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Landscaping plans beautify campus while making it more environmentally-friendly

The Hippocratic Oath says first, do no harm. This pledge is exemplified by not only the physicians at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center but also facilities staff who maintain the campus grounds.

The campus is undergoing an ongoing transformation to beautify the grounds and create a sustainable and environmentally-friendly campus. Changes are incorporating more native plants which have less environmental impact and addressing safety concerns.

“We want to create a beautiful environment for our patients, visitors, staff and our community,” said Terry Kreiser, associate director of facilities. “We also want to do what’s right for the environment – the water quality, the air quality – and the wildlife and pollinators.”

The Penn State Hershey campus includes about 552 acres of land with over 420 acres of grass, farmland, woodland, pastures, athletic fields, retention basins, gardens and courtyards.

A master plan was developed to address campus landscaping that has reached or surpassed life expectancy while also looking at safety.

For example, greenery that does not need frequent mowing or maintenance is being planted on steep slopes to reduce staff exposure to possible injury from mowing.

Additionally, the staff will transform some of the maintained lawn areas to lower maintenance through use of meadow grass and wildflowers.

“This strategy will not only reduce the labor and equipment time, but will incorporate native plantings which will help support a sustainable environment and provide needed resources for pollinators, such as bees and butterflies,” he said.

The meadow grass requires mowing only once or twice a year which reduces labor and equipment hours.

Since the mowers are gasoline powered, the reduction in the runtime reduces air emissions. The meadow areas, that include wildflowers in the seed mix, will assist with removing carbon from the air, which also reduces air pollution.

Additionally, the staff had developed seed mixes that have more perennials included as opposed to annuals that need replanting every year.

Grassy areas provide shelter and food for wildlife and support pollinators.

The first, completed phase of the project concentrated on the Crescent-area that faces Route 322, where aging plants were removed and replaced, the sidewalks were replaced, and modern, energy-efficient lighting fixtures were installed. The second phase created additional walking and riding paths on campus and connected the preexisting paths around the community.

“These new paths will hopefully encourage everyone to get out and not only enjoy the beauty of the campus, but to improve their health,” he said.

The main portion of the eight foot wide path was paved near a retention pond just north of the facility along 322. Pervious materials were used that allow water to seep through rather than run off.

The grounds of the new University Technology Center, which is currently under construction off Bullfrog Valley Road, will feature rain gardens to control storm water run-off.

The rain gardens, made up of a mix of miscellaneous native grasses with deeper roots, hold the water to prevent erosion and flooding and protect local water sources as it can cleanse storm water before it leaves the campus.

“The storm water isn’t rushing right to our streams and carrying all the sediment with it,” Kreiser said.

The area devoted to the technology center will also have an additional 14 acres of meadow grass with another 15 acres of grasses to be added to existing meadows.

Kreiser said that another integral part of the plan has been to utilize plants that are native to the area because they require less maintenance.

“They typically require less fertilization, less watering and are more apt to survive the regional conditions,” he said.

Kreiser believes that the overall strategy will be a benefit to all — patients, staff, visitors, and members of the surrounding community.

His staff has heard from numerous people over the years that the beauty of the wildflowers made their day brighter or temporarily distracted a patient or loved one from the worry of their illness.

“We want to create a warm welcoming campus, lead by example, and inspire others,” he said.

Kreiser said that being a part of the community, not only when its residents are sick but also  as part of their everyday lives, is also important.

“We find people in the wildflower patches all the time taking pictures and their kids picking the flowers,” he said. “We’re not just a business sitting here, we’re here to help and heal and also want to be part of the community.”

By improving upon the community trails and beautifying the campus while being environmentally conscious, Kreiser hopes that it is evident that Penn State Hershey wants to continue to grow its connection to the community.

“We’re a vital part, hopefully, of their lives, and we want them to feel welcome and not be any more stressed than they need to be should they need our services,” he said.

The additional work left to do will resume in spring of 2016.

-Jade Kelly Solovey

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