Beyond the Surface
Installing New Synthetic Grass Fields
By Jim Dobmeier
To say the new synthetic turf athletic field at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, Fla., is well loved is a bit of an understatement. With 48 teams in multiple sports, Sanchez Field at De la Cruz Stadium is often the center of attention. Installed in 2012, the field is in constant use as home turf to the school's four football teams, five soccer teams and lacrosse team. Throw in the extensive use for the school's summer camp program and there is little downtime.
Knowing the stakes were high when selecting a synthetic turf company to install its new field, Belen Jesuit did its homework and quickly learned that what you see is only the tip of the iceberg. It's easy to get excited by the visual and a multitude of sales promises, but it's the details and what happens after the decision is made and the field installed that tell the whole story behind the field builder selected. For Carlos Barquin, Athletic Director at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, his research process took him deeper than the surface to understand the real investment in buying a synthetic grass field.
"We were evaluating the quality of the fields and the companies behind them. We compared the look, the seams, the color, the infill and how natural the field looked. We were impressed that A-Turf was a smaller company and was able to demonstrate financial stability and excellent service to its customers. We checked a lot of references, and everyone said the same thing about the customer service and the warranty work," Barquin explained.
Barquin's advice to other schools or park districts going through the synthetic turf research process—take the time to understand what you're buying and the company behind it.
Understanding Your Investment
An athletic field is a high-profile, major financial investment, which garners a high level of interest. The easy part of the decision is recognizing the superiority of synthetic vs. natural: Synthetic fields can be used virtually 24/7 with minimal, low-cost maintenance, while the use of natural grass fields must be monitored and limited. Synthetic fields are known for their outstanding playability even in the most extreme weather conditions, while even the best-cared-for natural grass surfaces can be ruined by just one bad weather pattern at the wrong time.
But again, evaluating the difference between synthetic and natural grass is the easy part. It's a bit more challenging to know what to evaluate to truly understand the complete package of your synthetic turf partner. Consider the following:
- Material Components: Ask about the type and quality of fiber(s), infill and optional pad being specified for your system. By understanding and comparing the specifications, you can better evaluate the field's playability and durability.
- System Specification: Ask about how the components are being put together and the volume of each. Some systems with sparse fibers achieve the required total product weight by increasing the volume of infill. Infill is an unstable component, so having too much can cause poor traction for footing.
- Installation Experience: Field building is specialized construction. Check references for quality craftsmanship and to learn if the construction process was smooth and if the field was finished on time.
- Project Management: Construction is a demanding process. Look for a field builder who can demonstrate competency in scheduling, working with various trades, communication and follow-through.
- Contract Administration: Bid forms, contracts, submittals, progress invoicing, scheduling and closeout documents are all crucial administration details. Check references to understand the organization and attention to detail built into the company.
- Site Inspection Process: Because the base is critical to the long-term performance and aesthetics of the field, a sound inspection process from base preparation to turf installation is critical.
- Post-Construction Service: Your new field should last 10 or more years, which means you're hiring a partner, not just a supplier. Check references for ongoing responsiveness, education throughout the life of the field and warranty work.
- Financial Stability: Invest in a company that has staying power. Make sure the partner you hire will be there throughout the life of your field. Research the ownership, management and financial strength before you ever sign on the dotted line.
Asking the right questions will help ensure you get the right field for your athletes and the right field builder for your project. For Belen Jesuit, knowing it needed a new field that could stand strong under continual usage and withstand the rainy, hot weather was a given. Doing the research and site visits provided Carlos Barquin the clarity to allow him to proceed with confidence.
"When you're making this type of sizeable investment, you want to make sure you are getting the best dollar value and the best possible field available. The more we compared turf companies, the more we were convinced we were making the best choice. Besides having the best turf system, [they are] deliberate about the number of fields [they build] a year, so they can focus on customer satisfaction and not mass production. Their financial stability and excellent financial history and backing completed the story behind the company."
The story doesn't end here for Belen Jesuit. Riding high on the heels of satisfaction, the school is now planning for a second field on its campus. The new field, a gift from a valued donor, will serve as the school's practice field.