Saddleback College’s campus will undergo environmental improvements and landscape beautification

A landscaped hillside along College Drive near Lot 9 and 10 at Saddleback College. Bryce Jorgensen/Lariat

Over the past year, the grounds department at Saddleback has undertaken a series of projects around campus. Some have been a part of cost-preventive measures resulting from the pandemic, while others have aimed to create a more sustainable campus environment.

The South Orange County Community College District has recently allocated funds for a major overhaul of some of Saddleback’s existing landscape infrastructure. Sean Rivell, the  Assistant Director of Facilities, said that the projects would make the campus landscape “more appealing” and “more sustainable.”

“We have a project where the district is installing biofilters on our parking lots,” Rivell said. “In order to discharge stormwater into the adjacent city and county storm drains, you actually have to filter it first because some new laws were put into place.”

Rivell said that the district also has plans to re-landscape adjacent areas in addition to the biofiltration installation. One such project is the installation of new plants with drip irrigation. This system is more cost and water effective than traditional spray sprinklers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The advanced system will create new benefits for management, too.

“It covers a lot of bases,” Rivell said. “It’s going to help us switch our irrigation system over to a cloud-based system. Right now, we have 46 sprinkler controllers on the campus that are standalone.”

With the standalone sprinkler controllers, grounds crew members have to drive to each one individually to adjust them when necessary, such as during weather events. 

“The aim is to improve these controllers to be cloud-based so they’ll automatically change their schedules according to a weather program,” Rivell said. “Also, we can remotely access them via any internet connection.”

The new system also creates the potential for money to be saved. The Moulton Niguel Water District, which serves Saddleback College, offers a $0.70 per square foot of drip irrigation installed rebate, as well as $2 per square foot of turf removed, among other offers.

“The water authority has rebate programs for big institutions to switch those programs,” Rivell said. “We’re going to counteract the cost of those controllers with the rebate program.”

While the upgrades are likely to save the district money in the long run, there will be a price tag in the meantime. Mary Opel, the Director of Facilities at SOCCCD, is overseeing the projects at hand. She said that the district-set budget for the system upgrade is $2.2 million.

“I think it’s a positive impact because we’re looking at trying to tie the campus together cohesively with respect to the landscaping palette,” Opel said. “We’re working towards a more native landscaping palette. We’re looking at creating an identity when you’re coming in at any of the entrances.”

She added that the grounds department is looking to define a specimen tree, a particular type of tree to be used as a cohesive focal point around the campus.

In addition to the environmental and landscaping upgrades taking place around Saddleback’s parking lots and entrances, the quad area situated between the business and student services buildings will also receive a mechanical and visual renovation. According to Opel, the project will have a budget of $1.3 million, bringing the total of both projects to $3.5 million.

“We’re trying to do it all at the same time,” said Medhanie Ephrem, the Executive Director of Facilities Planning at SOCCCD. “That’s so we don’t have to close the quad a couple of times, to minimize that impact. When we see what it’s going to look like, it’s going to look amazing.”

The projects will occur as Saddleback prepares to reopen the campus in the Fall after its year-long pandemic-related closure. Ephrem mentioned that he and his team are working to mitigate any potential inconveniences for the campus community.