Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports & Recreation Surfaces

By Dana Carman

hen you're shopping for a new car, there's a lot of thought that goes into your final decision. Sure, there's lust at first sight: A shiny, brand-new luxury vehicle or sleek little sports car is appealing, but you can't base your decision only on the way it looks. You want to get in it, test-drive it, make sure the safety features are solid, check out the gas mileage and, most of all, make sure it will last you a long, long time.

After you buy your car, you want to protect your new investment. After all, who wants to put all that money in up front only to have to make continual, additional investments over the vehicle's lifetime? So you keep it clean, put the right gas in it, perform the required maintenance, let it warm up in the winter, take it easy on those brakes and drive it safely. Provided you do everything you can to keep it running properly, your car should last as long as you hoped it would with little additional cost. In other words, it meets all your needs.

It may not seem like the same thing, but choosing the right surface for your sports field, gymnasium, fitness facility or playground is very similar. Sure, there are shiny and sleek products on the market that may work for you, but the real test is making sure you're getting not only what you paid for, but a product that will last. The real test of any surface is the test of time for your particular needs. "How much use will the surface get?" and "What kind of use?" are two important first questions to answer. Obviously budget is a factor, but one that should be carefully thought through. Up-front, capital costs alone do not define the budget of the lifespan of a surface. Surfaces, like cars, are not designed to last forever, and maintenance and additional expenses should always be expected.

The options and considerations may seem overwhelming, but like any large purchase, be it a new floor in your home or a new swimming pool in your back yard, the key is to start by defining your facility's and your patrons' specific needs. A little research and a lot of careful planning can ensure you get the most play out of your surface.


Remember the muddy grass fields of our youth? Communities generally have more teams and players than fields, creating a field deficit that can turn natural grass fields into natural dirt fields. The situation has many facilities turning toward synthetic turf as a way to get that natural grass feel with year-round playability and less maintenance.

Synthetic turf has come a long way since the first turf carpets of days gone by. Synthetic fiber grass blades and rubber and sand granule infill combinations are now used to closely mimic the look and feel of natural grass.

While it may start to sound like a broken record, defining your field needs is the first step to deciding what works best for your facility. Field managers and those charged with replacing fields can begin by answering some key questions. According to landscape architect and president of Geller Sport, Patrick Maguire, some of those questions are: "What sports will be played? How intensely will the field be used? What is the threshold for the condition of the field? Should it be in tip-top condition, or are less-than-ideal conditions acceptable? How much money is there for the initial expense (capital construction)? How much money and manpower will be dedicated to long-term maintenance?"

The Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia understood its needs as well as its maintenance capacity when it recently undertook a large synthetic field development program. Starting back in November 2006, the Fairfax County Park Authority began converting up to 12 existing natural turf fields into synthetic turf fields.

All Fibers Are Not Created Equal

On the market today, there are two basic types of synthetic turf fibers: monofilament and slit-film. Monofilament fibers are single strands bunched together while slit-film is slit in a honeycomb type of pattern. According to Jim Dobmeier, president and founder of a synthetic turf company, the monofilament fibers don't break down the same way the slit-film fibers do but the slit-film has more stability for infield movement as the way it is patterned helps it interlock with the infill better.

After conducting an assessment study based on the teams and amount of play the county offered, it was discovered that the county had a shortage of 90 rectangular fields. According to Public Information Officer Judy Pedersen, that number created a very daunting prospect from a financial perspective. As part of a larger park bond that also addresses land acquisition and trail development, $10 million was earmarked for the field conversion, which is well under way. Four fields were fully completed and in play at press time, while four more fields are slated to be ready to use in mid-July.

Deb Garris, manager for artificial turf fields in the planning division of the Fairfax County Park Authority, is very happy with the decision to convert the fields from natural grass to synthetic turf.

"We get 62 percent more play with these fields," she said. "We have virtually an all-weather playing field and very few cancellations. And these fields are lit from morning until 10 or 11 p.m. at night."

Garris is also pleased with the maintenance of the synthetic turf versus grass fields. "With natural turf, early spring comes and we're out on the fields trying to grow grass, fill in divots, fill in worn areas and irrigate fields while teams want to get on them," she explained. "What the synthetic has afforded us is a much lower maintenance program. There's no irrigation system needed and no requirement for pesticides or fertilizers, which is great for the mission of the Park Authority. We go in every few weeks and groom the infield mix, and that's it."

Like many other communities and schools that are implementing synthetic turf fields, Fairfax County Park Authority has lined the fields for multi-sport play. In Fairfax County, there are roughly 120,000 to 200,000 players registered for sports that play on those fields each year, so the Park Authority had to find the right balance of which lines are tufted into the infield mix and which are marked for secondary play, where the lines can be added on as needed.

