Grounds crews kept busy with crows and will be happy to see them move on


Birds, specifically crows, continue to be a big concern on the Oakland campus, not just for their unintended human targets on the grounds, but especially for the University’s ground crews who have to clean up after them.

At the Jan. 14 University Senate Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting, Andy Moran, senior manager of grounds, gave an overview of all the work his department does, but it was the crow problem that stirred up the most comments among committee members.

A larger murder of crows is roosting on and around the Cathedral of Learning. Moran said the birds have been a problem in the past, but the issue of droppings has really ramped up in the past couple of years. And this year, they are mostly concentrated on the lower campus, coming in at dusk and leaving around daybreak.

“It’s interesting to watch people when there’s an evening event at Heinz Chapel, and watching them move from the Cathedral to the chapel,” said Cynthia Tananis, secretary of Senate Council and a professor in the School of Education.

Moran said one of the grounds crew recently saw a female student exit Clapp Hall and “basically ran and screamed all the way down Fifth Avenue.”

Officials from the National Aviary told Moran that the crows move into urban areas because it’s a few degrees warmer and the lights help them see predators, like barn owls.

Some higher tech solutions, such as recordings of the bird calls of predators, have been used, but Moran said the crows are smart and get used to the sounds. One low-tech device is having some success now.

Moran recently brought in two 2x4s from home, and the crews attached them with a hinge to create a large “clapper.” He said one of the night crew goes out and uses the “clapper” to scare the birds away and it seems to be working.

“The idea is to annoy them so they can’t get the roosting and the sleeping in at night,” Moran said. Penn State uses a loud bang that sounds somewhat like a gun, he said, but the police here discouraged that on Pitt’s urban campus.

Cleaning up after the birds keeps the night crews busy and can be tricky now that the temperatures have dropped. In the warmer weather, they can power wash the sidewalks and buildings, but they don’t want to do that now.

The crows should start to move on by late February or early March, so they can find places to nest, which means Moran’s crews will be dealing with the problem another six weeks or so.

Snow removal

Western Pennsylvania was luckily spared the worst of last weekend’s winter storm, but Pitt’s grounds crews were ready.

The staff of 34, plus two assistant supervisors, have to clear 32 miles of sidewalks and 2,000 steps on campus. And work doesn’t slow down just because it’s the weekend.

Moran said that because there are always events going on at the Oakland campus, plus the thousands of students who live here, they have to keep the sidewalks clear all the time.

The department has a year-round commitment to sustainability.

“We’re switching our salts spreaders over to a drop-style spreader instead of a spinner spreader, which drops the salt right on the sidewalk not out on the street or into the flower bed. We're actually reducing our amount of salt that we use each year because we're putting it where it's needed and not out onto the city street or into the flower beds and landscape beds, which also does more harm than good.”

Who you gonna call?

Also presenting at the committee meeting was Joseph Pastorik, the director of work control for Facilities Management.

What, you might ask, is “work control”? The newly created position helps connect the Pitt community with the people in Facilities Management who can do routine maintenance, set up special events, do design work or cost estimates or schedule a project.

Work requests come in through the Facilities Management’s website, where anyone with department authorization can request a service.

Facilities problems can be reported by anyone on campus via phone, at 412-624-9512. Pastorik said a crew of four administrative personnel handle as many as 20,000 calls per year.

The other way to request maintenance or other facilities work is through the nine facility managers, who each have specific buildings they are responsible for. These are often the best point of contact for individual Pitt employees. Find a list of those people, their areas of responsibility, contact numbers and a back-up person, here.

The work control group also monitors construction and other maintenance projects on campus and is the point of contact for updates on those projects. Through the work requests, Facilities Management can track performance and track which buildings have the most maintenance issues.

Facilities Management also provides support for University sponsored special events on campus property — nearly 1,500 each year. This includes set-up, and removal, pre- and post-event cleaning, temporary signage and banners, and temporary utility hook-ups

Project updates

Rounding out the meeting was an update by Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, on the draft master plan for the Pittsburgh campus and any major construction projects coming up in 2019.

The master plan will now be presented as an institutional master plan for the city of Pittsburgh to approve. This includes all the construction and external renovation projects included in the master plan. Bernotas said this process includes submitting information to the city and holding more public meetings, the first of which will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at the University Club, Conference Room A. See details here.

New light and crossing on Forbes Avenue: A delay in getting the poles for a light-controlled crosswalk between Lawrence Hall and Schenley Quad has further stalled the project, but Bernotas hopes the light will be up by the end of the month. There also will be temporary railings along the street to discourage jaywalking. Permanents railings will be installed this summer.

Hillman Library: The first phase of Hillman’s renovation is complete, including the fourth floor and the mechanical and infrastructure upgrades. Work will begin this year on the third floor, which will be converted to look similar to the new fourth floor. The third phase will include the first and second floors.

Scaife Hall: This project will include a 47,000-square-foot interior renovation, along with demolishing the auditorium to provide room for a 100,000-square-foot addition. The design for the project is about 35 percent complete, Bernotas said. The institutional master plan for the addition will be presented to the city at the same time as the overall master plan. The interior work does not require city approval.

New rec center: University planners are trying to determine what will be in the building where the LRDC building and the O’Hara Garage are now, before moving ahead with designs. Bernotas said he also must find space on campus for LRDC before that building is torn down.

Victory Heights: Work will start in July to build a third floor and a small addition to the Petersen Sports Center, which will anchor the Athletic Department facilities above Trees Hall, which are being renamed Victory Heights. This space will allow coaches who are now located in Fitzgerald Field House to move their offices closer to the practice fields.

“Athletics is looking to say, ‘Hey, we're serious about Victory Heights, and we’re serious about investing in improving our athletic facilities. And so they're looking for this to happen quickly to say we're moving on this now and hopefully attract other interested parties,” Bernotas said.

Litchfield Towers: Work will be done this summer to renovate the bathrooms in Tower A, following similar work last year in Tower C.

Bigelow Boulevard: The project to improve pedestrian, bike and transit traffic on this key Pitt corridor between Fifth and Forbes avenues likely won’t get started until at least September, Bernotas said. The city has control of the street and it is awaiting a grant. If it does start in September, Pitt will need to work with the city to minimize the impact on campus.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.