Feature Article - October 2002
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Field Guides

From brand-new or converted complexes to parent-proof fields, a look at the latest in sports field design

By Mitch Martin


The overall design themes were meant to celebrate sports and play, and—at the same time—provide context to the site so it would feel like a real place, a destination.

By leaving the cottonwoods in place and putting a 5.5-acre pond in the center of the site, the complex is almost as much park as field. Around the pond, the facility has large areas for passive use, which is rather unusual for a sports complex.

Each cluster of fields has a unique concessions-and-support building at its center. Designed by the Denver-based firm of Brendle APV, the buildings are hallmarked by large trellis overhangs to provide shading and signage framework. The unique design helps unify the sprawling fields, Smith says.

PHOTOS COURTESY AND COPYRIGHT OF THORNEY LEIBERMAN

The great size of the Aurora sports park enables it to rotate its soccer fields almost like a farmer rotates his or her crops. The soccer fields, which are also multipurpose, can be rotated 90 degrees to change wear patterns and move heavy-wear spots. The plan is to rotate the fields at the beginning of each season, Smith says.

"Most of our old fields sprouted up on a case-by-case basis," Barrett says. "It will be nice to have fields that can really last through the season."

The park is designed to have excellent parking and access. A looping road system winds through the complex with parking near each set of fields, instead of one large expanse of concrete.

"It also makes things easier for disabled patrons," Barrett says. "They should almost be able to watch a game from the comfort of their own car."

Much of the near-site parking was accomplished by putting the spaces at a 15-degree angle along the roadway. In addition to making parking close, the increased parking activity along the roadway should help slow down drivers.

The 5.5-acre irrigation pond is central to the environmental friendliness of the project, Smith says. During operations, the pond will be filled with treated but not potable City of Denver sewer water. The water will be used to irrigate all the playing fields in the complex.

PHOTOS COURTESY AND COPYRIGHT OF THORNEY LEIBERMAN

The irrigation set-up is made possible by the extremely sandy soils on site. Sandy subsoil are one of the best natural water filters, cleansing the irrigation water before it returns to the water table.

"We are suffering drought conditions this summer, and the fact that we are using water in this way is critical to the community acceptance of the project," Smith says. "It's definitely a touchy issue here."

Aurora Parks & Open Space Department believes it will have a one-of-a-kind sports complex after a three-year development process. A fairly short development time, but public parks departments are always under pressure to show tangible results of a bond referendum in short order. Barrett believes the main lesson he has learned from the project is plan, plan, and plan.

"I would tell others that it is always to your benefit to resist the temptation to eliminate a step in your review process in order to keep a project moving," Barrett says.

The Big Mistakes

As the co-author of two books on sports field design, Jim Puhalla thinks there are two major mistakes he sees repeatedly in existing sports complexes. The first involves parking and access.

"Early in the life of a project, designers should make sure each field has good access, for players, spectators, ambulances, and vehicles that will be used in renovation and maintenance," he says.

Too often, designers pressured to add a little extra playing surface, design complexes in such a way that people are forced to walk over other fields or long distances. This increases wear on all the fields, and vehicles may be forced to drive over playing surfaces to renovate or maintain other facilities.

"It's probably the biggest mistake I see again and again in existing complexes," Puhalla says.

The second biggest mistake relates to grading and drainage, which are obvious factors in designing good sports fields, but they remain a common mistake, Puhalla says. He says one major design key is that each field should be isolated as its own drainage unit.

"Each field should only have to take its own water," Puhalla says. "It should never have water from other fields or from areas outside the playing surfaces."

A field should be constructed so it has its own drainage, so it's not overwhelmed by its own and another field's water.