Themes from a Camp Maintenance Network: Camp Maintenance and Property Personnel Share Their Insights and Challenges

by Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S.

As part of the 13th annual Camp Maintenance Conference, participants were asked to complete an optional one-page, eighteen-question survey on camp maintenance (pdf - 44k). The survey responses are helpful to all camp staff responsible for site maintenance.

Ninety-nine surveys were returned, which represents a 56 percent return rate. Camps were fairly evenly represented (see chart on page 59). Below is a summary of the camps and personnel that responded to the survey:

  • The average age of the camp was 66 years, with the youngest
  • Seventy-seven camps were ACA-accredited; 18 were not.
  • Sixty-six operated year-round; 30 were summer only.
  • With 99 camps, the average size of the camp was 371 acres, with the smallest 17 acres and the largest with 2300 acres. Total 36,800 acres (57.5 square miles).
  • Ninety-five were owned, 3 were leased, and 1 was owned/leased.
  • Staff had worked an average of 7.4 years at their current camp (least 6 months, greatest 30 years).
  • Staff had an average of 9.2 total years with camp maintenance (least 6 months, greatest 36 years).
  • Sixty-eight camps reported a total of 352,716 participants served yearly (5,187 average; least 500; greatest 35,000).
  • Maintenance records were predominantly a paper-based system (70 responses), followed by Word (10 responses), Excel (10 responses), database (4 responses), other (1 response). Six people indicated that technology was one of the things that had changed in the past 5 years in camp maintenance.

Site/Facility

Emphasis on Site/Facilities
A considerable number of the camps (thirty-five responses) reported positive changes over the past five years regarding camp maintenance. A shift toward a greater emphasis on site/facilities is being placed: “from Band-Aids to real repairs and upgrades”; “state and federal codes and ACA standards being met”; and “a new importance placed on facilities safety and maintenance.” Many people described the specific projects they had accomplished and the purchasing of needed equipment. People mentioned not only the work being done, but how the work was being accomplished — “more openness to share ideas” and “new ways of doing repairs.”

Camp’s Age
For the question describing their “greatest maintenance challenge currently,” the largest concentration (thirty-one responses), as could be expected, relates to the camp’s aging — “lack of repair and maintenance for years”; “updating older buildings”; “antiquated water maintenance issues were being addressed in the long-range planning, the majority of responses were related to the aging facilities — “replacements or total redo of buildings”; “updating seventy-year-old buildings”; and with a bit of humor, “a new maintenance garage — but they don’t know it yet.” Twenty-one camps listed water quality as their top water issue/problem. Several projects focused on the utilities — “water system, septic system.” When asked what advice they could offer their supervisors, suggestions included — “If you want a new building built, find money to maintain it,” and “Maintain current structures and fund maintenance, not just new construction.”

Property/Land
There were only a few comments relating to the land, ecology, etc. One camp included “forestry issues — lots of deadwood and trees around” in the long-range plan, and another camp was addressing “slope run off and flooding.” “Milfoil” was mentioned a few times.

The Work Itself

Changing Participants’ Needs and Programs
Seven people offered comments about the changing types of facilities in the past five years, such as “more elaborate buildings and systems to maintain.” In describing their current maintenance challenge, they stated, “Our camp visitors/campers expect more services, more conveniences, and they leave more of a mess behind,” and “Water — because of high consumption, we need more storage.” When they expressed their wishes from camp participants, one comment was “how they can help by taking care of buildings and cleaning.”

Planning and Prioritization
Only four camps reported not having a long-range plan. Eight camps mentioned site development in their long-range planning — “site plan for future growth” and “(urban) encroachment.” However, a few had some advice — “Not everything is or needs to be in crisis mode, more planning time versus top-down delegation, observation of work force — season when more staff is needed,” “Doing the job ‘right’ might cost a bit more up front but will save in the end,” and “The importance of communication — to define what maintenance priorities are — what staff priorities are and how they will eventually all fit together.”

It is important to plan for funding. Fourteen camps reported funding as their greatest maintenance challenge — “need more tools to do the job” and “funds to make improvements.”

