like a safety hazard, please report it online at, under “Service Requests.”   Your report will be forwarded to the department that can address the issue.


Photography by Katelynn Metz