Inspiration, green go together at UNC

Kirk Pelland, director of grounds services, calls it the “Patch Adams” moment. In the movie – filmed on UNC’s campus in the summer of 1998 – two main characters sit on a bench, devising their futures.

The backdrop is a lush college campus, idyllic and safe, where any student might sit and devise the future. This scenery that makes the moment is the work of Carolina hands.

“We are trying to build and maintain a campus landscape that inspires the kids who are out there in the middle of it creating their futures,” says Pelland. He smiles with the pride a farmer has for his fruitful crop, a homeowner for his prize lawn. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Carolina has one of the most oft-photographed university landscapes, and Pelland’s committed crew works all hours of the day to make sure shutterbugs always catch campus’s best side. In recent years, they’ve added another stunning detail: sustainability.

The entire green-thumbed staff now works with green minds, planning their plantings to keep campus gorgeous without negatively altering the grounds they’ve come to know and care for as their own.

Pelland says they are replacing annual plants with perennial plants in many beds, adding color and variety while reducing maintenance to the lawn. In areas where grass growth is stubborn, they are converting to mulch, which cuts back on water and fuel usage. All fallen limbs, branches and leaves are collected, recycled on campus and reused. “Every bit of the yard waste on this campus is reused,” he says.

Tree-and-landscape-protection plans are drawn and approved before a new building breaks ground. “From drainage to good top soil, organic matter, planting and installations, we try to protect the ground on both sides of a building project and finish with a new landscape that is sustainable and will serve the campus for a long time to come.”

When it comes to saving water, a controller notifies by radio if a leak springs in the irrigation system. While they water to maintain landscaping and beauty, in a drought, they stop. In coming years Pelland hopes he’ll have reclaimed water to use, so he’s keeping his eye on Kenan Memorial Stadium where there are plans to use reclaimed water when the processes are approved.

Pelland says the department is ever evolving, working as a team to devise the sustainable future of Carolina’s backdrop. “We are coaching for that pride, that accountability and that feeling of being part of a world class institution.”