Regular Maintenance Ensures Synthetic Turf Performance
by Paul Steinbach February 2014
There was something uncommon about the crumb rubber extracted from the football field being serviced last year by G9 Turf, an independent contractor that specializes in the maintenance of synthetic turf sports fields. Using a specialized machine that blasts the field surface with 150 pounds per square inch of air pressure through dozens of oscillating nozzles, the infill was loosened, lifted and steered into white bags by a screw conveyor. “We’re filling the first bag of infill, and the material is coming out purple and red, and the dust is flying everywhere, and we’re thinking to ourselves, ‘What is going on here?’ ” recalls G9 Turf president Grant Hendricks Jr.
The municipally owned field was home to multiple football teams, each with its own midfield and end zone graphics, requiring regular introduction of chalk-based paints to the turf system. Over time, the field had hardened to the point that something had to be done. “We analyzed the material, and it’s just shot. The infill is like little rocks now, because there’s so much chalk-based paint on it,” Hendricks says. “We blasted it out and then replaced it with new infill in about three days, and the field was like brand new.”
It was a situation that G9 Turf — which incorporated in 2009 as a field installer but has since settled into the maintenance niche — had never seen before. And while extreme, the paint case illustrates the need for field owners to maintain their fields on a consistent basis — not only to immediately improve a field’s playability and safety, but perhaps extend its useful life.
How soft? Hendricks says that an ideal G-max range is between 135 and 155. “Anything over 190, we consider to be in the warning zone,” he says. “We encountered one that was 218, and I had a feeling it was going to be like that. You could feel it by walking on it. It was a baseball field, and it was as if they were playing in a parking lot.”
Seven years’ worth of sun, wind and rain had caused enough clay material surrounding the field’s bases to migrate into the infill profile. “We ended up using the tines and the air,” Hendricks says. “It was so densely compacted that we had to drive the tines down into the yarns, just to loosen it up, just to get the air underneath it. But we got the G-max down to 160.”
Unlike SMG’s Dorney, G9 Turf recommends three or four deep-tine aeration sessions each year in order to avoid — or at least delay three or four years — the need for a full-depth rejuvenation using air pressure, which can require a week to complete and cost up to 10 times what a single tine aeration costs. The air-pressure technique’s advantage is that it removes infill without any mechanical contact with the field’s turf fibers. “We’ll blast the infill all the way down to the carpet backing and lower the G-max to make the field safer and more playable,” Hendricks says. “We’ve had players come out and say, ‘I can’t believe this is the same field.’ ”
Once removed, the infill can then be inspected for structural integrity and reintroduced to the field or (less commonly) replaced. G9 Turf worked on a nine-year-old field whose crumb rubber had degraded to the point of no return. “For the amount of money that you’re going to spend, you may as well introduce fresh infill that’s going to extend the life of the field another three or four or five years, instead of putting back the same dead infill, especially if it’s been broken down to the point where it’s so fine that it’s going to get densely compacted in a matter of no time,” says Hendricks, adding that G9 was called upon to salvage the infill from a new field whose fibers had exhibited failure, saving the manufacturer significant money.
When a field has reached its functional limits, G9 Turf can also be called on to separate all components of the turf system for recycling. “If they can’t be reused in another field, then the components can be separated and used in other applications — for example, roadway construction,” Hendricks says. “Nothing goes to a landfill.”
Though his company bowed out of the uber-competitive installation market, Hendricks considers all of the infill systems available today to be “varying degrees of good.”
“Everybody has their own twist, but that doesn’t affect us with regard to maintenance,” he adds. “Anything that’s out there gets compacted. Every field, regardless of the infill, needs maintenance.”
How quickly a field gets compacted will depend largely on how rigorously it is used. “There are some high schools where all they do is play football on that field, and if it’s maintained properly, it will last forever,” Hendricks says. “But then you go to New York City, where they have dozens of synthetic turf fields that get 24/7 usage, and they may only last three or four years, because they get so much traffic. Every opportunity is unique, depending on the amount of traffic and what’s actually being done on the field.”
“Most often, maintenance is determined by the amount of use a facility gets and its available resources,” Dorney says. “It differs by manufacturer. Some manufacturers recommend that a field is brushed or cleaned every 80 hours of use, but some owners, if they have a tow-behind unit, are out there cleaning it before every football game.”
