Stanislaus State students returned to class on Monday via a virtual format, but areas of the beautiful campus they left behind are struggling due to COVID, drought and construction issues when it comes to landscaping.
With its various lakes, walkways and wildlife, the university’s campus has served not only as an educational center throughout the years, but also as a getaway for Turlock residents looking to walk their dog, go for a jog or relax alongside a water feature. Community members have voiced their concerns regarding overgrown plants on pathways and in parking lots, dry spots of grass which had previously been lush and trash along the campus nature trail.
According to Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn, a decrease in essential staffing during the pandemic has put the university at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining the campus, as well as several other issues which combined have contributed to the landscaping being less pristine than the community is used to.
“We have had to deal with construction, a water main and rotating workforce issues because of COVID. We are going to try and improve the look of the campus even though students aren’t here,” Junn said. “We know that we obviously want to make the campus look nice.”
Outdoor landscaping workers at the university — 38 percent of whom are out due to COVID-related conflicts or concerns — are currently working less than 40 hours per week on staggered schedules due to the pandemic. In addition, Stanislaus State is finding it difficult to hire hourly workers to make up for lost labor due to the fact that many are unable to leave their school-aged children at home.
The university’s Vice President for Business and Finance Christene James said that concerned community members have called in to voice their opinions about the current look of the campus and that moving forward the plan is to clean up the school’s landscaping as pandemic conditions improve. Stanislaus State recently brought back some employees to work on the vast project, she added.
“…We are really trying to do our best, but it is going to take a while to clean that up with less staff on campus,” James said. “It’s an ongoing struggle but we are paying attention and we are responding to people’s questions who are sending them in to us.”
In addition to COVID-related issues, drought conditions over the last several years have also contributed to the dry areas of campus. The inner-most landscaping near the dorms and new University Student Center remain well-watered, albeit with longer grass than usual, while the exterior of campus is dry, which tends to be the norm in the summer while the state battles drought.
The area surrounding the Naraghi Hall of Science is particularly unkept, but is the result of a largescale construction project which saw the parking lot repaved. The construction of the campus’ new library continues to take a toll on the landscaping on that area of campus as well, while the Art and Drama department is severely overgrown. According to James, the university also suffered a water main break that saw the watering schedule suffer further.
Stanislaus State student Josh Busto is going into his third semester at the university after transferring from community college, he said, and thinks the campus looks great in spite all of the challenges it currently faces.
“…I don’t have reference to what it was like before, (but) I definitely think the campus is a gorgeous one compared to some,” Busto said. “It really is such a nice campus. I’m from Fresno and Fresno State is in a bit worse state compared to here. They definitely take pride in their campus.”
The Stanislaus State campus is believed by many to be the most beautiful campus in the California State University system and has earned a number of accolades for its commitment to sustainability, most recently earning a silver rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating system.
While the system takes into account a variety of sustainable practices, from student demographics to sustainability-related curriculum, Stanislaus State is considered to be a leader when it comes to water conservation. By utilizing different water usage techniques, like irrigation/rain reclamation, use of lakes for water storage and miserly water use, drought alone has not been enough to impact the campus over the years.
“We are doing our best to keep up the campus,” James said. “There will be some cleanup that we’ll need to do as we move forward and hopefully as COVID reduces in the community we can get that cleaned up.”