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Gwaltney-Beaumont loves to be grounded

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Gwaltney-Beaumont works on a rhododendron

PCC grounds keepers do their own mulching and recycling. They must deal with urban and rural landscapes at six locations. They must design and implement beautiful and ecologically sensitive landscapes all within a tight budget.

And Grounds foreperson John Gwaltney-Beaumont and his staff love it.

“We like planting annuals where we can have these color spots around the district,” said Gwaltney-Beaumont of his notoriously famous flower schemes. “People seem to like it a lot and love seeing the bulbs come up. It’s fun having the leeway to use a broad palette of plants. I like pushing the parameters to grow what we normally would not see in this area.”

Keith Gregory, manager of maintenance and grounds, agrees that Gwaltney-Beaumont has a green thumb when it comes to efficient landscape design.

“John’s forte is native plants that use less water and need less nourishment,” he said. “That is the strength he brings to the table. And, with ten people on the staff working across the whole district, that’s a huge workload. So you have to work smarter and more efficiently.”

But what a staff it is. The PCC grounds department has three staffers with more than 25 years of experience at the college and all are experts in various landscaping fields. So far in 2006, his crew has worked on 12 projects. They are currently in the midst of a flurry of jobs as the school year comes to a close.

“Our aim is to keep the campuses attractive and safe,” Gregory said. “The big emphasis is on safety, yet also to create pockets of pretty.”

Gwaltney-Beaumont worked for a parks department in England and for the Royal Botanical Garden in London. After working in Saudia Arabia for seven years and Kuwait for three years, he moved to the United States in 1989.

“After finishing school I decided I didn’t want to be indoors,” he recalled. “I wanted to be outside.”

And he loves being outside. Besides plant selection and grounds design, Gwaltney-Beaumont is more than a glorified gardener. Last year, he helped design the playground for the Early Childhood Education daycare center. His crew had to remove boulders, create fencing, add bark chips and install play equipment.

“We’re not always working on landscape beautification,” said Gwaltney-Beaumont. “We are also the central personnel for snow removal. All of our big rigs are fixed with snow plows and we’re in charge of removing the snow from each campus. We love it.”

The grounds department is also high-tech. Most of the campuses have a computer-controlled watering system to water only areas that need it. His department utilizes its own weather station to have real-time stats at their disposal.

“We can customize it so if the sprinklers are on a slope the system will do a repeat cycle,” he said. “We can customize the watering system greatly, and it protects the grounds if we have a break in a line. It does an auto search in its program to isolate a problem and shut the valve off.”

So if that isn’t enough, check out what the grounds department does in a year – mowed and maintained more than two million square feet of turf; a quarter million square feet of ornamental beds; spent approximately 2,000 hours picking up outside trash, including cigarette butts; each groundskeeper maintains, on average, 1.9 million square feet of land, including the undeveloped portions; maintained more than 70 pieces of equipment, including some custodial power equipment; and all has to be done under a $52,000 annual budget.

So, John Gwaltney-Beaumont and his crew must always have their feet on the ground. And, oh yeah, he also loves plants.

“My favorite is the weeping gray,” he said. “I think it’s the most impressive tree. And my favorite flower? Tulips, of course.”

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About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Director of Public Relations at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic... more »