Feature Article - February 2011
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From Blueprint to Ballgame

The Ins and Outs of Sports Field Design

By Brian Summerfield


Grass

If you're dealing with a natural surface, then what grass you select and how you maintain it is of the utmost importance. Once you've determined that you have the proper nutrient and composition mix via soil testing, it's time to lay down some turf.

Your climate should determine which grasses you pick. If you're in an area that tends to have longer winters and shorter summers, you'll probably want a blend of Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue. In regions where it tends to be hot and sunny throughout the year, your best bet is bermudagrass.

(Side note: If you're in the U.S. Sunbelt and your field will be used mostly in daylight, you may be better off choosing natural grass over synthetic turf, which augments heat and can create sweltering conditions.)

And if your area falls between one of those two extremes, you should consider combining cold-weather grasses and more hardy varieties of bermudagrass.

After planting, you'll want to keep the surface at the length that the sports dictate—but be sure not to cut it too short, as overcutting can damage or destroy the grass. Also, you should regularly test the plant tissue to make sure the grass is getting the right nutrient mix.

Surrounding Area

Another critical consideration is the environment immediately around the site. Are there features near the field that will have an impact on what you can build, and where?

If it's in a densely populated or highly developed area, will you have room for parking and ancillary facilities such as a fieldhouse or vending stations? Will you be able to install lighting for night games? What about local traffic patterns—could they hamper access to the field or cause unwanted distractions for athletes and fans alike?

Also, consider the environmental implications of your proposal: Are there any wetlands or bodies of water around the field that could be negatively affected by your project? Conversely, could these features cause flooding or underground water saturation of your field? Additionally, what kinds of sports will be played on the field? Could wind patterns and the position of the sun at certain times of the day have an adverse impact on the games?

A further complication related to the location of the field is the paperwork. You should be prepared to file multiple permits and pay filing fees for each one.

"If you can obtain permits before you begin the project, that's great. A good design firm is going to be able to help you with that stuff," Gill said.

In summation, there is quite a bit involved in what—to the untrained eye—would seem to be a simple and straightforward project. Depending on how quickly you can select a design company and file all of the necessary permits, as well as whether you are doing a fresh build or a renovation, you can expect the project to take between six months to a year, Nardone said.

"It is valuable for folks to have an understanding of this process," he said. "It's not simply sending out the bulldozer and rolling out some turf."