The Right Tools to Make the Right Impression

Jim Terenzio, Yale University’s superintendent of Landscape and Athletic Grounds, likes to think of himself as “director of first impressions.” One step onto the Ivy League institution’s campus, and you can feel the prestige in every detail. For prospective students, athletic recruits, parents, and alumni donors, these details play a role in distinguishing Yale from other universities they may be considering.

“We have 60,000 people come in for the Yale-Harvard football game, and we have to put our best foot forward,” Terenzio says. “When it comes to the fields, the landscaping, the facilities, perfection is table stakes.” Terenzio and his lean staff of six have their work cut out for them. They oversee Yale’s 40-acre athletic campus, which is home to the practice and competition fields for fall and spring sports, including soccer, football, baseball, tennis, indoor and outdoor track, lacrosse, club rugby, and more. In the summer, Yale hosts major tournaments and camps, including a lacrosse showcase that requires the crew to paint 13 lacrosse fields in just a few days.

Even out of season, athletes practice year-round through individual and captains’ practice. To keep up, the team keeps a strict schedule of the facilities’ usage, so they can plan maintenance on synthetic and grass fields.

“We have to base our workday around the athletes’ schedule,” Terenzio says. “Stuff gets moved around due to rain and snow, so it’s hard to look more than a week out. Luckily, Yale understands the investments in equipment that give our people the bandwidth to create that elite atmosphere.”

Recruiting Robotic Help to Paint Fields
Painting fields is a constant job for Terenzio and his crew. To paint outdoor fields, they must shoot the gaps between their use by athletes and temperatures warm enough for paint to adhere to the grass. In Connecticut, these days are few and far between. Soccer and lacrosse share a synthetic turf field for competition, so not all lines are sewn in. When lacrosse teams prepare to face an opponent on a grass away field, they practice on a grass field on Yale’s campus.

“We couldn’t do it without our field-painting robots,” Terenzio says. “It would take three or four people several hours to paint a single field manually. That’s unsustainable for this type of environment.”

Yale has used a field-painting robot for the past eight years or so, and the school purchased another in 2022. These robots allow users to drag and drop perfectly proportioned fields wherever they need them through a Google Maps interface. They run automatically to create fields from scratch—none of the usual staking and lining required. And they get the job done in a fraction of the time.

Hiring is one of Terenzio’s biggest challenges. The grounds crew is a union labor force, which operates by a progression system to hire from within. The ramp time to get a new crew member up to speed can be significant.

“Painting a field isn’t easy. A lot of people don’t have the patience for it. And when you find someone who does, and they leave, then you’re in a bind,” Terenzio says. “But our robots are so easy to use. New crew members catch on to the tablet really fast.”

While the robot runs, Terenzio notes, the operator can multi-task and get even more done. They can reseed the turf, check nets, and so on. Another advantage of the robot is the ability to shift fields by a few yards so players aren’t wearing out the same areas all the time. This makes the turf easier to maintain and keeps the fields in top-notch condition.
“The lines themselves are hard to compete with, in terms of being crisp, straight, and bright,” Terenzio says. “When you’re looking at a field like that, it just says something. With the robots, even our club and intramural fields can get the same quality as the varsity squads. More people notice than you might think.”

Creating the total experience
If you’re doubting whether the quality of, say, an intramural ultimate frisbee field has any impact on the impression of visitors and prospective students, Terenzio would advise you to think again.

It’s not as if prospective students, athletes, and their parents have a checklist of details they check off as they peruse the campus. But at a place like Yale, any gaps in the Ivy-League atmosphere stick out like a sore thumb.

“This school has high standards, and that trickles down to us,” Terenzio says. “When the administration comes out for larger events, they’ll let us know if something is out of place. I’m proud to say I hardly ever get any calls because this place looks good all the time.”
The fields come first, but when painting a field takes one person instead of four, the crew can take the time to handle the finer details, like flower beds and landscaping in high-traffic entrance areas. Such details allow the university to present new buildings and campus features in their best light and keep older buildings looking fresh and well cared for.

Putting the right tools in the right hands
Yale invests significant resources in progressing crew members through the ranks. Getting the right people is half the battle. Putting the right tools in their hands is the other half. Doing so allows them to use their skills at the highest level, which provides the highest return to the university.

The tools Terenzio and his team enjoy keep them ahead of the curve and keep them nimble when field and staff changes inevitably happen.

For others looking to boost the efficiency of their grounds crews, Terenzio recommends they ask teams what parts of the job frustrate them most. Which parts take too much time? Become unbearably tedious? Which tasks cause crew members to say, “There’s got to be a better way?” What’s keeping them from getting to everything on their lists?

“Solving the challenge of painting fields was a huge piece for us. It’s literally how six people get everything done with no seasonal help,” he says. “It’s all about finding where your biggest time-drainers are and seeing what’s out there to streamline those types of jobs.”
“Yale is a special place,” Terenzio adds. “You can tell just by being here. When alumni come, they can see that the place they love is still going, alive and well. It’s as perfect as they remember it being. Maybe even more so.”

About the Author
Drew DePriest is a Regional Sales Manager who brings over eleven years of experience to the building automation industry. He has worked at Automated Logic since 2004, working in previous challenging roles such as energy solutions engineer, project manager, project engineer, and field engineer.