Feature Article - October 2012
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Maintenance & Operations: Synthetic Turf

Beyond the Basics
Synthetic Turf Fields Have Come a Long Way

By Tammy York

While football and baseball might be thought of as the popular sports, some 5.3 million college students participate in intramural sports. "The National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association stated that between 2008 and 2013, there would be over $4 billion in recreation sports construction, with 96 new construction and 62 expansion projects," Britton said. "The average price is $21 million per project."

Many projects turn into multi-build projects such as the ones at Texas A&M, University of Tennessee and OSU, where universities add square footage to accommodate more athletic programs and get maximum use out of those areas.

Intramurals can include such sports as football, soccer, lacrosse, flag football and more. Most intramural fields are built to a standard size and divided into what is needed. The size of the field can be modified to accommodate different games, which might not need a full-sized field such as flag football.

"It is important to know your demographics to understand what type of field you need," said Darren Gill, vice president of marketing with a synthetic turf manufacturer. "It is important that synthetic turf meets your needs, including skill levels and category of sports being played on the field."

For example, a pile height of the synthetic turf for contact sports is 2.5 inches with heavy weight infill for college and NFL football, whereas a non-contact soccer field for Major League Soccer, high school or college can be a pile height of 2 inches with less infill.

"By taking the time to do a study and see what you need, you will get a better facility with the best use for all the participants," Squires said. "Keep the intramural field safe by using the same shock attenuation levels as on a football field in a stadium."

It is important that the field be stable and feel the same throughout the entire field underneath the athlete's foot. No matter what their application, fields must have a consistent G-Max value, a measurement that demonstrates the shock-absorbing properties of the surface. To ensure safety, you should have your field's G-Max levels retested on a regular basis.

"If a field has a G-Max value of 200 then it is deemed to be at a level that clients should consider field replacement or remediation," Gill said. "We have 7,000 fields, and less than 10 percent are tested on a regular basis."

One of the issues in the marketplace is field owners do not always maintain their fields properly. Not performing regular third-party testing of the field can result in rising G-Max values and the possibility of serious injuries.

Pay to Play

Another growing trend in recreation is "pay to play" fields. Revenue generation is the driving force, and the greater the number of days the fields can be open for use, the higher the revenue for the field's owner.

"Communities with large soccer complexes and baseball complexes where they host tournaments can generate revenue to subsidize the complexes," Squires said. "The tournaments are designed to bring in a lot of people to the community and with them tourism dollars for hotels, restaurants and entertainment."

This can be a huge boon for park districts looking to generate more revenue to support additional programs and services.

"Parks and recreation is converting to artificial turf because of the return on investment," Gill said. "They are making sure that their dollars are working for them. Artificial turf products have become more affordable, making it easier to see the ROI since the fields can be played on virtually around the clock year-round."

Most parks can justify costs of the artificial turf because of the increase in usage.