For Sonia Baerhuk, keeping Perkins School for the Blind’s 38-acre campus looking beautiful is not enough. As Perkins’ lead groundsperson, Baerhuk must also make sure everything is safe and accessible for students and staff who are blind. In this “What I Do” blog post, she talks about her job, which includes everything from snow removal to composting. This story was compiled and edited by Karen Shih.
We go to the nth degree to protect people’s safety here. It’s not just simple landscaping or gardening. If we notice something coming loose, like a branch, we definitely rope off the area and take care of it as soon as possible. We have to figure out drainage issues, coordinate with contractors, and clean or mow for different events. It’s myself and one other person who take care of this whole campus during the week.
At different times of the day, there’s a lot of movement, with teachers and students going to different buildings. We have big equipment, which is tricky. Some students are really bothered by the noise – and others are really drawn to it. We have to plan our activities around where people are going to be.
Our work includes leaf cleanup and getting sand off the roads. We get to design and plant gardens, which is the most fun part of my job. We compost all our leaves, as well as kitchen scraps, which we combine with raw wood chips made from fallen trees. When I arrived 14 years ago, we sent that stuff off campus. I thought it would be cool to try to lessen our carbon footprint.
Right now, it’s all about snow removal. We do all the clearing of the pathways, plowing, sanding and salting. The small storms are a lot harder for us to manage. You might have rain first, then it turns to snow, then it gets icy. You have to be prepared for all kinds of treachery. Ice is the biggest problem. We’re in danger too, because the machines can get slippery.
Aside from the winter, preparing for the Perkins Possibilities Gala (in May) is the hardest part of the year. We’re coming right out of the snow and we have to fix the damage from the winter. That includes cleaning the light poles and the sides of buildings, removing sand from the parking lots and restriping, and getting all the plantings ready so the campus looks perfect.
In the summer and fall, there are so many outdoor events (for students, families and staff). We work with the facilities guys on those; they’ll move things like picnic tables around and we’ll do the grass and plants and hay. The nice thing is, once we set up, we get the fun part of hanging out.
All of the facilities workers, we love the kids. We feel like, “Wow, it was a lot of work to prepare, but these kids are having a blast!” It’s a blessing for sure.