The success of the field conversion thus far has created buzz in the community, and the Fairfax County Park Authority is working with the school system to implement synthetic fields at the high schools as well. Garris estimates that another bond program in 2008 will allow expansion of the program within the parks.

"Sixty-two percent increased capacity is too good a figure to ignore," Garris explained.

While lower maintenance has been touted as one of the big reasons some are converting to synthetic turf, it's important to note that synthetic turf is not maintenance-free, and depending on the level of play, the maintenance may require more effort than you expect.

Mike Andresen, president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and athletic grounds manager for Iowa State University, said he was surprised by how much maintenance his synthetic turf football field requires. The grass blades tend to lie over after a game so they require grooming to bring them back up. Additionally the infill requires fluffing. If trash from the stands lands on the fields, picking it up isn't as easy as on other fields, because using a mechanical sweep will also sweep up the infill. If the fields aren't marked using the turf itself, then lines need to be repainted on a regular basis.

"Those are items you generally don't plan on doing, but you should plan on them," Andresen said. He also noted another issue that grounds managers and other facility directors do not always plan for—heat.

According to the STMA's "A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields," high field temperatures may be experienced on synthetic turf fields. The guide cites a study published in the Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation that showed "surface temperatures of as much as 95 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit higher on synthetic turf than natural turfgrass when exposed to sunlight."

Additionally, high humidity can cause a high heat index, which can raise the surface temperature. The high surface temperatures can create heat-related health and safety issues. Watering the field prior to using it may help lower the surface temperature, but Andresen cautions against thinking that using water is a magic bullet. The STMA recommends considering alteration of the game schedule as well as working with turf managers to implement techniques to reduce the temperature of the field.

Natural turf, on the other hand, is a temperature reducer. A study published by the United States Golf Association showed that natural grass actually keeps areas cooler on hot days, with the temperature of the grass rarely rising above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of air temperature.

For Andresen, maintenance issues are not the real deciding factor when it comes to choosing between natural turf and synthetic.

"Overuse is the number-one factor in determining field type," he said. "It is a fact that there are only a certain number of games that a grass field can take, and there are going to be more games than that scheduled. Artificial turf fields are driven by overuse. A well-maintained natural grass field is the preferred playing surface."

Maguire agrees that most studies would show that natural turf is and always will be the preferred surface, but that to truly achieve that "well-maintained" moniker is no easy task. Space is an issue. No natural grass field can withstand constant abuse, so having more than one field is a necessity.

Cost is certainly also a factor when considering natural grass versus synthetic turf. The initial costs of implementing a synthetic turf field may be higher than building a grass field, but in most cases the maintenance costs are reversed—with higher maintenance costs for natural turf fields.

The More You Know

When it comes to choosing the right turf, it's imperative to be in the know. The Sports Turf Managers Association (www.stma.org) has several handy resources available on its Web site. "A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields" is an overview of some of the differences between the types of turf and things field managers should consider. You can also find a series of advisory bulletins on the site, such as "Determining the Right Sports Field for Your Athletes" and "What works best for building your sports field?"

The current generation of synthetic turf products is relatively young, with experts in the field estimating it at about 10 years old with the first installations in 1998 or 1999 and with a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. Using that math, it's easy to see that there aren't too many of these fields that have reached the end of their life expectancy yet. Thus, there's still one factor that's relatively unknown: What happens at the end of a field's life?

Andresen points out that the fields will eventually need to be replaced as constant use will still wear out a field, regardless of its material. Also, the rubber and sand granules used as infill are often walked off the field on the players' shoes, and the grass fibers eventually do break down.

According to Jim Dobmeier, president and founder of a synthetic turf manufacturer and installer, when a synthetic turf field reaches the end of its life, what's underneath the turf itself should last for three generations of synthetics, or 25 years, and that only the turf and up (fibers, backing and infill) would need to be replaced. However, he added that because of the youth of these fields, what most people are just now trying to figure out as their fields are aging is how to dispose of the synthetic fibers, backing and infill and what exactly that entails.

With any field surface, issues are bound to arise. The goal for any field installation should be to achieve maximum playability within the budget and space limitations.

