Maintenance – March 2012

The envelope please. And the winners are……. Jerry Koppang and George Cooley for leading the MaintenanceDepartment and the ad hoc Irrigation Committee in the first phase of a financially, and performance successful turnaround of the NSCA irrigation system.

In mid-year 2007, the installation of fifty-one new smart irrigation controllers was completed at a cost, after rebates, of $85,951. These controllers were the latest technology with many inputs including satellite weather information. The controllers were purchased in the belief that the grass and vegetation would stay green while the consumption and cost of irrigation water would decrease. Instead, the streets and sidewalks got wet, the grass turned brown, and the cost and usage of irrigation water increased. Not exactly the planned for outcome.

The landscape contractor chose to solve the problem by eliminating all the inputs to the controllers except the time and duration of the irrigation cycle. These smart controllers were now operating just the same as the simple, dumb controllers one might purchase from Home Depot to irrigate private yards and vegetation. This solution kept most of the water off the streets and the grass began to get green. However, water usage and costs continued to increase. NSCA was receiving no financial benefit from the $85,951 investment. These, also, were not the anticipated results.

Clearly, NSCA needed to find a way to make the controllers operate in the automatic, high tech mode if the “as advertised” benefits were to be achieved. The landscape contractor did not employ the technical skills necessary to make the controllers fully operational. The contractor who sold and installed the controllers was no longer in business.

Our own Maintenance Department was asked to get involved and help solve the problem. Late in 2008 limited manpower was assigned to assist the landscape contractor. During the next eighteen months, the magnitude and scope of the problems became more apparent. There were many issues, and progress toward a solution was slow. In September of 2010 the NSCA Board of Directors asked Jerry Koppang to lead an ad hoc Irrigation Committee. At the same time Maintenance assigned two full-time men, plus a significant amount of George Cooley’s time, to the project. During 2011 there was a full court press to improve and correct problems associated with the irrigation system.

The 2011 numbers are in, and the improvement is dramatic. Two sets of numbers stand out. The average yearly water usage 2005 thru 2010 was 63,155 CCF. The water usage in 2011 was 44,598 CCF. The average yearly water cost 2005 thru 2010 was $127,442. The water cost in 2011 was $88,568. Favorable weather conditions contributed to this improvement but a huge portion of the improvement is due to the repairs and changes implemented by the Maintenance Department.

In the course of making the controllers work, a multitude of installation problems, and issues with the old irrigation infrastructure, were discovered. Much work remains to be done. In 2011 Maintenance dedicated half its work force to landscape irrigation at the expense of reduced or delayed projects and cleaning. If Maintenance were asked to continue to maintain and improve the irrigation in the year 2012, the Maintenance and ad hoc Committee offered two alternatives: staff the Maintenance Department with two additional people, or find a landscape contractor capable of maintaining and improving the system. Of the two alternatives, the Committee’s preference was to find a technically competent landscape company. Harvest Landscape Company was hired, and it is the Committee’s belief that we will now see the benefits envisioned in 2007 by the purchase of these high tech smart controllers.

 

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