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Vol. LXVI, No. 7
March 28, 2014
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‘The Sweet o’ the Year’
NIH Prepares Campus for Spring

On the front page...

Shakespeare called this season “the sweet o’ the year.”

Nothing like a real winter to make you appreciate a real spring—and the folks who monitor and maintain our grounds.

Studies show that attentiveness to one’s surroundings can improve concentration and a sense of connectedness. Here’s something to contemplate as the Office of Research Facilities prepares NIH for spring.

“This is a unique campus,” says ORF project officer Canute “Ken” Hunter as he eases his pickup out of Bldg. 22 onto Center Dr. During winter, the U-shaped building stores heavy trucks and front loaders plus 300 tons of sand and salt.

With his colleague Fred Greene, Hunter oversees 4 contracts with crews for snow removal, landscape, pavement maintenance and garage/street sweeping both at the main campus and the NIH Animal Center (NIHAC)-Poolesville.

Continued...

Although NIHAC has a pond, lagoon and stream, that campus is not heavily landscaped, while NIH Bethesda has:

  • 308 acres
  • 179 landscaped acres
  • 20 acres of shrubs and ground-cover beds
  • 22 acres of meadows and reforestation
  • 2 streams
  • Stoney Creek Pond
  • Wildlife

“We work from a matrix,” says Hunter, “starting from mid-March. We prepare the turf for mowing, prepare the beds for mulching, edge the shrub and ground-cover beds and remove weeds. We have 3 weeks to address all that.”

Reflective fiberglass stakes placed last October to mark curb limits and hydrants in deep snow are pulled up, salt hoppers and truck beds are cleaned and snow-removal equipment is returned to off-campus sites.

The entire campus is then swept of sand, salt and de-icer, a process repeated monthly thereafter as the campus blooms.

NIH Bethesda has more than 8,000 trees, all tagged, cataloged in a database and visually inspected twice yearly while “leaf-on” and “leaf-off.”
Lynn Mueller, NIH’s chief landscape architect, with a Montgomery County champion tree, a Japanese Zelkova near Bldg. 1 ORF project officers Canute “Ken” Hunter (l) and Fred Greene helped steer us through a harsh winter.
Lynn Mueller, NIH’s chief landscape architect, with a Montgomery County champion tree, a Japanese Zelkova near Bldg. 1




ORF project officers Canute “Ken” Hunter (l) and Fred Greene helped steer us through a harsh winter.

Photos: Ernie Branson, Lynn Mueller, Belle Waring

“We have a nice arboretum,” says ORF landscape architect Lynn Mueller, “with 167 different species, 101 of them native.” Five trees are “Montgomery County champions,” the largest specimens of their respective species:

  • Japanese Zelkova southwest of Bldg. 1
  • Black willow behind 38A
  • Golden raintree north of 12A
  • Carolina hemlock east of Bldg. 14 complex
  • Weeping willow east of MLP-10

“Snags” are dead and yet structurally stable trees whose branches are removed for safety. They look like telephone poles that have lost their way.

“Snags attract woodpeckers to make nests,” says Mueller. “Woodpeckers are great consumers of insects and help eliminate the use of insecticides…It makes a much more balanced landscape from the ground into the canopy.”

There are also courtyard gardens in Bldg. 10 and an herb garden east of Bldg. 38. Landscaping crews maintain these and other interior plantings.

the bays of Bldg. 22 store snow removal equipment plus hundreds of tons of sand and salt a front loader: essential equipment for the winter of 2013-2014, with more than 26 winter storm responses.
At left, the bays of Bldg. 22 store snow removal equipment plus hundreds of tons of sand and salt. At right is a front loader: essential equipment for the winter of 2013-2014, with more than 26 winter storm responses.

In the southeast corner of campus is Stoney Creek Pond. Built in partnership with Montgomery County, the pond draws from a 204-acre watershed from much of downtown Bethesda and part of campus. Landscaping here supports a balanced ecosystem.

The main stormwater outfall is the NIH stream flowing northeast past Bldg. 21, collecting drainage from over 210 acres and then slipping under Rockville Pike. The stream drain must be kept clear of debris.

The flora covering the NIH stream banks, no-mow areas and reforested areas are not maintained. This helps filter run-off sediment before it hits the stream, reduces mower exhaust and creates a wildlife habitat.

More than 50 bird species have been spotted on the main campus. Dozens of bird boxes attract cavity-nesters to help reduce insects and insect-borne diseases. In spring, Mueller deploys volunteers to check on 89 bluebird boxes. Several more bird boxes will be placed around the Stoney Creek Pond this spring.

Last year, only 17 bluebirds fledged, he says. “Those terrible English sparrows filled up the houses. However, about 165 others fledged, including chickadees, house wrens and tree and barn swallows.”

In addition to trees and birds, Mueller helps surveil the white-tail deer whose population continues to grow: “They originally came out of Rock Creek Park before the security fence was enclosed,” he recalls. “They are now eating themselves out of house and home. But NIH is creative and we will find a solution, including planting only deer-resistant trees and shrubs.”

Geese are outside ORF’s bailiwick, but here’s a reminder: It’s illegal to harm a Canada goose or damage or move its eggs and nest without a federal permit. Fines can range up to $10,000. Only ORS has permission to move the nests.

Females lay eggs from late March through early April. If you get too close, the male will charge, so give Father Gander lots of room. Please drive carefully as goose families cross our roads. Once the eggs hatch and the family moves on, the parents relax.

Maybe we could all relax. Whether mindfulness leads to serenity is an ancient question; it wouldn’t hurt to practice as you walk the campus. Enjoy its beauty and the stewardship that maintains it.

When Winter Hits

When winter weather hits, “we deploy a snow plan,” says Ken Hunter, who oversees contract crews at the main campus and NIHAC in Poolesville. “The staff stays until it’s over.” They begin by spreading a salt/sand mix over 12 miles of roadways, 42 acres of parking lots and 26 miles of sidewalks at NIH Bethesda. Seven acres of roads and parking space at NIHAC in Poolesville must be cleared and treated too.

The winter of 2013-2014 was harsh, with over 26 storm responses: “We had ice, ice-rain, sleet mixed with snow and straight snow,” says his colleague Fred Greene. “We try to be as environmentally friendly as we can, but we’re concerned with patients and people going to work.”

Environmentally appropriate de-icer was used to treat over 650 building entrances, with priority to the Clinical Center, Children’s Inn and Family Lodge. “We clear loading docks for the animal buildings,” Greene continues. “That’s years of research there. We pretreat and monitor freeze-over icy spots and trip hazards. And we get customer requests.”

“The snow-removal contractors stay all night for the duration [of an event],” says Hunter. “ORF building engineers stand by to maintain HVAC fans, to make sure there’s a proper air flow and comfort for patients and animals.”

“We have to stay with our building,” says Dwight Brown, an ORF engineer who covers Bldg. 31. “We’re the essentials.”


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