Think back to your first college visit, or the first time you interviewed for a job at a school. What was your first impression?
Did the school feel welcoming and bright, or a little shabby and disorganized?
Whatever your reaction – positive or negative – it likely hinged on the school’s grounds.
“People remember the first and last thing they see when they’re visiting any kind of campus,” said SSC Regional Vice President of Grounds George Bernardon.
Whether you’re fighting to attract and retain students or hoping to lure top teachers, grounds management goes a long way in how people perceive your school. We asked Bernardon to share three ways his team works to help schools make the right first impression.
1. Curb appeal matters
If you’ve ever been house hunting, you know the importance of curb appeal. People form their first impressions of a home long before they ever step inside.
You wouldn’t list your house without mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and making the outside look nice and tidy, right? You should treat your school the same way – because it’s always on the market.
Prospective students, faculty and staff could be visiting your school for the first time any time of year, and they’re going to notice if the curb appeal is lacking. Most students decide if a college will stay on their list after just 10 minutes of being on campus, and 62 percent “reported basing their college decision on buildings and landscape,” according to a Washington State University survey.
With school choice becoming more widespread, it’s the appearance of a campus can have a large impact on a family’s decision.
“When parents go to enroll their child into school and the grounds look shabby, already they’ve formulated in their mind an opinion of how that school is run,” Bernardon said. “Immediately they start thinking, what is going on with this institution? Is the infrastructure crumbling around it? Just based on the curb appeal.”
Treat the outside of your school with the same pride you approach what goes on inside, and people will notice.
2. Little changes make a huge difference
Bernardon’s team features a mix of certified professionals in every aspect of grounds, athletic field and playground management. They do research, test the soil and study the irrigation system in order to create a custom plan that ensures a school’s landscape will be managed with sound horticultural and agronomic practices.
But when Bernardon first starts working with a school he focuses on doing the little things that make a huge – and immediate – difference (if you work in your yard at home, this list probably sounds familiar):
- Weed plant beds
- Add mulch
- Start a consistent mow, edge and trim schedule for the grass
It sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference, especially when those little things are done in high-traffic areas like playgrounds, the parent pick-up line and the front entrance.
“If you do that, the campus appears to be manicured,” Bernardon said. “That elevates the appearance of the facility tenfold.”
After that, Bernardon and his team can dig deep and fix the big problems to put the grounds over the top.
3. Don’t forget the athletic fields
Think about all of the people filing into the stands for a Friday night football game or a Tuesday afternoon softball game. Their impression of your school has a lot to do with how green, lush and perfectly manicured those fields look.
And it’s not just your own students and parents you’re trying to impress, but also those from the visiting teams. For colleges, beautiful fields can help recruit athletes.
Visitors will form their first impressions based on the areas they visit the most. So even if that baseball field is tucked way back in the rear part of campus, a patchy outfield could color how people see the school.
“All schools now are fighting for the same students,” Bernardon said.
Give your school an edge by making the right first impression.
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