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Delray Beach, Fla.: Village by the Sea

By Kevin Burrows, assistant editor

This worker uses a backpack blower to clear debris from a sidewalk overlooking the beach. He is one of the 120-member grounds crew, which is split up into teams designated to certain areas of the town. Creating teams has fostered competition amongst the entire staff and consequently has improved the quality of work being done.

Delray Beach, in Palm Beach County is a historic municipality on the Eastern Coast of Florida. Downtown Delray has grown tremendously in recent years and is in the midst of a building boom, with new parks and mixed-use development projects currently under construction throughout the city. With this growth, the Parks and Recreation Department is constantly challenged to maintain a manicured image throughout the town's tree lined streets and beachfront landscapes.

The grounds team maintains 550 acres of land consisting of ornamental turf, six athletic complexes, nature reserves and oceanfront parks. The largest park that they care for is 18 acres in size, while the biggest single landscape they maintain is the town's 38-acre cemetery.


Interim Director of Parks and Recreation, Tim Simmons has been working for the city of Delray Beach for 26 years. He started working as a general maintenance worker and has grown along with the city over the years. "You could say my knowledge of Del Ray Beach is very strong," said Simmons. "I've been learning fast and learning well. Plus it helps to have a good staff on hand."

He has been at his current post since October of 2007 and was previously the Superintendent of Parks. His staff consists of 120 workers ranging from general maintenance through crew leaders and supervisors. "We try to promote site specific crews, each with a designated areas in the town. It instills pride with individual crews and creates competition. We've been doing it for 4 years and it has been very successful," said Simmons. The department, however, has been hit by the country's recent economic slowdown. "We were growing until recently," said Simmons. "Now we are currently in a hiring freeze."

Two major ornamental plantings are maintained in downtown Delray Beach. Replanted every spring and fall, a rotation of begonias, impatiens and pentas are used. This district has become so dense with mixed-use communities and new urban development, work now has to start at 4:30 am to cut down on noise.


Delray features a beautiful downtown district that has seen major development in last few years. Simmons' department collaborates with city's Downtown Development Association to maintain this area. "They give us money to supplement the crews along with 3 workers," said Simmons.

St. Augustine grass is used for general turf areas while Bermudagrass is used on the sports fields. In years past, the landscaping crew performed mowing on a 5-day rotation. However, because of drought and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, they have been forced to cut back to once every 10 days. "We haven't had significant rain in 2 months," said Simmons.

Some of the turf diseases that they are constantly battling are Dollarweed, penny warts and crows foot, which are typical of St. Augustine grass. They also battle some mites and ornamentals as well as cinch bugs. Aphids tend to come in on seasonal basis and mole crickets can sometimes be a pain when taking care of the Bermudagrass on the ball fields. "We only spray on an as needed basis," said Simmons. "And we primarily use Lesco products as well as Howard fertilizers."

This crew member uses a Toro Groundsmaster to mow grass in one of Delray's parks. In years past, the landscaping crew performed mowing on a 5-day rotation. However, because of drought and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, they have been forced to cut back to once every 10 days.


Being located in South Florida, water restrictions have forced Simmons' team to cut back on irrigation to twice a week. Eighty percent of the city is connected to a Motorola computerized irrigation system. The few small areas that are outside of the network and are watered by other means.

Six irrigation technicians maintain the system, which consists of 30,000 Hunter I-40 and Toro 570 Pop-up sprinkler heads throughout the town.

Rather than a weather station controlling the watering, these workers adjust it by hand. "We water by gallon rather than by time, depending on the size of the facility," said Simmons.

The town is implementing a program using reclaimed water and is currently in phase 1. This calls for the Delray's big water users, such as the golf courses, to use the reclaimed water first. It will take a few years to get the rest of the town on the program. "Most of our facilities are watered with potable water, and we have one park using well-water," said Simmons. "We would however, like to go to reclaimed water everywhere."

The landscaping crew in Delray has made an effort to only plant species native to South Florida. Palm trees, like this one, are now chosen over other varieties. "We try to put the right tree in the right place," said Simmons. "Fifteen years ago that idea wasn't followed."