Click to Learn

The Internet offers educational opportunities at your fingertips. In addition to talking to people in your industry who may be using products you're interested in, check manufacturers' Web sites for more information, as well as some of the resources listed below:

  • American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), formerly called the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association, is a national organization for builders, designers and suppliers of materials for tennis courts, running tracks, synthetic turf fields, and indoor and outdoor synthetic sports surfaces. The Web site features technical information, planning and building guides, and a database of designers, builders and manufacturers. Visit www.sportsbuilders.org.
  • The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) is a nonprofit trade association for manufacturers of playground equipment and surfacing. IPEMA offers third-party product certification services and recently launched a Web site to help improve the quality and quantity of children's play and playgrounds (www.voiceofplay.com). Visit www.ipema.org.
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, which can be found on its Web site along with other safety guidelines. Visit www.cpsc.gov.
  • The Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry offers regulatory information as well as health and safety tips in several different languages. Visit www.polyurethane.org.
  • The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) offers safety statistics, research, guidelines and overviews of state regulations in regard to playground safety. Visit www.playgroundsafety.org.
  • The Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association Inc. offers information on safety, performance and maintenance issues; installation guidelines, grade standards, maintenance recommendations and specifications for athletic flooring sealers and finishes. Visit www.maplefloor.org.
  • Turfgrass Producers International works toward advancing the turfgrass sod industry. The resources section of the Web site features information from a natural grass point of view. Visit www.turfgrasssod.org.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association, www.ncaa.org, and the International Association of Athletics Federations, www.iaaf.org, can provide information on track and field specifications.
  • The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is a standards development organization. Standards information can be found on the site including information on the ASTM F1292-04 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment and F1951-99 Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment. Visit www.astm.org.
  • The Climbing Wall Association (CWA) is a nonprofit trade association created to support the development of the climbing wall industry, promote climbing and advocate for its members. The site includes standards for the design and engineering of manufactured climbing structures and operational standards for climbing facilities. Visit www.climbingwallindustry.org.


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.

The sandwich system is exactly what it sounds like: three layers with the same black SBR granule basemat on the bottom, which is then sealed with polyurethane to make the surface nonporous (the basemat system is a porous surface). The whole thing is finished off with a top layer of specially formulated polyurethane into which EPDM granules have been embedded or encapsulated before curing. This system can range from $45 to $50 per square yard installed.

Lastly, the full-pour polyurethane system is a layering system of poured-in-place liquid polyurethane, which is also nonporous. This system is the most expensive of the three and, according to Paige, the better of them.

"This system bonds to the asphalt the best because the liquid grabs onto the pores in the asphalt," Paige said. "The better bond you have, the less chance you'll have of delamination."

Paige also noted that this system allows for ease in resurfacing down the line, while the other two systems would require the basemat to be pulled up and a new surface to be put down. In this case, the up-front cost may be higher (the full-pour system can cost in the area of $60 per square yard), but the maintenance over its lifespan would be more minimal compared to the other two systems.

When it comes to rubber products, there's primarily just one type. It's a prefabricated product that rolls right on down and around the curve of the track and is glued on with a polyurethane adhesive. The rolls are as wide as the lanes of the track, and the seams fall under the 2-inch painted lines.

According to Paige, the polyurethane tracks are the more widely used products, though the answer as to why that is would vary.

"Track and field coaches have preferences like anyone else about products they like and don't like," he explained. "They train and compete on these different products every week. There are also perceptions in the marketplace. Perceptions aren't always true, but they are reality. Perception is a big thing in athletics."

Paige noted that most of the polyurethane and rubber products on the market today have been approved using the same IAAF standards, so scientifically speaking, one has not been proven to be better than the other. Therefore, it's important to Paige that track and field designers provide educational information to users so they can make a truly informed decision on what will work best for their needs.

In addition to the IAAF standards, tracks also must adhere to NCAA rules and regulations, which are strict guidelines as to the slope of the track. From the outside running lane to the inside running lane, the slope cannot exceed 1 percent or one in 100. That's pretty tough, but there's a tougher tolerance yet. The downhill slope, whether on a runway or for any field event, cannot exceed 0.1 percent or one in 1,000. Paige recommends facility managers purchase the NCAA rulebook to ensure their facilities are in compliance with these requirements.

The time of year you want construction to commence on your new track is also something you should plan for in advance. The majority of all tracks are put in between May and September. However, if you're in a climate that is warmer year-round, consider winter track construction as crews may have more free time and pricing may work to your advantage. Also consider the rain patterns in your part of the country as rain and polyurethane just don't mix, according to Paige. Weather can definitely affect the project timeframe, so it's important to budget not only costs but also time to complete construction.


Most of the tennis courts you'll find in the United States today are known as hard courts, which are made with a concrete or asphalt base (typically built on top of a compacted crushed stone sub-base) overlaid with layers of acrylic mixed with rubber or latex particles to create some cushion. Sand is also a component of the mix, and varying the size and amount of the sand particles can vary the speed of the court.

According to Lee Murray, co-owner of Competition Athletic Surfaces Inc., a company that builds, resurfaces and repairs tennis courts across the Southeast, some manufacturers have also experimented with inserting a cushioned pad under the acrylic surface to provide the cushion, but the tried-and-true method of mixing rubber particles into the acrylic layers is the most common.

The more cushion to the court, the slower the play. Adjustments can be made to the court surface to accommodate the type and level of players who will be the main users of your facility. If the players are primarily older and more recreational, a slower, more cushioned court may be favorable. If the court is for a high school, a faster game is more desired.