How much can field owners expect to invest in the upkeep of their initial six-figure synthetic turf investment? SMG’s SportChamp, which is employed by field owners, manufacturers and contractors alike, costs roughly $45,000 with three front attachments and a rear leveling brush. (Up to 15 attachments, including everything from metal-gathering magnets to snow-removing plows and blowers, are available.) And while the nearest NFL franchise to Dorney doesn’t own a SportChamp, each of the Seattle area’s largest school districts — with multiple fields to maintain — does.
For those who choose to contract with a maintenance service provider, Hendricks says field owners would be well covered by budgeting $10,000 to $15,000 annually for independent G-max testing and four or five maintenance sessions. “The return is amazing. Not only is the field going to last longer, but it’s going to be safer,” he says. “Maintenance is not a big-ticket item, but it’s a critical item. You just can’t afford not to do it.”
Since hardness is a leading concern of owners and end users, a field’s G-max resiliency measure should be tested annually by an entity independent of the maintenance provider, according to Hendricks. Maintenance protocols may vary from there, depending on the contractor or equipment involved, but the end game is the same.
Auburn, Wash.-based SMG Equipment LLC is the North American distributor of German-made SMG turf maintenance equipment, ranging from tractor attachments to walk-behind and self-propelled machines. According to SMG’s Kevin Dorney, the most frequently used piece of equipment is the brush, which redistributes displaced infill and maintains proper infill depths. “Brushing will even out any irregularities — move highs to lows over a small area,” Dorney says. “It’s not going to move a high 30 feet over to a low, but it will level out the areas immediately around it. It also stands the fibers up, so there is better play characteristics for the field.” (Dorney adds that field owners should regularly measure infill depths and manually add infill to areas where extreme displacement is likely to occur — corner kick areas and goal mouths on soccer fields, or sliding areas near the bases on baseball fields, for example.)
Several times a year, the infill should be cleaned, a process completed by several pieces of SMG equipment — most notably by the self-propelled SportChamp. Infill and debris are swept onto a vibrating sieve tray, which retains the debris and returns the infill to the turf. Debris can take the form of organic material such as twigs, sunflower seed shells and pine needles, as well as man-made safety hazards such as hairpins, nails, nuts and bolts. Lighter debris is captured by the SportChamp using an onboard air-filtration system.
An aerating tine is introduced to the infill less frequently. “Typically, owners will decompact a field once a year so that it loosens the infill and makes it softer,” Dorney says.
COMPREHENSIVE MAINTENANCE OPTIONS
Comprehensive maintenance generally includes the use of specialty maintenance equipment by trained maintenance professionals. Depending upon the situation, the following actions may be performed:
- • Professional field inspection and corrective action — Assess the field surface, especially heavy-wear areas, identify weak or loose seams and inlays, and repair the damage. Sport performance testing may also be desirable.
- • Decompaction of infill — Infill decompaction is important for improving shock absorption and synthetic turf drainage. Use only equipment specially designed to decompact and create loft in infilled synthetic turf systems.
- • Redistribution and leveling of the infill — Measure infill depth on a grid pattern, and add and level infill as needed to return the surface to the field builder’s specifications.
- • Deep Cleaning — Use special equipment that combines mechanical brushing, suction and an infill-return system to remove surface debris and embedded contaminants.
- • Metal removal — Use a magnet attached to your maintenance equipment to remove ferrous metal objects from the field.
- • Weed and pest treatment — Treat with herbicides or pesticides, as required.
- • Partial removal and reinstallation of infill material — Remove the infill, as necessary, to get rid of embedded foreign matter that has contaminated the infill system, relieve grass fibers that may be trapped in the infill, or improve drainage.
Source: Synthetic Turf Council
ONGOING MAINTENANCE MUSTS
- • Conduct inspections and perform minor repairs to avoid playing hazards.
- • Keep the playing surface clean and free of debris and contaminants.
- • Check and maintain proper infill levels to provide a consistent surface.
- • Brush the surface to preserve appearance, keep grass fibers upright, and maintain even infill levels, making sure to use only approved bristles that will not overly abrade the fibers.
- • Maintain a maintenance and activity log.
Source: Synthetic Turf Council
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Play It Safe."
