Premium Partners

The frantic action confined within gyms and arenas can take its toll on facility components and challenge those responsible for their repair and maintenance.

Compared to other athletic venues, gyms and arenas could easily be classified as the romper rooms of any sports complex or school campus. First, they are rooms, with a roof and (at least) four walls. Also, these confined indoor spaces can be home to several different activities-athletic and otherwise-that require the movement of specialized pieces of equipment as the space is altered to accommodate each activity. Finally, the action within gyms and arenas can be nothing short of frantic, with participants and projectiles crashing into obstacles and each other.

Though exhilarating, the commotion can take its toll on facility components and challenge the operators who oversee them. With limited budgets and little in the way of downtime, facility operators often find that keeping gyms and arenas continuously operational requires some creative measures in the way of repairs and maintenance. The following components lend themselves to minor in-house fix-it projects that can extend the life of equipment and keep operations humming.

Bleachers For decades, the standard mode of seating in most gyms has remained the wood bleacher system. As the familiar backdrop to the action on the court, bleachers also see their share of activity and, sometimes, abuse. Major repairs on these complicated pieces of equipment are best left to firms that specialize in bleacher refurbishment, but facility operators can do their part by keeping their systems clean and by keeping an eye out for potential problems.

When inspecting the understructure of a bleacher system, look for signs of damage, such as bent metal cross braces or chipped paint around joints (a possible clue that fatigue cracks exist). Because most systems are designed to flex somewhat, parts can become bent from abuse or even normal use. Slight adjustments can be accomplished by simply bending parts back to their original shape by hand, being careful not to make matters worse by bending the component beyond its original position. The adjustment can be maintained by welding specially cut angle irons to the corresponding joints, which also reinforces the joint itself-a project best handled by a bleacher service firm.

One facility operator on a college campus asked machine-shop staff to cut a square plate and drill it with four holes in the hope of reinforcing a handrail on a bleacher system installed in 1962. Over time, the stress applied to the original rail had caused its moorings to split the bleacher board to which it was attached, and the rail became wobbly.

The board was replaced in-house and the rail bolted into position using not only its original top plate, but the new plate underneath as a sandwich of steel around the replacement bleacher board. Keep in mind that, while this repair proved successful, neglected handrails can lead to liability headaches. When in doubt, consult a bleacher service firm about complete replacement.

Bleacher inspection should also include a search for wear marks on the understructure caused by insufficient lubrication. If marks exist, take a quart container of lithium-based grease and use a small paintbrush with natural bristles to dab grease wherever wear is evident. Avoid using lubrication sprays, which can drip out of the target area, or axle grease, which can create static and atrract dust.

In addition to dust, debris such as string, hair, lollipop and Popsicle sticks, gum, candy wrappers, popcorn and sunflower seeds tends to collect in the wheel housings of retractable bleacher systems. Remove obstructions whenever necessary, but take steps to avoid problems by first sweeping the floor over which the bleacher system will be rolled. Debris not swept up and rolled over by the bleacher system's wheels will either be pressed onto the floor or rolled up into the wheel housings. Likewise, after an event, make sure that all debris is swept from underneath the bleachers before closing them. It sounds like common sense, but school schedules and demands on custodial staff sometimes make these simple tasks difficult.

Divider Curtains Because they are designed to keep simultaneous activities separate within one gymnasium, divider curtains are expected to take their share of blows from errant balls. But when the softball team brings batting practice indoors, things can start to unravel.

The stitched vertical seams of divider curtains can be repaired in place using a portable carpet-stitching machine or resealed using a strong epoxy. Slits, holes and gashes can be patched by cutting two pieces of vinyl-coated fabric large enough to overlap the entire area and applying them to both sides of the curtain with epoxy. Vinyl-coated fabric comes in many colors and can be purchased in bulk from a fabric or upholstery dealer.

