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Management challenges

Field Scheduling

It would be ideal to have at the start of each sporting season fields with 100% turf coverage and have all the plants at least four months old. This is the ideal and may not always be attainable. As mentioned earlier, fields will show distinct wear areas after 10 events (games, practices, etc.) and after about 25 the field appearance will be significantly reduced. The loss of that protective mat of vegetation will be gone between 25-50 events and the soil will be exposed ready to turn into a muddy mess when rained and played on. What can a manager do to limit over-use which creates unsafe and poor field conditions?

The grounds manager must be able to communicate to and develop a strong working relationship with coaches, administrators and field users so policies can be developed regarding field use and field scheduling. Many factors go into developing a field schedule especially at a multi-use facility. The type of sports, intensity of traffic, type of grass, field conditions at the time of play, the necessary time for the field to recover and essential management practices all impact field scheduling. All field users need to understand the challenges of maintaining fields in good safe condition when unrealistic expectations are made. Cooperation and communication are essential.

Some helpful tips:

  • Work to develop mutual respect and realistic goals so policies can be established and honored.
  • Restrict use of fields when conditions are wet and would create unsafe playing conditions.
  • Rotate areas of play to allow time for recovery.
  • Find alternative areas for some of the activities (for example band practice).
  • Allow newly seeded areas to become established before use.
  • Allow turf to recover from winter dormancy before using.

Arrange for a meeting with key individuals prior to the field season to discuss components of the field use policy. Some managers have the authority to close fields if not in playable conditions and can levy fines.

Ultimately, everyone will learn that if field use guidelines are not followed and fields are used during rainy periods permanent damage can result and expensive repair work will be necessary.

Successful Sports Field Construction

Successful sports field construction is an enormous topic and one that cannot be sufficiently covered in this manual, however a few important considerations can be outlined here to help you get started.

The investment to build a new field is so great that it is essential at the early stages of the project to learn as much as you can about the construction process. Inadequate planning, employing a company with little experience or a proven record with sports field construction and a lack of sufficient funds to properly maintain the new field are just a few reasons why new fields fail.

You can start by contacting local colleagues who have newly constructed fields and visit them to see how they are performing. Learn from their experience of any pitfalls that should be avoided. Colleagues may be able to recommended local architects and contractors for you to consider.

Here are some steps to use:

  • Get input, support and buy-in from all those who will use the field(s). This includes coaches, athletes, facility managers, grounds personnel and other end users.
  • Assemble a team or committee that can assist you in outlining expectations of the field use, and assist with identifying possible architects and contractors.
  • Estimate field use: Your team can help address the follow questions and provide a more comprehensive view of field use. What type of sports, number of games, practices and other events will the field be used for? Will the field be used by classes for physical ed, graduation and other school activities? What about community events? Their input will help you determine what you need and help you to build your case for kind of field you feel is necessary to meet their needs. Clear expectations must be known by all parties.
  • Propose the field layout: An architect with experience and knowledge regarding the necessary specifications for sports field construction should be used. It will be the architect’s responsibility to ensure that the contractor follows the design and construction specifications for the field.
  • Site considerations: Your site should have adequate light, reasonable slope and good quality soil. Although earth moving equipment can be used and soil brought to the site, both these operations will increase the costs greatly. However, now is the time to outline your specifications. Items to think about include: subgrade preparation, the addition of soil amendments (if necessary), the need for drainage improvement, the installation of an irrigation system (if your budget allows), final grading, and proper seeding or sodding, fertilization and grow in maintenance. Be sure to be very specific about your expectations of quality for each of the above items.
  • Obtain a list of professional contractors that have an excellent reputation. Do not automatically go with the lowest bid. The decision should be based on their experience, reputation and performance. Request a list of fields that they have installed for the last 3-5 years and see how they are holding up.
  • Be involved with on-going developments. Who from your facility will be able to monitor progress? Has a time table been set for completion of the project? Who will be in charge of quality control?
  • Grow-in time important. Make sure the field has time to grow in adequately before play begins. Newly seeded fields should not be used for 14-16 weeks and newly sodded fields should have a minimum of 30-45 days before play resumes.

A Look at Synthetic Turf: Is Adding a Synthetic Field the Answer?

Native soil fields can take just so much use before the turf thins and compaction becomes severe. Overuse does impact the function and aesthetic expectations of sports fields. Some managers have tried to deal with this by modifying their fields with sand. Others think the best way to deal with field scheduling pressure is to add an artificial turf field which can be played on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Today’s artificial or synthetic infill turf fields typically include nylon fibers attached to a porous polyethylene backing, 2 inch infill of crumb rubber placed within the fibers, and often a polyurethane pad placed just under the backing for extra cushioning. For drainage, most use a 8-12 inch gravel/sand sub-base and sideline drains. These fields can take incredible amount of use compared to native soils fields.

Keep in mind that synthetic infill fields are very costly to install and maintain in comparison to a native soil field. They must be installed by experienced companies that specialize in this new technology. A newly installed synthetic field can cost ~$600,000 -$1,000,000 whereas a new field built on native soil may cost only $100,000. The annual cost to maintain a synthetic field can range from $5,000-$25,000 in comparison to a native soil field which cost about $4000-$5000.

Comparison: Soil-based Natural Turf Fields and Synthetic In-fill based Fields Construction and Maintenance Costs

Field size: approximately 2 acres. Annual Inflation: 3%.

Costs Existing Soil-based Field
Maintained on Contract
Existing Soil-based Field
Maintained with Existing Staff
New Soil-based Field
High-end Installation & Maintenance
New In-fill-based Field
Basic Installation
New In-fill- based Field,
High-end Installation & Maintenance
Initial Construction $0 $0 $50,000 $600,000 $1,000,000
1st Year Maintenance $20,000 $7,000 $15,000 $3,500 $25,000
10 year Maintenance $229,358 $80,275 $172,018 $40,120 $326,190
10 Year Total Cost $229,358 $80,275 $222,018 $640,120 $1,326,190
Average Cost/Year $22,936 $8,028 $22,202 $64,012 $132,619

Final Notes

There will always be management challenges when trying to maintain safe school and community multi-use sports fields.

Managers will need to be aware of the most up to date best management practices as well as alternative pest management strategies. Take advantage of continuing education opportunities offered locally by Cornell Cooperative Extension and regionally by Cornell University and professional organizations such as the New York State Turfgrass Association and the Sports Turf Managers of New York.

Develop your communication skills so you can better convey to your “customers”, administrators, coaches, athletes, parents, community members, the resources necessary to maintain your fields. Some action steps to follow:

  • Maintain regular communication with all invested parties. Everyone needs to understand your maintenance program and schedule as it relates to field use.
  • Conduct a site assessment for each field. Identify the areas that will require extra attention and let your findings help you determine how to realign and maximize your resources.
  • Develop your own field management schedules or use the following template. Detailed management records, photos and a well-thought out plan can be helpful when making a case for needed resources.
  • Rotate activity of fields that receive excessive use – this requires planning and buy-in from everyone.
  • Develop one "show case" field that exhibits your turf management skills.
  • Invest in continuing education to hone your management skills.