Feature Article - February 2011
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From Blueprint to Ballgame

The Ins and Outs of Sports Field Design

By Brian Summerfield

"When the economy first hit the skids, institutions hit the brakes," said David Nardone, a senior associate and one of the leaders of the sports group of Stantec, a company that provides design services and consulting for engineering and architectural projects. "But since the last half of 2010, there's an attitude of 'Let's take advantage of this market.' It's never going to be cheaper than it is now."

"If you've got a project that you requested last year, that [cost] should be lower this year," Gill acknowledged. "So yes, construction costs are lower right now, but you've still got to have the dollars to pay for it."

Whether the market is up, down or sideways, though, the people who make spending decisions on sports field projects can control costs by picking the right design firm, Gill said.

"The design firm is one of the most critical parts of the process," he explained. "It starts with good design. Quality project management is another one. Are the design folks going to be on site, and how often? On a big project, even if they're a thousand miles away, they should have someone on the site. Someone who's experienced can deal with problems that come up quickly. If you have a problem that comes up that requires the project to shut down for days, then your costs go up.

"If you're going to build a field, no matter what the economic situation is, it's important to have experience. If you hire someone with no experience in an attempt to cut costs, then you're going to end up spending a lot more. What do you do when you hire a new employee? You do reference checks, look at past performance and so forth. It's sad to see when institutions don't do that for contractors."

Should pricing resolve whether you pick natural grass or artificial turf for your field? Perhaps, but it probably shouldn't be the determining factor here. All things considered, the difference in cost between the two is negligible, Gill said. You will definitely spend more up front with a synthetic surface, he added.

"Synthetic turf requires a much more precise design and much more careful thought," Gill said. "You're putting a million-dollar product on a two-acre space. If something happens to the earth beneath it, it could cost a lot more money. Natural grass is a little more forgiving in that respect. You can always add more to the top."

However, the time and money put into maintenance of a grass field is significantly higher than non-natural surfaces, he said. "You're not fertilizing, you're not mowing. That's not to say there is no maintenance for the synthetic turf," he explained. "You're painting, vacuuming and doing other light grooming."

One other cost you have to consider with synthetic turf is the eventual replacement of the field. "These things don't last forever," Gill said. "You will need to buy and install a new carpeting and rubber."

Depending on the quality of the product and wear and tear from usage, this will need to be done every 10 to 15 years. Gill said you can expect to pay about 40 to 50 percent of the initial purchase and installation cost for a replacement project.