Feature Article - February 2020
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Field Goals

Making Multi-Use, Multi-Sports Fields Work

By Joe Bush

"A lot of things I'm doing I've stolen from other people," he said. "There aren't a lot of secrets. We're dealing with less-than-perfect situations because that's the nature of our budgets. Almost everything I've done I've gotten a piece of it from someone else.

"For me a lot of it is trying to work with local coaches and athletic directors to share what we're doing. Our players have to play on their fields too and I want to go somewhere that's safe and playable as much as I want them to play on our safe and playable surface."

Moran said even though his school doesn't have any synthetic surfaces, he's not sure he'd prefer their less intensive management because his system for natural turf is working so well. For those with synthetic turf fields, and those considering them, today's care makes use of a mix of the old and the new.

Darren Gill, senior vice president of marketing and innovation for a synthetic turf company headquartered in Montreal, said the foundation for maintaining and even lengthening the life of the fields is the BARS approach: Brushing, Aerating, Raking and Sweeping.

Gill said brushing redistributes the infill, aerating and raking are to fluff or rejuvenate to soften up the surface, and sweeping removes debris from the top.

"Visually, sweeping is most important," Gill said. "The rest are for performance."

His company provides manuals and videos to help clients, and because of its global business and local partners, it can either directly or indirectly provide crews for hands-on deep cleaning and repair. Maintenance equipment has improved over the years as well, Gill said, as has research and overall understanding of synthetic surface needs.

"It's better today than it certainly ever has been," Gill said. "We continue to see our clients are t

One of the crucial tools for this improvement is knowledge, and not just in research. Just as Moran had to understand how coaches' practice habits were affecting fields, the synthetic turf industry has moved toward deeper div

es into how its fields are reacting to today's increased multi-use wear and tear.

The BARS system is general, as is the cycle of every four to six weeks for using those steps. Of course, not every organization with synthetic fields handles the same load; some are sports only, some a mix of sports and entertainment and other events, and some have more sports than others.

"We're trying to build intelligence for our clients in terms of what (four to six weeks) means," said Gill. "So instead of linking it to a timeframe, we can link to activity and also understanding the wear patterns on their own fields. What we see in some cases is certain areas of fields are highly used versus others.

"Typically we see the area closest to the field access, the on-off areas, are used the most. What we try to do is educate our clients that if they always use one area of the field that area will get worn faster. You see that carpet pattern in most offices, where most people are walking that area will get worn faster, and our fields react similarly."

Last year the company began offering a monitoring and alert system originally designed for natural turf. The setup is simple: Two sensors per field are attached to light poles for the height and electricity necessary. Each set of two sensors, good for a rectangular field of 80,000 to 95,000 square feet, costs $20,000, Gill said. The sensors can generate heat and usage maps, but that's not all.

Gill said the information not only tells operators how, how often, how long and where the field is being used, the system uses the information to make recommendations to operators on maintenance tactics and scheduling and sends alerts for execution. The equipment used for maintenance can be registered with the system so that it can recognize them and the work they do.

"We're just trying to give them alerts that it's time to rotate—'Instead of using this end of the field, the west side, go to the east side,' or vice versa," said Gill. "So we're trying to use this analytic data to help them understand what those four to six weeks should really mean to them. In some cases, fields are actually underused, and not used as much as our clients think they are, so those four to six weeks can extend past that six weeks so what we also want to do is be sure our clients aren't over-maintaining their fields and that they're maintaining properly."

Yes, you can actually care for a synthetic field too much, Gill said. It is ideal for the infill to settle, he said, and aggressive raking can prevent or retard this process.

Other benefits include surface temperature alerts, so use can be delayed or postponed and cooling methods can begin; data to show stakeholders like taxpayers or accounting departments the field or fields are being used according to plan; and with a multiple fields client, each field can have a customized maintenance plan.

"Before, there would just be a rotation," Gill said. "Now, higher-use fields get more maintenance and lower-use fields get less."