Guest Column - May 2007
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Grounds Decisions

Investing in a synthetic athletic field

By Jim Dobmeier

What steps can be taken to ensure a sound decision?

Hire an experienced firm (architect, engineer or consultant) that has worked on a number of synthetic field projects that had a similar scope of work. Try to find a firm that has worked with several different synthetic turf builders so they have a basis for comparison.

In conjunction with this firm, emphasize the importance of sound base construction through the specification and the experience requirements for those who will eventually build the base. Crushed stone is almost always specified these days—be sure planarity, porosity and compaction are addressed. The final product will only be as good as the base on which it is constructed.

When evaluating turf builders, allow ample time for presentation, questions and answers. All too often, too little time is scheduled. Two hours per company will save time in the long run. Here are some further suggestions:

Provide a list of questions and topics in advance for each company to address.

Allow questions and answers after this portion.

Next, ask the company to bring up other factors that might not have been addressed by the submitted questions and topics.

Excuse the presenting company from the room and talk among the committee to address anything that needs further clarification. Be prepared to formulate tough questions and concerns.

Invite the presenting company back in to address what the committee came up with.

Be sure there is a central note-taker in the group, someone who is not responsible for the decision, but just getting the facts on paper.

Meet again as a committee the next day when the presentation is still fresh.

Two thorough days spent evaluating companies will save time on the project in the long run and ensure the right companies and systems are specified.

Have those who are oriented toward administration and accounting duties scrutinize the long-term viability and strength of the company. Audited financials, insurance certificates and policies, tax compliance and the like are excellent tools.

Follow up by contacting clients on the company's reference list. Ask the company to point out projects that presented major challenges and explain how they were handled. (If they say they don't have any such clients, run the other way as fast as you can.)

Apply common sense throughout the process. If something just doesn't seem to make sense, try to explore the subject further. You will not only reveal the correct answer, but also might expose a way of doing business that's not in the best interest of the school or community.

Lastly, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Smart buying is all about value—getting the most for your dollar. There is always latitude to choose on more than just price. Establish your position up front by systematically educating yourself and writing a strong specification, and demand that those who bid are held to it.

Remember, long after the installation crew has departed and the articles in the local newspaper are all but forgotten, what remains are the components that make up the surface and the company that stands behind it. That's what the athletes play on and the administrators have invested in. Take the time to choose your synthetic field partner wisely.


Jim Dobmeier is founder and president of A-Turf Inc. For more information, visit