On the market now are also some rubber sheet goods with a top coating, but Murray said those products are not yet fully accepted by the tennis community as there are still some kinks to be worked out, mainly in how the surface plays.

Problems can lurk under the surface, causing court damage if you're not careful. Michael DiNatale, principal and construction manager of All American Sports Group, said that time, money and attention need to be spent on the sub-base.

"The most important thing, and this is probably true for any surface, is the sub-base. If you don't have a good sub-base, it doesn't matter what you put on top of it," he said.

DiNatale said his company gets a lot of calls asking for help in fixing cracked courts. Upon arriving and assessing the court, they generally discover that it isn't the finish, or upper layers, that has caused the problem. It's what lies underneath.Murray agreed. "The primary reason for damage on the courts that we see boils down to improper construction," he said. "The base isn't prepared right, and then cracking occurs down the line."

Reuse a Shoe, Get a Surface

A lot of the recycled rubber we talk about is from ground-up tires. Not all of it, however.

Some of it is from Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe Program, which was started in 1993. Through the program, shoes of any brand, including Nike, are ground up and incorporated into sports surfaces along with recycled material from the manufacturing of Nike brand footwear.

The ground-up material is called, appropriately, Nike Grind, and comes in three forms: Nike Grind Rubber, from outsoles and recycled manufacturing material, which is used in baseball and soccer fields, weight room floors and running tracks; Nike Grind Foam, from midsoles, which is used in synthetic basketball courts, tennis courts and playground surfacing; and Nike Grind Upper Fabric, from textile and leather uppers, which is used in padding under hardwood basketball floors.

For more information, visit www.nike.com.

To avoid paying for a bad sub-base, get to know your asphalt or concrete vendor. Driveway or parking lot pavers are not necessarily going to know the best ways to pour asphalt or concrete for a tennis court. Use vendors who have come recommended by people in the business and who have worked on other successful tennis court implementations.

When cracks in the surface occur as a result of a sub-base problem, the fix isn't as easy as simply resurfacing the court. As Murray said, "Once courts crack, there are crack band-aids, which are to fill in the crack from the top down and resurface the court. However, if the crack is the result of an issue underneath the surface, there is no way to put a band-aid on it. You have to do surgery." And as we all know, surgery is never inexpensive.

Water is also an issue that can affect your sub-base. Proper drainage is key to keeping your tennis court in good shape, both on the surface and underneath. If water isn't properly run off and away, the soil under the sub-base can shift and cause movement, which will result in cracking. DiNatale said that a layer of well-compacted crushed stone underneath the asphalt can assist with drainage, especially in an area where water freezing under the base can become an issue.

Choosing the right site can make a big difference in the life of your court. It may be part of a drainage solution (or, if you're not careful, the problem), but site choice is also important because what's around your court can affect the life of it. For example, beautiful trees that overhang and shade your court may look lovely, but looks can be deceiving. The leaves, seeds and branches that fall from the trees can stain the court while the roots make their way under the court and show up as cracks on the surface.

As with any construction project, education is essential to getting the surface right. This is where a design consultant and reputable builder come in handy. Many people may not realize the costs of properly building a tennis court, which is important when you're building the budget. Shortchanging the court can mean a lot more dollars in maintenance only a short time later.

Consider what you hope to achieve with your courts. Will there be multiple courts? Are lights necessary? Is seating necessary? If so, are water fountains and bathrooms nearby a necessity? Are the courts at all shaded? If not, how can that be achieved successfully?

Properly outlining the court and its surroundings may take up a lot of initial time and expense, but it can save you both down the line.


Right now, in weight and cardio rooms in health clubs and fitness centers all around the country, men and women are sweating on the floor. According to DiNatale, that's something managers should be thinking about.

Generally, rubber flooring systems are the popular option for these areas of health clubs, whether in one sheet or cut as interlocking tiles. However, recycled rubber is porous and thus can hold in sweat and odor, whereas a virgin, natural rubber product is nonporous.

"Anything that's porous can hold in odor," DiNatale said.

While a nonrecycled rubber product is more expensive, there are techniques and ways to reduce costs while still implementing the virgin rubber to avoid odor and bacteria buildup in your high-traffic areas. Some may refer to this as a vulcanized rubber surface. However, synthetic vulcanized rubber also exists. DiNatale also likes virgin rubber surfaces because they're available in a variety of colors.

Robert Cohen, indoor division president for the American Sports Builders Association, also prefers vulcanized rubber because it's a natural substance that does not give off any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or contain harmful components.

