The University of Mississippi’s beauty is well-known, but how it is kept that way is more than a mystery to most. Holding on to Ole Miss' "Most Beautiful" title is a complex financial and logistical operation.
The campus grounds is maintained by The University of Mississippi Landscape Services Department, which operates under the Office for the Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance.
The mission statement of the department sums up its role well: “Our Mission is to provide professional services to the University which ensure that its natural splendor is well maintained, environmentally sensitive, and aesthetically pleasing to our customers. Our objective is to expand the beauty of the campus in order to attract, support, and increase a healthy, safe learning background.”
Financing such operations is a complex endeavor, but one the university manages more efficiently than many of its peer institutions. The Grounds Costs Survey, conducted by the University of South Carolina several years ago, looked at the lowest cost per acre for universities in Mississippi.
At the time of the survey, The University of Mississippi spent an average of $1,089.00 per acre on landscaping for 43,560,000 square feet of land which were maintained by 24 full-time employees, with the entire landscaping budget coming to $1,089,662.00. Mississippi State University spent $1,729.00 per acre on landscaping for 52,272,000 square feet of land which were maintained by 33 full-time employees, with the entire landscaping budget coming to $2,074,536.00.
Landscape Services’ budget is financed through a combination of student fees, private donations and state allocations, according to the the Office for the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance. However, it would be difficult to analyze exactly what percentage of the budget is comprised of each funding source due to Landscape Service’s budget coming from a fund used for many campus necessities.
Fiscal efficiency has not reduced the quality of the work Landscape Services provides for Ole Miss. In 2011, Newsweek ranked The University of Mississippi as the number one most beautiful campus in America.
The return of students has not diminished the morale or the work quality of Landscape Services employees.
“Increased traffic hasn’t really affected our work,” Freddie Braxton, a groundskeeper with the department, said.
Braxton said construction had a larger impact than increased pedestrian traffic.
“The delays construction causes usually slow down travel time,” he said. “Our actual work isn’t effected. We’re just trying to keep this place beautiful.”
Keeping the campus well-maintained is difficult work. In the fiscal year of 2010, over 1,053 trees, 10,381 shrubs and 8,760 yards of sod were planted.
The labor of Landscape Services is certainly not without challenges. Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Larry Sparks said the growth of the university has had a mixed impact on Landscaping Services.
“The growth of Ole Miss has certainly impacted the work of Landscape Services,” he said. “Sometimes, as we grow, new facilities reduce the acreage of the campus and thus the need for landscaping labor. Other times expansion necessitates a higher level of maintenance and care for the campus.”
Sparks also said that, despite the challenges, the work Landscape Services does is “vital to the environment of the university.”
“I definitely think the aesthetic of the university fosters a better learning environment,” he said. “When we are recruiting students, we know that if we can get them on campus we will have made up their mind. It’s a place students want to learn and live.”