In the past five years, they have focused on planting species native to South Florida. Trees like black olive and live oaks are now chosen over other varieties. To help in the trimming program, the town has a 55ft Asplundh truck with a brush banded tipper. They also have a tree spade/stump grinder with a 4 inch caliper that will remove a 12-15ft tree.

Delray has had its fair share of tree problems over the past few years as well. "Sago palms were being beat up by a Chinese mite infestation," said Simmons. "We lost a lot and don't replant them any more." On top of mites, a number of trees have been lost to storm damage. "I lost about 90 slash pines in the most recent hurricanes," said Simmons. "We are now trying to get them cleaned up in a timely manner." After the storms, they take about two years to die, at which point pine borers become a problem. Delray is now replanting slash pines to replace the trees that have been lost.

The newest park in Delray is Bexley Community Trail Park, shown here being trimmed. This 9-acre landscape features a playground, 4 pavilions, picnic tables and a nature trail cut into a hardwood forest. Gopher turtles, a protected species, are an attraction for natures lovers.


All chemical spraying and fertilizer application is done in-house by the five licensed pesticide applicators on staff. Like pretty much all of Florida, they try to avoid any runoff problems and are looking at organic fertilizer options for future applications. "We're very conscious to storm water runoff," said Simmons.


From inter-coastal parks to ball fields, Delray Beach features a number of diverse outdoor recreation areas. Their success has led to the construction of a new inter-coastal waterway park. It will feature an information kiosk for visitors as well as 4 to 5 types of mangroves--a protected species. Miller Park, which is the headquarters of the Bucky Dent Baseball School, is adding a "Miracle League Field," a custom-designed, completely flat ball field with a cushioned rubberized turf to help prevent injuries and a to eliminate any barriers for players with disabilities. Bids are currently being taken and it is hoped to be completed in 18 months.

No outdoor park would be complete without proper public restroom facilities. Therefore, the town has 42 restrooms in 14 structures. To keep them sanitary, a three-person crew performs cleaning 7 days a week.

A few times a year, coconuts need to be cut down before they fall and cause injuries to residents walking and driving below. Over 30,000 trees can be found in the city limits of Delray. While land owners are responsible for trees on their property in right-of-way areas, a great deal of trees are left for the city to take care of. To add to this challenge, Delray only has one tree trimmer on staff (he is working to become a certified arborist).

Exotic Plant Removal

Delray has an exotic plant removal program that focuses on the air potato Dioscorea bulbifera, a vine that grows just like a potato. "There is no use for it," said Simmons. "It will overtake shrubs or trees and choke them out. The best method to eliminate them is to harvest the potatoes by hand. "The crew literally uses a fork and to get to them because spraying chemicals will only kill a portion of the plant. Currently three parks have been affected by it, with eight tons of the annoying plant removed so far. "The best way to manage the problem is to stay on top of it," said Simmons.


While sweeping for seaweed is contracted out, the beaches fall under Simmons' jurisdiction as well. "We do all landscaping west of the coastal dune," he said. One of his biggest concerns is erosion on the beach.

The big elephant in the room when discussing any municipality in South Florida is the constant threat of hurricanes. Delray was certainly affected by the storms that swept through the southeast in 2004-05. "Francis and Jeanne came within 2 weeks of each other. Then Wilma hit us the next year," said Simmons. The town hired an outside contractor to help with the clean-up effort. Four-hundred, fifty-thousand cubic yards of debris were removed and trucked to a landfill to be incinerated or turned into mulch.

"The constant threat during hurricane season makes citizens aware," said Simmons. "The are more likely to call us wanting trees trimmed in fear of a possible storm."

The Parks and Recreation Department uses 13 riding lawn mowers, 6 walk behind, 3 front end loaders, 1 backhoe as well as a number of blowers and trimmers (shown here). They also have five utility vehicles, made up of Toro workmen and John Deere Gators. All equipment maintenance is done by in-house mechanics, while the crew's 30 pickup-trucks are cared for by the town's fleet maintenance department.

Volunteer Program

To help with invasive plants as well as to maintain the town's parks, the Delray has instituted a volunteer program. In it, organizations or individuals adopt parks and perform additional maintenance. "They come on in and help with mulch, litter control, minor plantings and to wash the playgrounds," said Simmons. "It has been a very successful program."

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October 17, 2019, 7:04 am PDT

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