Again, how much use your facility, and therefore the floor, will see is something to be considered at the start. Cardio rooms and weight rooms are popular places and eventually surfaces will wear out regardless, so it's worth weighing the capital expenditures against the lifetime costs of keeping up your surfaces and your facility.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Green is all the rage these days, and we're not just talking about choosing natural grass versus synthetic. Mixing the words "building industry" and "environmentally friendly" may seem like mixing motor oil and natural spring water, but green building has become the wave of the future as environmental concerns increase.

To that end, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) works to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work. Its mission is to transform the building industry to sustainability. It's a pretty tall order, but one that is making progress through standards.

The green standard as defined by the USGBC and recognized by the industry is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards, which establish what constitutes a green building.

There are five key areas addressed by LEED: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. If a building is LEED certified, it is recognized as an environmentally responsible building. According to the USGBC, LEED-certified buildings have lower operating costs and increased asset value, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives. Maybe it is easy being green.

In order for a project to be LEED-certified, the project must be registered. The earlier in the process the project is registered, the better the chances are of achieving certification. Earning certification requires the building to meet certain prerequisites and performance benchmarks, or credits, in each category. Depending on how many credits the building scores, projects can be given Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum certification.

One such project is the Burton-Shenkman Complex at the University of Connecticut. The Burton-Shenkman Complex actually refers to two buildings: The Burton Family Football Complex and the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center. According to the University of Connecticut, the Burton-Shenkman Complex is the first LEED-registered complex in the NCAA. Some of the green building's features are: infrared radiant heating, heat recovery units, low-emissive windows, dual-flush toilets and low-flow showers, native and adaptive landscaping, locally manufactured products, use of recycled products, "green" label carpet, low-VOC paint, rain gardens and bio-retention swales, full cut-off exterior lighting, and reduced heat island effect.

According to the USGBC, there are at least seven other recreational facilities with LEED certification, one of which is the Lamond Recreation Center in Washington, D.C., a 14,650-square-foot facility that earned the silver LEED certification in March of this year. On college campuses around the country, new buildings are constantly being planned, designed and constructed, with emphasis on fitness facilities. The LEED application guidelines recognize that different market sectors will require different treatment and have specific guides for multiple buildings and on-campus building projects.

There are several ways to learn more about building green, starting on the USGBC's Web site at www.usgbc.org. The LEED program includes training workshops and a professional accreditation program for those interested in becoming experts in greening the profession. The 2007 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, which will be held Nov. 7 to 9 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, is also a good place to start paving the path to green.


Recruiting today's best and brightest students is no easy task. Prospective students have plenty of excellent choices when it comes to deciding what college or university is best for them, so educational institutions must continually differentiate themselves from the competition.

According to Tom Roberts, director of recreation and wellness at the University of Richmond, recreation and wellness facilities are in high demand among students, and offering state-of-the-art facilities for students can be an excellent recruitment tool, not to mention a way to improve the overall well-being of the students already on campus.

Roberts has been the recreation and wellness director at the University of Richmond for 19 years, and when asked how long he'd been working on the new 90,000-square-foot facility that just opened on campus in March, he said it was fair to say he'd been working on it for about 19 years. It's not surprising as usage of such facilities has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, with Roberts seeing a huge change in participation.

"In tracking our usage over the past 10 years, we've gone from about 10,000 the first year to 150,000 five years ago, and now we're getting over 1,000 users a day, sometimes 1,400 users a day, and we only have about 3,000 students," he said.

Obviously student demand for a new facility was high, and in March 2007, the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness was fully operational. The new facility boasts a three-court gym with an elevated jogging track, a wellness center with fitness assessment and massage therapy rooms, a two-level fitness center, two multipurpose rooms, a natatorium, racquetball and squash courts, a game room, and locker rooms and saunas.

"We tracked trends and knew what our students wanted," Roberts said. "There were some square blocks we had to put in place first: fitness equipment, a gymnasium for basketball and volleyball, multipurpose rooms. Those are some of the basic elements in any recreation center."

While some of the elements may be found in any other university fitness facility, one component that stands out is the attention focused on the wellness aspect of this center. "We're looking at it from a complete wellness perspective," Roberts said. "Students carry a lot of baggage, and a lot can help their stress that is more than just the physical exercise."

When you walk through the tile entryway and lobby into Weinstein, you're visually connected right away to the pool and fitness center. It was Roberts' intention to build a facility that is light and airy, with a lot of natural light streaming through to give it that "wow factor." As you continue, you have to walk through the wellness center so students are welcomed right into it and can take advantage of its many offerings, such as the interactive help center, blood pressure machine, body impedance machine (which measures body composition), computer lab, fitness and nutritional assessments, massage therapy room and health educators' offices. The center will also feature a "dial a nurse" station in the future.

The openness of the facility is something Roberts feels is a very strong component of its success. "Having a visual connection to as many activity areas as possible is optimal," he said.