Regulations and Paperwork
Camp maintenance/property staff and volunteers reported an increase in regulations and the associated paperwork and listed specific areas of water testing, chlorination, and insurance — “I seem to be doing more paperwork than anything else.” Listing the biggest maintenance challenge, the same theme permeated — “keeping up with new local and state rules” and “time management — combining paperwork with actual maintenance work,” — or as one person said more directly, “Get someone to do my paperwork so I can work.”

Work Understanding
In response to the question: “If you could educate the camp administration on one camp maintenance area, what would it be?” twenty-one people responded with a comment about the administration not understanding their work. “A five-minute discussion in a meeting can take five months to complete in the field”; “having city owners understand that weather has an awful lot to do with maintenance: water, mowing, painting, etc.”; and “to trust maintenance capabilities.” Eight people mentioned the “importance of preventative maintenance.” Several mentioned the partnership with maintenance and administration “trying to get higher ups to consider us as part of management.” Some people described why their camp administration was effective with comments such as “they’re all up to date” and “listen well to our maintenance staff about the issues they have to deal with.”

Green Building

When asked to “Describe how or where you are using ‘green building’ techniques,” the majority of respondents were not doing anything or didn’t know the term. A few camps were doing various projects — “recently built a new shower house with Clivus toilets, sun filtering, automatic lighting, and low-flow water, etc.”; “trying to get it started with bath houses, a pavilion, and a pump house”; “energy use”; “we are attempting to think ‘green’”; “water-saving showerheads”; and “conversion to fluorescent bulbs.”

Future Considerations

From this survey and the conference as a whole, some important considerations arose that your camp or conference center may wish to address:

  • Ensure maintenance funds are sufficient for an aging infrastructure.
  • Partner with camp/property personnel in decision-making processes.
  • Share the latest maintenance projects and the work that maintenance/property staff and volunteers have done in newsletters, bulletin boards, and Web sites. Possible headlines could be “Have You Noticed . . . .” or “Behind the Scenes,” and include a short paragraph on the projects’ funding sources.
  • Examine the long-term needs of land, vegetation, and forest to support the camp’s mission.
  • Decide the camp’s philosophy/long-term plan of adopting and implementing green building principles.
Resources
·

Green Buildings BC (a project by the Government of British Columbia)
Access the Guide to Green Buildings Resources, which provides informative links to more information; the links are divided into eleven categories such as waste, life-cycle, and energy, etc

· The Healthy Building Network (HBN)
A national network that promotes the use of healthier building materials.
· US Green Building Council
The organization includes the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from across the building industry. The Council works to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. Find 300+ links sorted into seventeen categories.

Resources
For either new or retrofit construction, green buildings are healthy, resource-efficient buildings that minimally impact the ecosystems:

·

Sustainable site planning Consider a building location that minimizes environmental impact, maximizes winter sunlight, utilizes natural cooling breezes, minimizes impact to trees and topsoil during construction, and is designed for timeless architecture and for opportunities to create strong communities of people.

·

Safeguarding water and water efficiency Equip your facilities with low-flow toilets and showers, faucet aerators, natural wastewater treatment, minimal chemical usage in wastewater, and watershed protection.

·

Energy efficiency and renewable energy Use “R-value” for walls, ceilings, and hot waterlines; high-performance windows; Energy Star rated appliances and equipment; solar heating; and high-efficiency lighting.

  Conservation of materials and resources
– Minimize waste, spillage, pilferage, spoilage, and misuse of building materials during construction.
– Use recycled, renewable, and reused building materials.
– Avoid using materials that generate pollution/toxics during manufacture or use, such as not using pressure-treated lumber with arsenic.
– Use lumber from independently certified well-managed forests.
  Indoor Environmental Quality Fresh air ventilation — monitor/minimize radon, avoid mold and mildew problems, and plan for minimal chemical impact from use of toxic cleaning products and pesticides.

For more information about how to incorporate green products and strategies into your plans and projects, see the Building Principles column, “Environmentally Sound,” on page 66 of this issue.

References
US Green Building Council, www.usgbc.org.

www.buildinggreen.com/ebn/checklist.cfm.

www.energybuilder.com/greenbld.htm.

Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S., is president of Callippe Solutions, LLC. She has twenty years of experience in the camp industry, serving in a variety of positions including staff, board member, and American Camping Association visitor. She has extensive software work experiences in databases, Web pages, and teaching. She can be reached at wwhyman@callippe.com.

Originally published in the 2003 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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