As Director of Buildings and Grounds for the Solanco School District, Bruce Bennett is a busy man.
In addition to overseeing construction projects and maintenance of district facilities, Bennett is also responsible for preparation and upkeep of Solanco High School's athletic fields.
He trusts a vast majority of that work to a crew of four part-time employees – Ron Altoff, Jimmy Ulrich, John Bishop, and Dennis Kreider.
Their duties consist of preparation of the fields and maintenance throughout the year.
Altoff and Bishop handle the layout and line the fields. Ulrich and Kreider take care of the mowing.
All told, the crew is charged with the 13 athletic fields, the 11 at the high school and a soccer field at both Bart-Colerain Elementary and Swift Middle. Solanco High's complex is comprised of 80 acres, nine of which is athletic fields.
Caring for the athletic fields is a year round task. Preparations for the fall season begin in July when the practice football field is lined for summer drills.
Work is underway on the field hockey, soccer, and football stadium fields. The cross country course is mowed consistently along with the rest of the school grounds.
The crew will inspect the tennis court for any cracks and make sure weeds do not sprout up during the course of the season.
Bennett estimates the crew spends a total of 1,000 hours working on the fields.
"The work keeps them busy especially with a year like this year," Bennett said. "In July and August the grass usually slows down and then all of a sudden, you get some rain."
The football and soccer fields are cut similarly, but field hockey field requires a little extra effort. Preferably, the grass is trimmed down to an inch. That can create another issue. Dew can cause fungus when grass is that short so if there is dew overnight, the crew must tend to the field before sunrise. They also check for any bumps on the playing surface.
"It's all about safety for each of the sports," Bennett said.
The stadium field is subjected to extra wear and tear. In addition to damage done in the middle of the field between the hashmarks, the stadium also hosts other events including a few night soccer games.
"Our stadium, it gets beat up very hard," said Bennett. "That's why we put a lot of time in working on it. We're spreading grass seed throughout the year and while the season is going on. We're seeding it constantly, simply because it starts to get worn depending on how wet it is."
Bennett meets with the crew at least a couple mornings a week but doesn't need to micromanage. "That's their job and my guys are good guys," Bennett said. "They know what they can and can't do during school. They know they can't mow up against the school during the day so they do that after hours. They all know their job. They're very good guys."
Bennett works closely with Solanco athletic director Anthony Hall to handle any changes to the schedule.
"If they have a game that's not originally on the schedule or they want to have a practice at a certain time, they let Anthony know and he'll let us know," said Bennett. "We work it out. We have a great crew of coaches and athletics people. We all work together very well here at Solanco."
The crew is not needed during the winter season when all athletic events are held indoors, but there's work to do once the fall season ends.
"We put it to bed around November," Bennett said. "That's when we are aerating, over-seeding. We are putting compost on top of fields and let Mother Nature take her course over the wintertime. Mother Nature does a good job. Puts snow on it. That's all the moisture it needs. Then in springtime, the fields start growing good because of everything we did to it when we put it to bed."
Spraying weeds is the only part of field preparation and maintenance not done by the crew. Bennett is the only employee approved to use weed killer chemicals so for a variety of reasons it makes more sense to use an outside business.
"We do as much as we can in-house," Bennett said. "We want our fields looking their best."
Bennett started this line of work with Conewago Valley schools in 2004 and came to Solanco in March, 2013.
"We're very privileged here at Solanco to have what we have," Bennett said. "I know a lot of schools are limited with their fields. We're very lucky with what we have."