Planting The Seeds Of Best-Maintenance Practices

3. Allocating new resources

4. Tracking improvements


This information-gathering process is the most time-consuming, but it’s also the most revealing part of the plan — and very necessary.

Staff members inspect each park and track various areas and items that are not being maintained in accordance with the district’s maintenance guidelines. Each standard not being met is assigned a value. Eventually, the data will prove essential in helping the department make its case to the park board for acquiring additional resources through the capital-planning process.

“When we performed the first round of park inspections in spring 2009, only 20 percent of our parks were meeting 100 percent of our maintenance standards,” Finnegan says.

It turned out that it was the most common and routine tasks, like turf care, shrub-bed maintenance and horticulture tasks, that weren’t being performed.

Another essential component of the benchmarking phase involves parks staff.

“It’s the staff who is doing the work, so it’s very important to train them to perform their maintenance tasks in a consistent manner,” explains Finnegan.

“And, once you provide the training and guidance, buy-in needs to be achieved across the organization to ensure that the new process and expectations become part of the culture of the way things get done.”

Once the department had a handle on the maintenance standards, the next step was to set a target by which it could track meaningful progress.

Implementing No-Cost Improvements

“That first year, staff collectively determined the goal for improving the overall maintenance standards by counting on only the resources they already had available. The plan was to do the work, achieve the goal, and show the park board what we were able to do,” explains Finnegan.

“Then, we had to explain what resources were needed to fill the gap and get the district back on track.”

From spring through fall 2009, the parks department focused on increasing the maintenance standards of turf across the district. By the end of the year, the department had increased its turf maintenance standards from 68 to 73 percent.

Allocating New Resources

With a successful first season of adhering to stringent turf-maintenance standards, the parks department made its case for additional resources. Since the largest benefit was visible in turf standards, Finnegan decided to continue to focus on that area.

When it came time to budget for 2010, an additional $26,500 was allocated. Goals for increasing park-maintenance standards were established at 80 percent and 90 percent for 2010 and 2011, respectively.

And, there’s already some good news. The parks department’s assessment at the conclusion of 2010 showed real progress, with 79 of the district’s 138 parks meeting 100 percent of the overall park standards.

Tracking Improvements

An important piece of any continuous-improvement project involves monitoring outcomes in order to make necessary adjustments, or knowing that things are on the right track. In addition to turf improvements, the parks department also looked at its practices related to weed control, fertilizing and shrub-bed maintenance.

“The plan is to continue to keep an eye on each of these areas and know what went well and what didn’t,” says Finnegan.

“Regardless, we’ll use those lessons as we’re planning and budgeting each year in an ongoing effort to close the budget gap.”

Of course, there’s no magic formula that will improve a parks department’s operation overnight. Nothing can replace well-coordinated, hard work done by staff members who know their stuff. Yet, there are some tools that can help.

Some of the park district’s trucks are equipped with a GPS to efficiently route the crews. Also, working mowing time into the schedule, and shortening travel times by having centrally located maintenance facilities, helps increase efficiencies across the department.

But there’s one more piece of the puzzle to consider that can help ensure the success of a park operation — community feedback. The district conducts its Community Interest & Opinion survey approximately every three years. Results from the 2009 survey overwhelming indicated that the park district should not acquire anything new, but instead continue to take care of its assets.

“There’s nothing like resident input to help focus us and improve our processes,” explains Finnegan. “This feedback confirmed that everyday park maintenance is a high priority for our residents.”

And, at the end of the day, serving the customer is what it’s all about.

Kevin Finnegan is the director of parks and oversees the maintenance of 138 park sites and more than 40 structures and facilities. He can be reached via e-mail at

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  2. Surveying The Land
  3. Maintenance Standards
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  5. Maintenance
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