School board in search of new lawn care provider

School board in search of new lawn care provider by M. Jill Karolevitz Howard Willson presented a proposal for lawn care to the Vermillion School Board Monday night, resulting in the board�s decision to check with a different business for spraying.

Willson, owner of Willson Florist in Vermillion, has been treating the district�s lawns for about eight years. As he spoke to the school board this year, he noted higher prices for fertilizer and other lawn care products. Aeration and irrigation were also discussed, as was concern about herbicide use.

�We�ve been using the Scott�s program for the last five or six years,� Willson said. �But they�ve raised their prices drastically, so I looked into a comparable encapsulated fertilizer.�

Board member Jim Kinney expressed concern about the price, and questioned the ingredients of Willson�s suggestion.

�I think we should go with a commercial fertilizer at about one-tenth of the cost,� he said. �We should also find something that meets the needs of the soil type we have. If there�s something in there that we don�t need, there�s no sense in putting it on.�

Willson also proposed using a non-2,4-D herbicide.

�I have found three or four non-2,4-D broadleaf herbicides, but there will still be an odor, they�re more expensive and they don�t work as well in a dry period,� he said.

He called the attempts to combat the dandelion problem at the high school �a losing battle� due to the lack of irrigation and aeration.

�Nothing is irrigated except for the practice football field,� Willson said. �And every time you have a dry period, the bluegrass goes dormant and weeds start to grow more and take off. You�re fighting a losing battle if you don�t water the lawns. You have to spray for some control, but the more you water, the better chance the bluegrass has to grow and choke out the weeds, then you won�t have to spray as much.

�I think it�s especially important to finance an irrigation system for the new high school lawn so you don�t have to constantly spray it and because I think the community would want it nice looking,� he continued. �My goal has been to make the lawns look as nice as possible, because that�s the first impression people have of the school. The positive impression they get of the grounds and the building gives them a positive impression of what goes on inside the building.�

Superintendent Bob Mayer said the cost of irrigating the entire school district � about 12 acres total � would be prohibitive.

�We should have an underground system at the football field in the oval and in front of the high school,� he said. �But doing the whole school district would cost $50,000 to $60,000 and I don�t think we would get a lot of public support for that.�

Willson recommended aerating the lawns at least twice �to break up the compaction and so any moisture you do get will be able to get down into the soil,� he said.

The weed spraying schedule is also a problem, Willson said. According to lawn experts, the best time to spray dandelions is in May or October, but in Vermillion, spraying takes place while the students are out of school � not in a good time frame for weed control.

�I won�t spray with the students there,� Willson said.

Mayer suggested spraying during a three-day weekend.

�I wouldn�t be comfortable with that due to the concerns that have been raised in the community,� Willson said. �The conditions would have to be perfect, and if I would have a huge funeral or wedding on that weekend, I wouldn�t be able to do it and I�m the only licensed sprayer on my staff. We tried spraying during the school year last year, but the weather conditions always changed or I couldn�t get out there to do it.

�I do this to help make the school district look better, not to generate money for my business,� he continued. �But I don�t want to jeopardize my other business because of the concerns in the community about spraying and insurance. My insurance rates cost me about $600 a year just to be able to spray the school district. If you can find someone else to do it, by all means, go ahead.�

�Let�s get in touch with Vermillion Fertilizer and see if they�re interested in doing it and if they have the time,� said Tom Craig, school board president. �We�ll check with them to see if they can work with us on this.�

�If those guys can do it, more power to them,� Willson said.

He added that he knows the challenges faced by the school board as it eyes the lawn care issue.

�They have a lot of balls to juggle,� Willson said. �As a former member of the school board, I recognize that. But there are real problems with the weed situation and lawn care in general and the board is doing the best it can to deal with them. There are solutions and they need to bring the problems up one at a time and deal with the solutions one step at a time.�

In other business, school board also:

? Voted in favor of switching the girl�s basketball and volleyball seasons in South Dakota;

? Approved the construction of a five-foot wide sidewalk from the temporary faculty parking lot �concrete slab� behind the high school at a cost of $1,224;

? Approved the construction of a road to the concrete slab at the lowest quote received;

? Heard reports from Patty Larsen on the �Dollars for Scholars� program at Vermillion High School and the Alert Plus Research Project;

? Heard reports from Liz Hogen, director of curriculum and staff development, regarding curriculum review.

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