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Healthy & Green: Maintaining Roche Headquarters

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

Craig Cheesman, CGK, pilots a Dixie Chopper riding mower over a portion of the campus' 57-plus acres of turf. It takes an average of 40 man-hours to complete a mow at the facility.

Based in Basel, Switzerland, The Roche Group is one of the world's pharmaceutical giants. Less well known is the company's diagnostics division, which supplies technology for testing, screening and monitoring human health. One of the most important class of products supplied by Roche Diagnostics is blood glucose meters and other items that support the health of people living with diabetes.

Roche employs close to 65,000 people in 150 countries. Roche Diagnostics North American Headquarters is located in Indianapolis, Ill., where close to 3,500 people are employed. Involved in research, marketing, shipping, manufacturing and maintenance, these workers are spread across a 156-acre corporate campus with a total of 23 buildings. Somebody, of course, has to keep those grounds clean and green.

Groundskeeper Cheesman digs it when an irrigation valve goes bad. The grounds include 1,150 individual rotor and spray heads arranged in 70 rotor zones and 30 spray zones.

Keeping it Neat

Roche Diagnostics Corporation, based in Indianapolis, Ind., has its own in-house grounds maintenance team that spends every week of the year keeping the campus accessible, safe and attractive. The crew is headed by grounds manager John R. Davis III, who oversees five other employees. They include Craig Cheesman and Bill Brown, both Professional Grounds Maintenance Society (PGMS) Certified Grounds Keepers (CGK). The pair are assisted by grounds employees Travis Reynolds, Troy Bibbs, and ASC Certified Mechanic Thomas Enlow who also keeps the crew's stable of vehicles, mowers and power equipment running smooth. That stable includes a fleet of utility trucks, a John Deere 1070 tractor (with an 11-foot attachable mower), two Hustler and one Dixie Chopper riding mowers and several John Deere walk-behinds.

With 57 total turf acres, the crew needs that kind of horsepower and versatility. Through the warmer months, mowing is perhaps the most time consuming single task on campus. It's a mark of the crew's efficiency that the entire spread can be mown in close to 40 man hours, which usually takes a day and a half.

This John Deere F935 is also used as a riding mower. Roche's unit has been fitted with a plow, lights and a cab to make quick, efficient work of snowfall on the campus' main walkways.

To prioritize, the team divides the turf up into four categories that specify the level of care and maintenance. Category I turf lines high-traffic areas and gets mown twice a week, with regular irrigation. It gets fertilized up to five times a year. Lower categories get less fertilizer, water and maintenance. Category IV turf, for example, gets mown periodically but fends for itself in terms of water and fertilizer.

Seasonal Routines

The year usually starts in March, when snow removal gives way to tending turf, trees, shrubs and annual flowers. One task that signals spring is the annual rototilling of Roche's employee gardens. Here employees can rent small plots (about $5 for a 10 x 20-foot area) for the cultivation of flowers or vegetables.

Groundskeeper Bill Brown, CGK, uses the facility's John Deere 1070 tractor with a Viacom spreader (at rear) attached. High-priority turfgrass areas are fertilized up to five times a year, with outlying areas treated less often.

Certified mechanic Thomas Enlow repairs a Billy Goat push vacuum in Roche's maintenance shop. With close to 1,200 trees on site, leaf cleanup is a never-ending job. "It never goes away," site manager Davis said.

Another spring task is spreading mulch over close to 100,000 square feet of planting beds. The crew uses close to 560 cubic yards of the stuff each season. When you consider that an average truckload measures between 11 and 16 cubic yards, that's a lot of mulch.

Also in spring, trees and turf get fed. Category I and II turf areas get at least four pounds of fertilizer for each 1,000 square feet each year. It takes less time to fertilize than to mow, because Category III turf is only fertilized in fall and Category IV is not treated. A pair of workers can complete the task in about a day.

One other spring task is a big job that takes outside help to complete. Putting in flowers would take the small crew weeks to complete, forcing the neglect of many key tasks.

"Planting is one thing we do contract out," grounds manager Davis explained. "The reason is it comes at the busiest time of the year. We could easily use up two or three-hundred man hours putting down 3,000 square feet of annual flowers." One of the things that keeps the crew so busy is bringing the campus' irrigation system back on line. Water lines need to be checked for leaks, as do 1,150 individual spray and rotor heads.

The Roche team puts down close to 560 cubic yards of mulch each spring. The mulch is delivered by a local company (Green Cycle, of Indianapolis) and helps keep weeds out of planting beds while holding moisture in.

The John Deere 1070 tractor is rigged with an 11-foot-wide Land Pride bat-wing mower. The PTO-powered attachment is the quickest way to handle large, unobstructed turf areas.

Summer, Fall and Beyond

With summer's warmer temperatures the irrigation system springs to use more often, which requires constant maintenance. Operated by a Rain Bird Maxicom controller, the system uses its own rain sensor, wind-speed sensor and temperature gauge to calculate turf water needs. Even so, crewmembers spend considerable time making sure that water ends up where it's supposed to. Every two weeks, workers conduct an irrigation audit--using the Maxicom computer to analyze how much water is being consumed in each of the grounds' 70 rotor zones and 30 spray head zones.

But the automatic system doesn't take care of every watering need. The property's 1,200 arborvitae, crabapple, birch, ash, spruce, pear and other trees require personalized watering and fertilization. So do beds planted with annuals. During hot periods, it can take two days (and a combination of hoses and water trucks) to properly saturate those beds.

Fall at Roche is time for more fertilizer--and plenty of leaf and debris clean-up. This is the time when most of the campus' trees get an autumn dose of an appropriate fertilizer to nurture them through the winter.

Backup mechanic Bill Brown uses a grinder to sharpen a rotary mower blade in the maintenance shop. Completing maintenance in-house saves money and gets equipment up and running with less schedule interruption.

Keeping trees healthy and vigorous is the most important way that workers can help them repel insects and disease. Japanese beetles are a problem in Indiana, and Roche's linden and pear trees often suffer from them. Spider mites plague locust trees. To control them, the crew employs an integrated approach that minimizes the use of insecticides and other chemicals.

By September, frosts can affect annuals in beds and the employee garden. Soon snow will fly, and the Roche team will hitch their Boss V-blades to utility trucks to keep campus roadways clear.

Bill Brown braves January chill to attach banners praising employee achievement. The banners add color and boost morale for the close to 3,500 workers on site.

For sidewalks, however, the crew has a special tool. The John Deere F935 is usually rigged as a riding mower, with rotary blades attached under the operator's feet. The Roche team has a special model that's fitted with a plow--and a cab that shields the rider from the elements.

Davis and his crew keep the machine rigged for snow, so it spends the summer months inside the storage building.

Learn more about Roche Diagnostics' Indianapolis headquarters at

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October 15, 2019, 10:17 pm PDT

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