Another component of that success was utilizing student input in the planning and design of the facility. "Students participated from the beginning," he said. "We had a planning committee of students, staff and faculty. Their job was to listen to things and consider them and gather feedback from other students. We also had open forums where we'd show students what we'd planned on doing and got their feedback. I felt it was necessary, but the risk is you may have one idea and they have an entirely different one. The real risk though is managing their expectations. For example, we didn't have the funds to build a new pool and they would have liked that, so you have to prioritize what's most important."

A good example of that prioritization was on the issue of whether or not to have a climbing wall. Many facilities are constructing climbing walls and Roberts had a climbing wall in mind for this facility, but the students were given a choice between a climbing wall and a game room and they chose the game room, which features billiards, table tennis and Dance Dance Revolution.

"The game room ended up being more important to the students than the climbing wall," Roberts said. "And it's very popular. I'm very happy with that decision." He noted that the Weinstein Center has really become the hub of student life on campus.

On the first level, Roberts chose carpet tiles. Since it's a highly trafficked area, the 2-foot-square tiles allow for easy sectional replacement. The fitness center is also spread out over the two levels with the first level featuring many cardio machines (some with their own monitors), a video wall (where multiple screens make one large screen) and additional 42-inch monitors. There's also a multipurpose room on the first floor for which Roberts chose a maple wood floor. "There's more spring to it," he said of that choice over a synthetic. In addition to yoga and Pilates classes, that room houses the Spinning classes, and so far, the floor has held up fine under all.

An atrium surrounds the second level, which houses the free weights part of the fitness center. Roberts chose a natural rubber interlocking tile surface for its durability, shock and noise absorption, and low maintenance. Again, the tile choice makes for easy sectional replacement.

The front of the building is all glass, and Roberts pointed out that when illuminated at night it glows and buzzes with activity. Near the glass is a huge stretching area—also covered by the carpet tiles—that overlooks the university.

Also on the second level is the other multipurpose room and three-court gym, both of which are surfaced with a wood floor. Roberts is a wood-floor fan as he feels it holds up longer and better and is the more suitable floor for competitive programs.

The center also features a 1/10-mile elevated track made from a rolled synthetic rubber surface that Roberts chose for its low maintenance, performance and durability.

Controlling access to campus buildings can be difficult. The Weinstein Center has a unique way of making sure those who are using the facility are entitled to do so. Rather than simple keycard access, the facility has a biometric hand reader. The first time a student uses the center, he or she is enrolled as a member. Access after that requires students to enter their school ID number and hand. If a student forgets her ID number, the staff can look it up, but access still requires having the hand that matches that number.

"In the past we've had problems with students losing ID cards, people tailgating in, or some handing their cards back to others," Roberts said. "The hand eliminates a lot of problems."

The Weinstein Center has been registered for LEED certification and at press time was working on the application process.

By the Numbers

The National Sporting Goods Association tracks participation in sports from year to year. As you're considering your surfacing options, you may be interested in the number of participants in some of the sports hitting those floors.

Here's how many people participated more than once in a particular sport during 2006:

Basketball: 26.7 million
Exercise with equipment: 52.4 million
Aerobic exercise: 33.7 million
Running or jogging: 28.8 million
Soccer: 14 million
Tennis: 10.4 million
Volleyball: 11.1 million
Weight-lifting: 32.9 million
Worked out at a club: 36.4 million

Source: National Sporting Goods Association, www.nsga.org

Further north, along the banks of the Charles River in Boston, sits Boston University and its young, award-winning 270,000-square-foot recreation and fitness facility. Opened a little over two years ago, this facility, similar to the Weinstein Center, was designed with an eye toward making it an open, airy, welcoming environment. Both Tom Roberts and Warin Dexter, the executive director of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and also of the Fitness and Recreation Center at Boston University, spent a great deal of time on the nuances, details and subtle design elements of these buildings.

BU's facility features an 18,000-square-foot weight and cardio room, two separate swimming pools, two multi-use gymnasiums with seven courts, an elevated 1/7-mile jogging track, racquetball and squash courts, several multipurpose activity rooms and classrooms, a 35-foot climbing wall, a pro shop, a center for rehabilitation and fitness/conditioning and emergency medical services education, locker rooms and a snack bar.

The weight and cardio room features great views and spans two floors. It's circular in shape as it's housed in the main cylinder of the building. On the surface, Dexter said the weight and cardio rooms feature a vulcanized rubber surface.

"We were looking for something that could be cleaned easily after dealing with sweat and shoes, as well as handle the stress of multiple pieces of equipment in the cardio areas," he said. "One thing that you really want to go along with floor quality is something that retains its luster after a period of time. We average 5,000 students a day along with alumni, faculty and staff in our facility, so we bought something we won't have to be replacing in three to four years."

Because the seven-court gymnasium houses a lot of different types of activities, it's basically two huge spaces, one covered in a wood floor and the other with a synthetic floor.