A facility operator's best protection against problems with divider curtains is cooperation from facility users. Instituting bans on using the curtains for team practice drills or creating compromises that involve the use of lighter balls may be enough to sidestep most repairs. Some hazards may be less visible.

One facility operator says the pipe that weighs down one of his curtains began to tear the curtain at its base. Closer inspection revealed that several lengths of pipe had been fitted together with screws, which were working their way through the curtain every time it was raised or lowered. The repair involved removing the damaged sleeve that held the pipe, having the pipe threaded so screws wouldn't be needed to hold sections together, and creating a new sleeve with vinyl-coated fabric.

Basketball Goals Some gym operators impose no-dunking policies in order to keep glass backboards from breaking, but that's no guarantee basketball players who can slam will resist the temptation. In this era of breakaway rims, it is still recommended that every facility with basketball courts store at least one glass backboard as a backup.

The rims themselves can fail, too. Springs responsible for snapping the rim back from a dunk can break, but if the model is one on which the springs are accessible, they can be replaced. Take the broken spring to a local hardware supplier, where it can be used to find a new one of like size and tension. Even net hooks can break. If one is knocked loose from the rim and lost, a replacement can be fashioned out of thin steel rod cut to size, bent into shape with a vise and pliers, welded to the rim, primed and painted.

Wall Padding Whether or not it takes a physical pounding, a facility's wall padding will break down over time. Existing units can be reconditioned by removing them from the wall, removing their covering material and padding, and salvaging the original plywood framework, which sometimes is designed to wrap around concrete wall protrusions. Large sheets of new foam padding can be purchased from an upholstery supplier, cut to size and secured to the wood with small amounts of contact cement. Lay a large enough swatch of vinyl-coated fabric face down on the floor before centering the frame on top of it. Wrap the fabric around the wood and secure with a staple gun.

Cleanly wrapping the corners may require some removal of material with a pair of scissors so that pieces more easily overlap on the back of the plywood. Tears and punctures on sections of wall padding that are otherwise in good condition can be patched using vinylcoated fabric and epoxy.

Cables Vinyl-coated cables in gymnasiums are subject to a lot of stress, be it from the tension created to properly position a volleyball net or to hoist suspended basketball backboards. Over time, they may lose their protective coating and begin to fray, compromising their strength. Lengths of new cable can be spliced into areas subject to extreme wear without adversely affecting the load-bearing properties of the existing spool. This is done using clips purchased at a fastener supplier, inserting an end of the existing cable and one end of the new piece into opposite ends of the clip, and closing the clip using a crimping tool.

Repeat the process on the other end of the new piece to complete the splice. One operator who oversees a field house where tennis classes are conducted replaced the net cable completely with nylon rope purchased at a hardware store. Though perhaps not up to competition standards, the rope can withstand enough tension to buoy the nets during physical education sessions.

Dasher Boards Though a solid body check into the boards of a hockey rink ranks among the most concussive elements of any sport, it's typically not player impact that causes damage to dasher systems. More often, dislodged sections of dasher boards or stripped bolts are the result of a carelessly maneuvered ice resurfacer or forklift carrying sections of a basketball floor during an arena changeover. Rinks that leave the boards in place year-round report experiencing few problems with their dasher systems.

The severity of damage caused by vehicles and faulty reinstallations depends to a large extent on the type of dasher system used. Wood-backed plastic dashers may require a complete dismantling of the affected sections and reconstruction or replacement. Other, more modern dasher systems feature thick plastic backed by aluminum or steel studs. If a section becomes slightly bent from a collision, the studs can often be bent back into shape. This process may require carefully heating the studs first with a blowtorch. Sometimes, simply tightening the connecting bolts provides enough leverage to smooth out any remaining imperfections in a section of dasher boards.

Glass Panels Two types of clear panels typically surround an ice rink atop its dasher boards. However, both Plexiglas and tempered glass can cause problems from a repair and maintenance standpoint. Plexiglas, while more forgiving in instances of player collisions, is softer than tempered glass and tends to scar more easily.

