Feature Article - July 2007
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports & Recreation Surfaces

By Dana Carman


Cost factors into all of our decisions, so before building a new track or renovating an existing one, some preliminary work will help nail down that budget.

When facilities are interested in renovating an existing track, Don Paige, president and owner of track and field design firm Paige Design Group, suggests surveying the current track to confirm that it is currently in compliance with NCAA rules and regulations. Depending on the age of the facility, some geotechnical work should also be undertaken. This involves taking one to three feet of soil borings to check the quality, thickness and integrity of the sub-base. Over time, things under the track can change, such as asphalt falling apart or the water table rising. Knowing what's going on in around and under your current track will also help make the decision to renovate that track or build a new one.

Building a new one, though, isn't as easy as just picking a spot and running with it (no pun intended). Paige suggested a feasibility study in which a track and field professional can help the facility identify the best site for the new track.

"Site dictates so much of the cost," Paige said. "Once you identify the site, you can also identify the infrastructure that goes into and around the track."

At present, Paige has 29 track and field projects in the works, so he is very familiar with the ins and outs of building a new track—not only as a track designer, but also as an athlete. He was on the 1980 Olympic Team and is a six-time NCAA champion.

Paige pointed out that infrastructure can be a huge part of the project and therefore the cost. For example, if you're building bleachers, you need to build bathrooms. With bathrooms comes the need for sewers and water. If you're intending to have spectators, parking will be necessary and road access into that parking lot will also be needed.

"If the study is done properly," Paige said, "it will help track coaches and athletic directors think through all the ramifications of that site and provide a schematic and conceptual layout of the site. They should have the planner fully design the facility, five years, 10 years down the road. Draw it on there now because all of that infrastructure should be on there from the beginning."

Along with that, the location of the field events should also be determined. The infield is an obvious choice, but in addition to field events, many facilities allow other sports to utilize the infield, such as football or soccer. The slope of that infield affects the throwing implements, and the size of the rectangular infield will help establish the radius of the track oval, which is why some may be wider or narrower than other tracks. The radius of the track oval isn't regulated by the NCAA—only the track distance, which must be 400 meters.

Once the initial planning is done, you can focus on what you want to see on the track. Gone are the cinder and asphalt-topped tracks of yesteryear, replaced with polyurethane and rubber products. A solid track surface should meet the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) standards for force reduction and friction (no potential slip), among other characteristics. The track should provide resilience so that it's not like running on concrete, but it's not like running on sand, either.

There are essentially two types of surfaces: polyurethane and rubber. There are then three basic systems of polyurethane products: basemat with structural spray, sandwich system and a full-pour polyurethane.

A basemat is made up of SBR rubber granules (made from ground-up rubber tires) laid down at about a half-inch of thickness and bound together by polyurethane. A pigmented structural spray is then applied on top in two applications: one clockwise and one counterclockwise. Last, the lines are painted down. This type of system can range from $25 to $30 per square yard installed.