In-house maintenance keeps costs down in Cape Cod

Photos Courtesy of Corcoran Jennison Management Company.
A dedicated flower crew handles planting and maintenance of some 50,000 annuals throughout the Ocean’s Edge property.

Many condominium complexes opt to contract out maintenance of the lawns and landscapes, happy to put the job in the hands of experts and free up the management team from the extra work. At Ocean’s Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster, Mass., they’ve taken the exact opposite approach, keeping the landscaping in-house as a way to ensure the job gets done right and to help keep costs down for residents. It’s a formula that’s working, as the maintenance operation earned a Grand Award in the Professional Grounds Management Society’s nationwide Green Star Awards competition last October for its meticulous maintenance and ongoing upgrades to the landscaping surrounding the villas at Ocean’s Edge.

“I’d say we’re very, very unique. We’ve maintained this property since it was developed in 1981 with an in-house landscaping staff,” says Rick Roberto, who directs the management of Ocean’s Edge for Corcoran Jennison Management Company, a division of the company that developed and oversees the community. As part of its duties, the management team provides landscape maintenance services for the 17 condominium associations, totaling 903 individual condos, at Ocean’s Edge. The overall property spans 429 stunning acres and Roberto and his team are responsible for maintaining everything except for the golf course.

“The main advantage of keeping landscape maintenance in-house is that if a call comes in, we’re able to react to it immediately, much faster than if we outsourced maintenance and we had to put a work order together, submit it and then wait for that person to show up,” says Roberto. “Everyone on our staff has a radio so we can communicate with them immediately. It’s a very efficient way to maintain the property.”

The landscape crew, led by Grounds Supervisor Ray Belouin, is comprised of 12 full-time employees, supplemented by a seasonal crew of 20 to 25. “Our flower crew alone is usually five people. Last year we planted 40,000 annuals, and this year we’ll be somewhere in the area of 50,000 annuals,” Roberto explains. Much of those additional flowers will be seen at the main entrance to Ocean’s Edge, where the landscaping staff is making an effort to add significantly more color.

Impatiens (about 15,000 plants) are the mainstay of the annual flower plantings at Ocean’s Edge, as Roberto says they handle the sometimes fickle (wet springs, hot, dry summers) Cape Cod climate. Other frequently used varieties include begonias and ageratum. “We follow the old wives’ tale that on the Cape, you plant flowers after the full moon in May,” he explains. The majority of perennials used at Ocean’s Edge consist of native grasses that are used as backdrops to the annuals, and are well-suited to the local climate.

Each condominium village at Ocean’s Edge has its own dedicatedmaintenance crew, helping to ensure more personalized and efficientservice to homeowners in that village.

“Usually around the first or second week of June, we get cut off from moisture and struggle to get any rain through August,” says Roberto. With that in mind, the landscaping at Ocean’s Edge is serviced by a well-designed irrigation system. Most of the irrigation system is fed by town water supply. “We install and maintain our own systems, and to avoid having to use direct-current clocks, we have installed a lot of battery-operated valves,” Roberto explains. “That eliminates having to run wires and allowed us to install the system ourselves, and makes maintenance easier, so it saves money for the homeowners. It’s a huge savings of man power to have an irrigation system that functions off these remote clocks.”

Spring is a particularly busy time of the year at Ocean’s Edge. In addition to the tens of thousands of flowers that are planted, about 1,500 yards of mulch is put down throughout the property, much of it with a blower. “We have a program of edging that we’ve put into place. We put a 4 to 6-inch furl between the planting bed and the turf, so there’s a nice clean distinction between the two, and we use edging and trimming equipment on all the sidewalks so that there’s a nice definition between the sidewalks and the turf,” says Roberto. The edging of the beds is particularly intensive. About 50 yards of material has been removed through the edging. A late summer touch-up is usually required, but by making the edging so precise in the spring, the clean look is largely maintained throughout the growing season, he points out.

Trimming and edging are emphasized in the Ocean’s Edgemaintenance program, ensuring there are crisp, distinct edgesbetween sidewalks, planting beds and turf.

Mowing typically begins in the last week of April, and usually takes place every Thursday and Friday so that the turf is freshly mowed on the weekends, when most homeowners are at Ocean’s Edge. There is a combination of tight, narrow lawn areas, as well as some more open areas. There is also a significant number of hills on the property. The crew uses Kubota 60-inch, diesel, zero-turn mowers, as well as 30-inch walk-behinds and a few 21-inch walk-behinds.

The hand-held equipment was recently changed over from another brand to Stihl, and Roberto says that has been performing well. “We got some of the four-cycle equipment, stringers and blowers. Although we do require operators to wear earplugs and safety glasses regardless, the four-cycle equipment does seem to be quieter, and that’s helpful, especially when we’re working in the morning.”

To avoid disturbing homeowners, the landscape teams start around 7:30 (versus 5 a.m. on the golf course), and try not to mow until late morning. “We try to give people here on vacation a break,” says Roberto.

The crew is divided up into smaller teams, each responsible for a specific condominium village. “We feel this gives each crew member a sense of propriety, they become loyal to that village, they see and interact with the homeowners, so they understand exactly what the requirements of that village are and makes the service more personalized and efficient,” Roberto explains.

About five years ago, an experiment was conducted to divide the crews into different areas of responsibility (mowing versus trimming, etc.) throughout the property. “It wasn’t successful,” says Roberto. It was quickly discovered that the crews took more care and pride in their work when they were responsible for all of the chores within one specific village, and so that system was reestablished. “It works out much more efficiently and is better for the homeowners to have the same crew focused on maintaining that village. They know what needs to be done and how long it will take,” he explains.

In the winter, about 20 percent of the condominiums at Ocean’s Edge are occupied. “In the summer, it’s over 100 percent,” says Roberto of the popular warm-weather destination. The crew of 12 that stays on through the winter season uses the relative quiet to focus on tree work. “We’ve had a significant number of pitch pines that have been infected by diseases that have caused rapid decay and decline. As much as possible, when it’s not going to put a unit in jeopardy, we try to handle the tree removals ourselves. We also do hard pruning of trees getting too close to units. We put all of our chain saw operators through both safety courses and felling courses, and we do have a chipper that we try to use for as much of the debris as possible,” he explains. When there is a danger to a unit being damaged, a specialized tree contractor is called in.

The crew is also responsible for snow removal, no small chore when you consider there are more than 900 units to hand-shovel, not to mention parking areas and several miles of (curving) sidewalks and roadways to clear. “We try to use as much potassium chloride as possible to avoid putting salt on the turf and plants. It’s a big challenge for 12 people. It can take us five days to clean up after a 1-foot snowstorm,” says Roberto. “We have two trucks and we’ll plow up to 4 or 5 inches. After that, it’s too much for us to plow and we contract out to a local contractor with a 10-wheel truck and a very large front-end loader.”

The management team operates out of a three-bay garage facility with offices on the second floor. “All of the mowers and other equipment is stored inside in those bays,” says Roberto. “We have an on-staff mechanic, which saves a tremendous amount of time and energy for us, and a tremendous amount of money for the homeowners because we don’t have to outsource all the repairs.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.