Some rink operators have removed scratches caused by plastic helmets and fiberglass-wrapped sticks by applying a light automotive polish, allowing it to dry and then removing it with a lowspeed buffer. When it comes to removing puck marks and paint residue, only products designed for cleaning Plexiglas should be used. Cleaning solutions containing acetone and other solvents can eat away at Plexiglas, and those containing abrasives will scratch it. Using inappropriate cleaning products leaves Plexiglas not only cloudy in appearance but weakened and vulnerable to a crack originating from the area of application. When a Plexiglas panel breaks, it typically involves one long crack, perhaps from end to end or corner to corner.

The broken section must be removed and replaced with a panel of like size. Plexiglas is relatively light, and new panels can be hoisted above the tops of their grooved supports and slid down into place with minimal delay during a game. The process becomes complicated by the often irregular widths of panels surrounding a given rink system.

A well-prepared facility operator has at least one spare panel of each size in stock. Panels can be cut to size, but a lengthy process involving a fine-toothed saw and perhaps sanding of the edges is necessary to minimize the creation of flaws and the likelihood of future cracks. Torches have even been used to melt the edges of Plexiglas. If a panel breaks during a game, one stopgap measure is to replace it with a piece of plywood, which can be easily cut to size on the spot and slid into place.

Most rink operators find tempered glass easier to maintain than Plexiglas, with marks removable using vinegarand- water mixtures, standard glass cleaners or even scrapers.

Replacement can be more involved, however, due to the fact that tempered glass is much heavier than Plexiglas. And when tempered glass breaks, it shatters into small particles and falls out of its supports, similar to a car windshield. Rink operators must be careful to locate and remove all fallen particles during the cleanup process-not an easy task on ice. Spare Plexiglas or plywood is often used to fill the void until a new piece of tempered glass can be dropped into position.

Hockey Goals The part of a hockey goal most vulnerable to darting pucks and stomping skates is its netting, where tears and cuts are possible. When they occur during a contest, referees take it upon themselves to cinch together the damaged area using shoelaces or twine carried in their pockets. However, it's a good idea for the rink operator to go back and perform a more thorough postgame repair.

Though time-consuming, repairing nets by weaving a new length of twine through the damaged area can buy a couple extra seasons' worth of use. Trim the referee's handiwork off before knotting one end of a length of twine to the intact part of the net at one tip of the damaged area. Next, weave the twine through intact sections of the netting on both sides of the gap, similar to how a single piece of wire does its part to hold together a chain-link fence.

Once the end of the damage is reached, knot the twine to netting that is intact. Always try to use twine that closely matches the gauge of the existing net. Though seen mostly in Europe, drop curtains consisting of a rectangular piece of netting tied to the inner ceiling of the goal toward its rear can help extend the life of a goal net, especially one that has already been repaired. Energy of pucks shot into the goal is spent on the curtain (which can be cut from the scrap of irreparable nets), sparing the outer netting behind it.

Most goal frames are now shaped like the letter "C," with padded interiors that protect players and deaden pucks. However, facilities that still use goals shaped like the number "3," with a metal deflection plate rimming the inner goal at ice level, should be aware of potential dangers. The plate's centered point can become raised and sharpened as the goal is dragged on and off the ice, producing a spear-like hazard. It is recommended that operators remove the plate completely with a cutting torch or update their frames entirely. Though durable in appearance, goal frames of any kind are not immune to wear and tear. Welded areas can become brittle with age and break. Operators should avoid handling frames roughly when maneuvering them.

Heads Up Gyms and arenas serve many purposes, not the least important of which is keeping their users in good physical condition. Individuals who oversee such facilities owe it to users to keep the equipment in their gyms and arenas in good physical condition, also. The frantic action confined to these spaces requires maintenance staff to keep their heads up-inspecting equipment regularly and promptly making repairs-in order to keep operations moving at a healthy pace.

Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
AB Show 2022 in Orlando
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Learn More
AB Show