Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Meet the ‘seasoned’ team that keeps roads clear and flowers planted year-round

Sonya Dymova/The Daily Northwestern
As temperatures dip below zero this week, groundskeepers are responsible for the fleet of vehicles and machinery that help manage the snow and ice.

Sitting under several photos of Northwestern’s campus throughout the seasons at groundskeeping’s Ridge Avenue office, Lead Groundskeeper Nigel Chesters and groundskeeper Marco Montoya joke around about their memories from over the years. The office is filled with knickknacks and photos of the group’s favorite sports teams and home to the people responsible for all of NU’s grounds.

Chesters and Montoya have been part of Northwestern’s groundskeeping team for 26 and 24 years, respectively, and said most of their colleagues have similar tenures. With essentially “no turnover,” Chesters said, the team knows the campus — and one another — intimately.

Assistant Groundskeeper Foreman Steve Camburn, now in his 36th year with the team, started as a gardener and now oversees the 23-member grounds team. Camburn said their jurisdiction includes everything from trees and flowers to concrete and benches to garbage pickup.

“We handle almost everything outside the footprint of the building — and sometimes, even the ivy growing up the side of the building,” Camburn said.

The groundskeeping team starts their day at 5 or 6 a.m. Most team members are assigned to one of eight on-campus areas, mowing, pruning, trimming or doing any number of tasks the campus requires that day.

Right now, Montoya is mainly responsible for the fleet of vehicles and machinery the groundskeeping team uses, he said, working with the larger Facilities Management department’s two mechanics to ensure their gear is ready for the cold and snow.

Montoya said his favorite part of his work comes later in the year, after the ice has melted away.

“I like to be outside, enjoying the weather, trimming, especially in the spring when all the flowers, the tulips, start blooming,” Montoya said.

In the spring, the groundskeeping team is responsible for planting hundreds of flowers around campus. 

Though parts of the job can be monotonous, this task — and the praise it often leads to — is rewarding, Chesters said.

“You have an instant change,” Chesters said. “A lot of the stuff we do, you don’t see much of a change. But when you get a plan and put in 200 plants all at once, it’s like, ‘Wow, look at this!’”

Camburn said the groundskeeping team’s jobs look different across the weeks, months and years, but they adapt accordingly. This year, he said, they’re addressing rabbits on campus, “annihilating” hundreds of plants and working with the school’s landscape architect to introduce more native plants to campus. 

In his time with the school, Camburn has worked on landscaping around Kellogg Global Hub, Sheridan Road and the Weber Arch. 

“There’s been quite a bit of change to the landscape over the years, and I’ve been part of that and affected it in some way and assisted in a big part of that growth,” Camburn said.

A poster sits on the walls of the groundskeeping office with the acronym “RISE” — Respect, Integrity, Service, and Excellence. Looking up at the poster, Chesters said this “mantra” feels reflective of groundskeepers and their role on campus. 

After a quarter century on the job, he said he appreciates his ability to work with his hands, have reasonable hours, be outdoors and interact with NU students, faculty and staff.

“It’s a good community, and it’s a good job,” Chesters said.


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