"Hardwood looks beautiful, is incredibly resilient and lasts for a long time if you have a maintenance plan, and we do," Dexter said.

But because this area doesn't house just basketball and volleyball, Dexter had to consider what else would be taking place on these floors. BU has a whole host of athletics going on in these spaces, which is why the other floor is a synthetic, more multipurpose floor.

One sport that Dexter really wanted to accommodate was inline hockey, and after trying out several floors for this purpose he settled on a product out of Germany. So far he is very pleased with its performance.

Overlooking the four-court side of the gym and the cardio area is the elevated jogging track, which is surrounded by windows and also looks out onto the busy Boston streets and the Charles River at different points. Dexter took the views into account in the design of the space.

"With all the things to look at, it's hard to be bored when you're jogging around the track," he said.

Covering the track is a synthetic rolled rubber surface. Off to the sides of the track are several stretching areas, an area with stationary bikes, and another with speed bags.

BU's facility is also a campus hub and features social spaces with a juice bar, furniture, television and wireless access. "We wanted to make this a central space where students could engage not only in physical activity and wellness, but also sit down and take a break at the juice bar, talk about school projects, meet friends or relax after a workout," Dexter said.

The Fitness and Recreation Center also houses nutrition classrooms (including a demonstration kitchen), fitness training and testing rooms, and the emergency medical program. The multipurpose rooms host a variety of activities, including Spinning classes, dance (for which there's also a dance studio theater that seats 240), yoga, fencing, martial arts and more. Most of these rooms are covered with wood floors, though in a few there are covers over the wood depending on the activity (e.g., tap dancing).

This state-of-the-art facility is "like a dream come true" for Dexter who said, "It really allows us to create the type of quality we want and enhance the culture and the way students think about fitness and well-being. It really becomes a lifestyle, and students take a lot of pride in this facility."

It's hard to do a building like BU's fitness center or the Weinstein Center true justice as the nuances and carefully planned details mentioned earlier are just too numerous.

Another reason for the success of both of these buildings is that they were built with the future in mind.

"We spent an awful lot of time trying to put together a complete package," Dexter said. "We built flexibility into it. It wasn't built with the short-term in mind."

"Our programs change dramatically every five to 10 years," Roberts said. "We need to anticipate those changes and needed to make the facility adaptable to those changes."


Gymnasium floors, as with turf, have proponents on both sides of the natural-versus-synthetic coin. The natural surface of choice is maple hardwood flooring, which, like natural grass, is generally considered the preferred playing surface for basketball and volleyball. On the other side of the coin is the synthetic gym floor, made to look and feel similar to a wood floor but without some of the drawbacks of wood.

According to Dan Heney, technical director of the Maple Floor Manufacturers Association, the drawbacks of wood are more perceived than proven.

Some experts, such as Robert Cohen of the American Sports Builders Association, don't feel wood makes as good of a multipurpose surface as the synthetic floors because the wood floors tend to be sensitive to heavy traffic and spills. Many gyms today aren't used only for basketball and volleyball games, but serve as auditoriums and cafeterias as well as host events and other sports such as floor hockey. Additionally, maintenance on a synthetic floor versus a wood floor is different. Wood floors should not be mopped and do need to be refinished annually.

Heney pointed out, however, that wood floors withstand the test of time. A good maple hardwood floor can last 30 to 40 years, whereas a synthetic floor will last about 15 to 20 years, he said.

"It's a common misperception that wood floors won't stand up to abuse," Heney added. "If you're going to put chairs on the floor and the chairs don't have rubber floor protectors, they're going to mark up the floor, but that's true no matter what. As long as you maintain the equipment and the floor is properly protected, you won't have issues."

Moisture tends to come up in conversation when discussing the pros and cons of hardwood floors as moisture can wreak havoc on wood floors. DiNatale suggested considering a synthetic floor if you're aware of humidity and moisture problems in your facility. That's also why spills can be an issue and why mopping is not the proper method of cleaning hardwood floors. To protect your hardwood floors, consult your manufacturer to make sure you're using appropriate products and methods.

Another way to protect your wood or synthetic floors when they're being used for a function other than athletics is to purchase a gym floor cover. Floor covers are a quick and easy way to convert your gym floor quickly if necessary, are low-maintenance and come in a variety of colors and a range of thicknesses depending on your needs.

Often, the deciding factor in choosing synthetic or a wood floor is cost. Wood is the more expensive option, but most agree it's also the more attractive of the two surfaces. DiNatale has worked on projects where a mix system, or composite surface, was used in which a synthetic floor is placed on top of a wood subfloor, which is typically what you'll find under a natural wood floor. Generally, the base under a synthetic floor is concrete so the floor is harder on the bodies of the athletes, so a composite surface gives you the shock-absorbing qualities of the natural wood surface with a synthetic top that is multipurpose and less expensive to implement.