Q&A: Facilities Exec Tim O’Connell Returns to the Reds
by Paul Steinbach January 2014
Tim O'Connell grew up the son of a Cincinnati Reds season-ticket holder, following the Hall of Fame careers of Bench, Morgan and Perez (not to mention a guy named Rose) at Riverfront Stadium. Within six years of the 1976 World Series, the second of two straight championships won by that Big Red Machine, O'Connell was working for the organization, rising to director of stadium operations just two years later. Following the MLB players' strike of 1994, O'Connell headed to the University of Dayton, where he oversaw $40 million in athletics facilities improvements during a 19-year stay at the school (though he continued to commute from Cincinnati). This fall, O'Connell returned to the Reds as vice president of ballpark operations. Senior editor Paul Steinbach asked O'Connell to share the backstory of his homecoming.
Aesthetic Maintenance Techniques Add Appeal to Clay Surfaces
by Paul Steinbach January 2014
David Mellor had just mowed a giant star pattern into the outfield grass and four more smaller versions on the infield turf in anticipation of the 2000 Triple-A All-Star Game in Rochester, N.Y. — much to the amazement of officials from the host Rochester Red Wings. They asked Mellor, who at the time served on the grounds crew of the Milwaukee Brewers and had been retained by Rochester as a consultant, if he could somehow incorporate stars on the infield clay, as well.
Addressing Crime on Park Basketball Courts
by Emily Attwood December 2013
After the September shooting of 13 people at a southside park in Chicago, the cry rose again: get basketball out of the parks. From gang violence and drug use to littering and foul language, park basketball courts have been hailed as a nuisance in many communities over the years, prompting residents to call for their removal.
"We're fortunate that we're not like other areas with homicides occurring on a daily basis," Lafayette, Ind., police chief Pat Flannelly told The Journal Courier this summer in response to the city's decision to remove hoops at one of its parks, "and we intend to keep it that way."
While they pale in comparison to gang violence, issues of noise and littering are a much more common example of the type of behavior that puts basketball courts in disfavor with neighbors. "The basketball rims at Memorial Park will be removed for two weeks," Williamsport, Pa., Mayor Gabriel Campana wrote to the Williamsport Sun Gazette this summer. "A lesson will be taught as a father and mother teaches their children. If the behavior improves, the courts will remain. If not, I will consider removing the basketball rims permanently. We cannot enable bad behavior."
The extent to which basketball courts "enable bad behavior" and crime, however, has been blown out of proportion. A 2011 study published in Security Journal examined the incidence of crime in Philadelphia's neighborhood parks over a seven-month period. While the research did suggest that crime rates in park areas tended to be higher than the citywide crime rate, it was not the case with all parks. Moreover, the study found that any place that attracted crowds — a shopping mall, for example — tends to have a higher incidence of crime.
Park basketball courts may not be the magnet for crime that some community members paint them out to be, but neither are they incident-free. So what can a parks and recreation department do to set up their basketball facilities (and end users) for success?
The researchers behind the study in Security Journal considered a variety of other park factors and their relation to crime rates — accessibility, surveillance and guardianship, as well as "activity generators" such as recreational fields and courts. They found that the presence of activity spaces correlated to a decrease in crime rates in parks. The more activities available and the more organization, the more the crime level was reduced.
Enter programs like Chicago's Windy City Hoops, which turns basketball at 11 Chicago parks in high-crime areas into an organized event. "In those communities, crime and violence have gone down," says Tony McCoy, a supervisor and 19-year veteran with the Chicago Park District. The program helps tackle one of the biggest issues plaguing the area: gang violence. "From my experience, any sport, not just basketball, helps with conflict resolution," says McCoy. "You get aggression out, you get exercise."
Eleven sites serve 100 to 150 youths each, and the program is organized into six-week sessions. The role of the parks department in organizing and overseeing the games is crucial to their success, says McCoy. Teenagers are not the most exemplary members of society, though some are more mature than others. Generally speaking, giving them freedom without structure is a good way to set them up for trouble. "Basketball is one of those sports where you have disagreements and arguments," McCoy says. "But if you have strong mentors and good referees, it is successful."
Proper planning also allows the program to address the gang tensions within communities. Says McCoy, "One kid might be in one gang and another in another gang, but they're both on the same basketball team. When you know each other, you're less likely to harm or have a conflict off the court. It doesn't eliminate it totally, but it helps."
