Guest Column - November 2004
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Cracking Courts

The major cause of court deterioration and how to solve it

By Chris Rossi

After years of constructing athletic and play courts—from tennis, basketball, volleyball to multipurpose and multiplay areas and inline hockey rinks—the park and recreation industry is now faced with courts that are cracked and deteriorating. Why are these courts cracking, how are they deteriorating and what solutions are available to solve these problems?

The vast majority of these courts, a conservative estimate of more than 97 percent, are properly constructed. They simply are suffering from the effects of aging. These types of courts are constructed of a stone base and typically an asphalt deck, with some constructed with a concrete deck. By far the greatest problem with courts such as these is cracking. Cracking is not only unsightly but creates a costly maintenance problem as the cracks develop and deteriorate. Cracking can occur as a result of several conditions, provided the deck is properly constructed.

Essentially, a crack begins as a minute fissure in the asphalt or concrete deck that when exposed to expansion and contraction, ground movement and settling, as well as weatherization causes the fissure to grow, eventually developing into a crack. Expansion and contraction create tremendous stress on a court. A typical court, on a sunny day, with the average temperature at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, can reach surfaces temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. During the night, once the sun has set and the temperature subsides, the surface temperature of the court can drop to 60 degrees or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a swing of 70 degrees to 80 degrees. That type of scenario—and worse with higher daytime temperatures and lower nighttime temperatures, as well as colder swings in the winter—occurs every day. Ground movement and settling cause cracks to develop as the court moves or settles beyond the capacity of the asphalt or concrete deck to remain intact, thus a fissure forms that eventually develops into a crack.

These two factors cause cracks to develop. Weatherization is what causes cracks to worsen and to eventually deteriorate the court sub-base. Water, in the form of rain, flows into these fissures and cracks and erodes the asphalt and concrete binders that hold the aggregates in the asphalt and concrete deck together. As the aggregate loosens and washes away, the crack grows and deteriorates further. As more and more water runs through the crack, the sub-base is also washed away, deteriorating the sub-base and eventually causing the court deck to fail. If the court is in a freeze-thaw area, crack growth and deterioration is greatly exacerbated.

Once a crack develops, there is no proper method for preventing that crack from worsening. If cracks are allowed to deteriorate, eventually total reconstruction of the asphalt or concrete deck will be necessary. The athletic and play court construction and repair industry understands this more than ever before. Once a crack has developed, it is not possible to remove or eliminate that crack. Additionally, once one crack has developed, the likelihood is that that crack will worsen and more cracks will develop. Thousands of hours of research and tens of thousands of dollars have been spent to develop products and systems to prevent costly total reconstruction of these asphalt and concrete decks.