Special to The Echo
In the expanding history of Warren Wilson College, one thing that stands out is the work crew program. While it doesn’t fit everyone’s interest to work while attending college, few can deny that the concept of students running their campus is an attention catcher for many.
While this is one of Warren Wilson’s major marketing points, with the sudden rise of COVID-19 last March, the college had to make some tough decisions which involved cutting certain crews; two of these crews being Heavy Duty (also known as Custodial or Janitorial Crew) and Landscaping. It was hard for many students to believe that the college would do this, especially with Landscaping being one of the esteemed Land Crews. Landscaping held a big place in the hearts of the Warren Wilson community, and many were sad to see it go.
Some may wonder why most of the other crews came back, but not Landscaping. Much like Heavy Duty, Landscaping is a crew that most students would call essential, and so its absence has brought up a lot of questions.
When asked about the suspension of Landscaping, Associate Dean of Work Paul Bobbitt said that a reason for this decision was that there would be “an issue with the continuity of services in the event that the campus got shut down.”
Meaning that if the campus got shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak, landscaping work would still need to be done, and no one would be here to do it. Whereas other crews like Cowpie or Athletics, would need nobody here to keep them open without students on campus.
With that being said, another question that current and former students have asked is why the college didn’t hire an alumni-owned company to take over for the campus. After the news of Landscaping Crew being cut hit the college’s many social media platforms, there was an abundance of Wilson graduates who own landscaping companies in the area that offered to have their company take over the work on campus. Many even offered to do it at discounted rates “because it’s Wilson,” as stated in comments on the FaceBook post last year.
When asked about this, Clarence Tate, head of facilities, said that the decision to not hire one of these companies was due to them either not bidding on the contract, or not having the appropriate insurance to work on the campus when the contract went out.
“The ultimate decision was made by the college’s VP,” Tate said. “But if students really want to know more they should look at the statements made by the college last year. He did not go into any further details about this.
The outsourced company that did get picked to take over Landscaping Crew’s work has been observed with harsh scrutiny by members of the community, especially former members of the crew like Parker Gondella, a junior who now works on Outdoor Leadership crew.
“Other crew members have been pretty judgmental of the poor work that the new company has done,” said Gondella.
Concerns such as not recognizing the work with native plants, not paying attention to the culverts, ignoring issues with the trees, or trying to make the campus look overly manicured like other colleges, are some of the things Gondella mentioned critiquing when the outsourced crew started working on campus.
This comes around to the Work Program’s new land crew, Land Stewards. Many students have been overheard talking about Land Stewards as a replacement for Landscaping Crew, and this appears to have become the local assumption. However, according to Paul Bobbitt, Land Stewards was an idea of his that has been in the works for a while.
“Its purpose is to provide the more advanced crews (farm, forestry, and garden) help with intro level work so that other students can put more focus on large projects and research work.” Bobbit said.
However, the introduction of the new crew came out at a time that gave some students the wrong impression.
“Yeah, it was kind of weird getting rid of one land crew just to add another one later,” Gondella said, when asked about the new crew. “But it’s a cool opportunity to get new students involved with the land on campus.”
No one knows if Landscaping Crew will come back after COVID-19 subsides. When asked, Bobbitt said that there has been talk about it in the WPO, and that there are definitely people who want to bring it back, potentially after the vaccine becomes more available. However, when asked the same question, Tate says that the crew will not be coming back and that it’s just Land Stewards now.
As much as some members of the community have expressed that they would love to see the crew come back, Parker said he has some concerns.
“I would love to see the crew come back, but it just wouldn’t be the same,” Gondella said.“There would definitely be a great loss of skill, and most students from the crew probably wouldn’t come back if they were still here.”
He also brought up how the crew was formerly composed of veteran members who would teach new members all that they knew, and that the crew was like one big happy family. So if the crew did come back, there would probably be a very different dynamic between the new supervisors and new students.