To bring down boundaries not just within communities but between communities, the program also ends each session with an organized all-star tournament. The tournaments will rotate between the participating parks, giving the youths a chance to interact with their peers from other communities and help familiarize them with more of the park district's facilities. "They look forward to it," says McCoy, who is just as excited about the program. "We'll mix them up and tear these barriers down, eliminate murders, shootings and criminal activity."
BUILD A CONNECTION
Though McCoy admits that these larger issues won't be eliminated overnight, the program has already made a noticeable impact when it comes to combating the more common issues associated with basketball courts, such as litter and graffiti. "They care about the spot they're playing in," says McCoy. "They don't want to tear up where they're playing. They're taking ownership in their community."
More than just irritating neighbors, disrespect for park facilities — if only in the form of litter — often makes other park visitors feel unwelcome or unsafe, as well as lays the ground for more serious altercations. Luckily, it doesn't take an organized league to tackle such issues.
The City of Haverhill, Mass., dealt with noise and littering complaints this past summer when one of its parks went offline for renovations, resulting in increased use of another park. The first thing Vinny Ouellette, parks and recreation manager, did? "We went in and met with the players," he says. "We reminded them that they were in a neighborhood park and they should keep their language in check, as well as their noise level. They didn't realize it was getting out of control."
The approach was respectful of the youth players and made them feel welcome. "It comes down to communicating," says Ouellette. "Get out there and let them know that the park is there for them but that there's a responsibility that goes along with that."
Treating the youths like responsible adults was more effective than temporarily taking away hoops to teach a lesson, as some communities such as Williamsport have tried. As for the issue of additional litter around the courts, the parks department enlisted additional help to keep the area clean. "We have a church group bring volunteers to help clean," Ouellette says. "The park really has been kept up, which gives incentive to the users to keep things picked up. They know that we care and others care, so they take the time to pick up bottles before they leave."
Creating a connection between park amenities and their users, whether through organized programming or simply interacting with users, can offer benefits that go beyond more peaceful parks. After talking with users and identifying the need for more outlets to play during the winter months, Ouellette was able to arrange for more indoor facilities to be open for their use, and opened the door for other programs, as well. "Once we get them inside, we can talk with them about job programs, education programs," he says. "We can help them take advantage of those programs."
Middle School Football Player Dies From Ant Attack
by Michael Gaio September 2013
Unfortunately, for the second day in a row, we are writing about the death of a youth football player. However, this one wasn't caused by a helmet-to-helmet hit or any other football-related injury.
Maintaining High-Wear Areas on Natural Grass Fields
by Paul Steinbach August 2013
As the academic year kicks off this month, a nationwide stampede of student-athletes will put natural grass game fields to their first real tests - ideally - in months. How well they pass those tests, and for how long, will depend on preparation, weather cooperation and ongoing maintenance attention. But make no mistake, the turf is going to take a pounding - particularly in specific and all-too-predictable areas.
Free Wi-Fi in San Francisco Parks, Courtesy of Google
by Emily Attwood July 2013
City parks are becoming technological hotspots. As New York spends the summer installing solar charging stations in its already Wi-Fi-enabled parks and plazas this summer, San Francisco is taking advantage of a $600,000 gift from Google that will add free Wi-Fi to 31 parks, recreation centers and plazas.
New York Adds Solar-Powered Charging Stations to Parks
by Emily Attwood June 2013
Parks in New York will soon have a new amenity to draw users: solar-powered charging stations. Tested out last year in Brooklyn, a total of 25 locations are planned to open throughout the city this summer.
Technology, Education Keys to Keeping Athletes Safe from Lightning
by Michael Popke April 2013
Within a four-week span last fall, a 71-year-old soccer spectator in Demarest, N.J., and an 11-year-old middle school football player in Fort Myers, Fla., were struck and killed by lightning.
HS Football Field Becomes Triage Center After Texas Blast
by Michael Popke — AB Managing Editor April 2013
The football field at West (Texas) High School was turned into an emergency triage center Wednesday night after a major explosion at a nearby fertilizer plant. Local residents and medical personnel attended to many of the injured. Later, after a strong odor was detected near the stadium, triage was moved to a softball field.