Emory Report

September 28, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 6

Leaf blowers a nuisance no more

Fall means many things for a college campus, most of them pleasant, but in years past the season of falling leaves has brought with it a bane for Emory professors: leaf blowers.

But no more. And, surprisingly, all it took to get the noisy contraptions out of academic areas of campus during daytime hours was a simple e-mail from Provost Rebecca Chopp to Bob Hascall, associate vice president for Facilities Management Division. Though FMD had long heard rumblings from the faculty about leaf blowers and other motorized maintenance equipment, the division had no idea just how much of a disruption the machines were.

In fact, when the Advisory Council on Teaching was formed last year its faculty members considered the matter important enough to make it their first recommendation to Chopp as an action issue. "It's a longstanding irritation," said council Chair Walt Reed. "Leaf blowers probably create the most interference and are the most easily dealt with."

Reed was right. The e-mail from Chopp to Hascall was passed on to Plant Operations Director Al Herzog, and then to Jimmy Powell, superintendent of roads and grounds. Powell replied immediately that leaf blowers would be banned from within 50 yards of a classroom building between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Powell said the work--which often is not only an issue of aesthetics but also safety when wet leaves gather on stairways--could be done on weekends, with part-time employees during off-hours, or possibly through a contract arrangement. He also said FMD is looking into other kinds of equipment, such as giant vacuum-type machines, that could do that job faster and make it easier to finish on weekends.

The biggest problem area, Powell said, involves the academic buildings around the Quad, which are older and not as well insulated from sound as, for example, the law school. And until he and Herzog can work out a solution with Reed, Chopp and other faculty, the leaf blowers will be kept out of that area during classroom hours.

"This is the kind of issue that people can laugh at and assume it's trivial," Reed acknowledged, "but since most teaching comes through the ears, it's a pretty obvious problem. It's important, however, that faculty don't get indignant at the grounds crew, who are simply doing their jobs. It's a case of two parts of the University doing their best to do their best work and, without realizing it, interfering with one another."

But the solution, Chopp added, signifies something larger than leaf blowers. "This is about the importance of faculty and students, of teaching and learning at Emory," Chopp said. "It's a sign of our team approach in administration and a kind of customer-friendly service by FMD."

--Michael Terrazas

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