For the grounds, maintenance and custodial crews at Buchanan Education Center, the end of the school year is crunch time.
While track and field athletes perfect their throws and prepare for peak performances at this weekend’s CIF State Track & Field Championship meet, grounds crews are scrubbing the track, replacing light bulbs and turning soccer fields into parking lots.
And next week, as high school seniors put the final touches on their caps and gowns, the men behind the scenes will be hand-watering the field and setting up bleachers for proud parents to watch their kids walk across the stage for their diplomas.
“It’s like a painting,” said Buchanan head groundsman and special events team leader Don Martens. “We just give it the backdrop. And then with the facilities and all the people involved, the concessions, it becomes a full-blown event.”
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That backdrop takes months of planning and hard work.
It’s all about perception. When people come from out of town or from out of state, the first thing we want them to see when they drive in or around the school is it’s clean, you’ve got sharp edges on all your lawn area and everything is green and everything is trimmed up. As you walk into the event itself, you want everything just pristine. And you want to keep it that way for the whole event.
Don Martens, Buchanan Education Center head groundsman and special events team leader
The grounds department starts in February to prepare the grass, Martens said.
“Our Bermuda thatch will come in and give it the best look that it can for the state track meet and, of course, graduation,” he said.
The maintenance department brings in nine bleachers to help with crowd seating overflow during the track meet, which draws more than 20,000 spectators Friday and Saturday.
The week before the meet is hectic, Martens said.
“We draw a lot of other crews in to help out,” he said. “We groom all of the trees; a crew comes in and prunes them all up. Another crew will go through all the flower beds and trim all of the flower beds and rake everything up.”
Reynaldo Nunez usually maintains the grounds at Buchanan Education Center, trimming bushes and trees, pulling weeds and keeping things clean. But when it comes time to prep for the state track and field meets and graduation ceremonies, it’s all hands on deck.
“For this event they pull me out and I make sure all the parking lots are available for people to come and park. I’ll spend all day roping up the parking lot,” he said Tuesday.
Nunez has transformed six soccer fields into 2,500 parking stalls and created walking paths using rope to funnel crowds into the stadium.
Craig Woodard, maintenance supervisor of Buchanan Education Center, has about 10 custodians who work to keep everything clean, keep the bathrooms stocked and pressure wash the stadium after each event.
“It’s quite an undertaking,” he said.
It takes three days to prepare the track for a meet, Woodard said.
“We use the Power Boss; it’s a big machine that has brushes on it. You soak the track and then you run this Power Boss up and down and then you’ve got to rinse the whole track off,” Woodard explained.
It’s not only the two-acre stadium that needs to be taken care of. Martens focuses on an entire 10 acres, including the track, field, parking lots, seating area, and a field adjacent to the track that is used for competition, warmups and a tent area for teams.
“It’s all about perception,” Martens said. “When people come from out of town or from out of state, the first thing we want them to see when they drive in or around the school is it’s clean, you’ve got sharp edges on all your lawn area and everything is green and everything is trimmed up. As you walk into the event itself, you want everything just pristine. And you want to keep it that way for the whole event.”
The crews don’t create an immaculate setting for recognition.
“It’s all about the kids and the athletes and for the parents to see their kids perform on the best conditions that they can,” Martens said. “That’s the goal of the grounds department.”
Martens carries with him a stack of photographs that he calls his “cheat sheets.” He has taken photos of the grounds, parking and stadium at past meets so that he can replicate specific setups.
Peter Limon, senior maintenance electrician for CUSD, started checking the stadium, soccer field and parking lot lights a month before the big track meet. He also made sure all of the outlets were functioning and that the lights were programmed to turn on when meet director Brian Weaver wanted them to.
“It’s important to to have proper lighting in the stadium for when the athletes are running and also for security, for people walking in and out of the stadium, especially at night,” Limon said.
Weaver, also Buchanan’s head track and field coach, said the CIF state track meet has been held at Veterans Memorial Stadium for eight years. Next year will be the end of the school district’s third three-year contract with CIF to host the meet.
After putting the meet together for so long, the crews go about it like clockwork.
“One crew has to make sure their job is done so the next crew can do theirs,” Weaver said. “There’s always going to be hiccups no matter what. I think everyone has dealt with so many different things over the years that we understand how to do it, from the heat to the rain to things not being here on time. Because we all do work so close together, we’re able to help each other when things don’t go as planned.”
The two-day meet hosts thousands of athletes and 10,000 spectators each day. It’s quite a big job to clean up after such a large event — especially on a deadline.
“I have eight custodians after the meet to do the cleanup each day,” Woodard said. “They work from 11 p.m. until they’re done, which is about five or six in the morning.”
Since everything is still set up on the track, grounds crews can’t turn on the sprinklers to help the grass recover from the day’s use.
“The grounds guys come in at night with hoses and hand-water all of the stadium, all of the berms and any hot spots that start to show up,” Martens said.
With the track meet over on Saturday, there is no time for resting on Sunday.
“We have to turn around and get ready for the graduations,” Woodard said, noting that 10 custodians will clean up while other crews move everything track-related from the field.
“On Sunday we move everything out — the high jump pit, the pole jump pit, all the railing, all the hurdles, the steeplechase. Anything that has to do with track comes out and graduation moves in,” Martens said. “On Monday we put the bleachers down on the field for graduation.”
CIF Track & Field Schedule:
Friday, June 3: Field events begin at 5 p.m., track events begin at 6:15 p.m. and the special education race begins at 9 p.m.
Saturday, June 4: Field event finals begin at 6 p.m. and track event finals begin at 7 p.m.
Graduation Schedule at Veterans Memorial Stadium:
▪ Buchanan High School: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7
▪ Clovis North High School: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 8
▪ Clovis West High School: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9
Veterans Memorial Stadium is at 1560 N. Minnewawa Ave. at Nees Avenue.