Schools, like football clubs, can vary dramatically in the scope and scale of sporting provision and grounds maintenance.
The Premiership of private schools run turf machinery fleets to rival any in football. Many others must adopt more creative means to ensure facilities are kept up to scratch, especially given the relentless advance of health and safety issues across education and the need to ensure students can play sport in a protective environment.
In some schools, personnel skilled in one aspect of provision are assuming wider responsibility for grounds maintenance tasks as their expertise broadens to embrace more duties outdoors, as well as those within school buildings.
Yarm School is a case in point. Founded in 1978 by a group of parents in the Georgian market town of Yarm, North Yorkshire, it rests on a picturesque stretch of the River Tees and is set in landscaped gardens based around The Friarage – characterful buildings dating back some 250 years.
The school’s mix of modern and historic accommodation provides outstanding classroom, music and sporting facilities. Although still young, Yarm embraces many of the traditions and features found in the best independents.
Yarm School spreads its sporting provision across three sites – two nearby totalling twenty acres of playing fields, including the cricket square, whilst those on the campus, aside from the new pitch and boathouse, include a smaller sand-filled synthetic surface and MUGA facility.
Co-ordinating grounds maintenance, as well as a huge spread of site responsibilities, is Estates manager Alan Hodgson, who heads a thirty strong team spanning caretakers, gardeners, contractors and synthetic turf specialist Garry Cox.
Formerly employed by CLS, the natural and synthetic turf sports contractor that recently installed the hockey facility and built the boathouse under a £2m plus project, Garry will know as much about day-to-day running of the pitch as anyone.
Intended to give Yarm a further shot in the arm for its hockey development programme, the sand-dressed pitch is maintained regularly to ensure it meets the exacting playing and safety characteristics demanded of schools. Alan added: “The maintenance programme includes applying drag mats, a greens groom zig-zag twice weekly and vacuuming leaves and debris off the surface.”
Alan is a longstanding employee of the school, evolving over twenty-eight years from a builder and contractor to expand his scale of responsibility to oversee caretaking, maintenance and project management of Yarm’s developments, which have totalled £25m in recent years.
Alan revealed: “We have invested £100,000 in soft landscaping alone to improve the whole presence of the estate. That includes planting trees and hedging, winter and summer bedding and turfed areas around the main entrance and in the car park areas, which have been completely transformed. We have some special large specimen trees on site, including a 250-300 year old London plane and a cedar tree that is at least two centuries old. There is also a rare Gingkho tree and weeping beech.”
Yarm has ploughed some £30,000 into permanent hedging that includes buxus, which is thriving in its North-eastern setting, Alan said: “It only needs cutting once a year when it is bone dry, to prevent box blight.”
Any building issues Alan takes in his stride, planning out problems before they arise to keep everything running smoothly. What advice can he give to those about to embark on expansive redevelopment?
“Employ a strong design team, with a really capable architect and project team. Also, do not be won over by the top brass of large construction companies, who will come on site and promise everything, only for you to discover later that their site people cannot deliver. The client relationship is fundamental. We have been lucky working with CLS. Personality clashes can start you off on the wrong footing, but we enjoyed a great working relationship with them.”