Find a printable version here
Feature Article - February 2011

From Blueprint to Ballgame

The Ins and Outs of Sports Field Design

By Brian Summerfield


Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the renowned British general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, reportedly said that critical battle was won "on the playing fields of Eton." Whether he actually said it or not, the implication of this now-popular quote is that the greatness of a community, region or nation is tied to the quality of recreation and athletics facilities for its young people.

With that in mind, it's important to ensure that the "playing fields" in your area give youth the opportunity to participate in the sports of their choice safely and properly. This will help them stay physically fit now, and also build strength, discipline and character that will sustain them for years to come. Here are the high-level issues you'll need to consider as you embark on a sports field project.

Getting Started

If you're constructing an entirely new sports field or making a major change or renovation to an existing one, there are a few questions you'll need to answer right off the bat:

  • How much can I spend on the project?
  • Which—and how many—sports does the field need to accommodate?
  • How often will the field be used?
  • How will the unique characteristics of the area (geographic location, urbanization, soil, etc.) impact the design and construction?

These questions, which we'll address in turn, will establish the approach you need to take.

How Much Can I Spend?

Most municipalities and other public and private institutions are under some level of financial strain right now. The economic downturn that began in late 2007 has lingered to the present day, and few see signs of a near-term turnaround in revenues. The bottom line: less—if any—available funding for sports field construction now and for the foreseeable future.

"People are delaying projects," said Jody Gill, grounds coordinator for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., and director-at-large of the Sports Turf Managers Association. "Capital projects are based on property values. Planned projects are usually delayed. If I don't have the funding for a special project, it's not going to get done. We'll keep making that request year after year until it's improved."

That said, the pricing for field design and construction has never been more favorable, and those organizations that can find the money to spend will discover some great values.