Standard Issue

The most widely used performance standard for sports surfaces is known as the DIN Standard 18032 Part 2, which specifies performance characteristics such as shock absorption, vertical deflection and area of deflection, ball bounce, surface friction and rolling load.

  • Shock absorption is the force absorbed by the floor and the force returned to the athlete. Floors are rated by the percentage of force reduction they provide. For example, a floor with a force reduction value of 60 percent will absorb 60 percent of the impact force and return 40 percent of that force to the athlete.
  • Ball bounce is the measurement of a basketball's response rebounding off the surface as compared to its response off a hard surface such as concrete.
  • Surface friction is a function on the finish in ensuring the surface has a good grip.
  • Rolling load refers to the amount of point loads and rolling loads caused by rolling equipment and furniture that a floor can withstand.

Source: Maple Floor Manufacturers Association (www.maplefloor.org)


When it comes to playgrounds, safety is the number one issue. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) "Handbook for Public Playground Safety," more than 200,000 kids are treated each year for injuries associated with playground equipment with most of those injuries occurring when children fall from the equipment onto the ground.

To address the issue of falls, the CPSC created guidelines specifying shock absorbency, height restrictions and surfacing materials. It's all detailed in the handbook, which is free and available online (www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf).

To evaluate these critical components to safety, test methods provided by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) as outlined in F1292-04 "Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment" are followed. Several states have passed legislation or regulations mandating certain playground safety regulations based on the CPSC guidelines and ASTM specifications. According to the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), those states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Obviously, the ground cover or surface underneath the equipment on the playground is a big decision and not just because of all the guidelines and regulations surrounding safety. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) has also changed the playground surface as wheelchair access requires a firm and stable surface. In order to make your playground accessible to everyone, loose materials recommended by the CPSC, such as wood chips or sand, would be ruled out.

According to Bob Milhaus, owner of Playground Consulting and Design, that's because loose materials aren't a stable surface. At impact points, such as the bottom of a slide, loose fill will move out from under kids' feet, creating holes in your surface that are in need of replacing regularly. It also decomposes and compacts over time and hides trash and other materials you don't want your children coming in contact with, like animal excrement. Many playground surfaces today are poured-in-place polyurethane or rubber mats and tiles.

While there are several options for playground surfaces, Milhaus warns that each comes with its own set of pros and cons. For example, rubber tiles enable you to change out worn areas without having to replace the whole surface like a poured-in-place surface. On the other hand, a poured-in-place surface allows more flexibility in the design and has no seams that can come up. Poured-in-place surfaces can be customized to include school logos or other design elements, such as patterns or maps.

Another option increasing in popularity is synthetic turf installed over a rubber pad on the playgrounds. It is low maintenance and looks like real grass, making it visually appealing.

But before you decide, Milhaus recommends visiting various playgrounds and talking to the people who are currently living with the surfaces you may be interested in installing.

"You can't pick stuff out of a catalog," he said. "You have to get out there and see it, find out how dangerous it might be and see what the kids are doing with it beyond its intended use."

As Milhaus points out, kids are, after all, kids.

A Very Special Playground

With 18 acres of land in Fairfax County, Va., Adele Lebowitz could have easily made a small fortune by selling it, but instead she chose to donate the land to the Fairfax County Park Authority, and Clemyjontri Park was born. Clemyjontri is named for Lebowitz's four children Carolyn (Cl), Emily (emy), John (jon) and Patrina (tri).

With such kindness behind the park, it's inherently a special place, but one of the conditions Lebowitz placed on the park was that a playground be built for children with disabilities. (She also requested that a carousel be a part of the playground.) And so this playground is designed for all children to have a place to play and incorporates many unique elements.

Designing around the carousel proved challenging as the amount of clearance around it, which is specified by the manufacturer, had to be adjusted to make it fully accessible. The playground surface is a poured-in-place rubber and covers 1.4 acres, which according to the surfacing company, is the largest poured-in-place playground it has ever done.

Several outdoor "rooms" can be found on the playground. There's the Rainbow Room, which integrates color, pictures, sign, Braille and language. The Schoolhouse and Maze has educational learning games and panels that form a maze. The Movin' and Groovin' Transportation Area features a race track. "Recently we had kids out there having wheelchair races and just having fun," said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Fitness and Fun area features the largest piece of play equipment and jungle gym components, which have been modified for accessibility.

"There are things to stimulate all kids," Pedersen said. "There may be kids without sight or who have autism and so there is a range of experiences for kids with differing disabilities. It's also an attractive and fun playground for kids without disabilities. It's a playground for all kids."

Kirk Holley, special projects manager, joked that the use of bright colors on the playground may be a matter of national security. "The site is very close to the CIA, and we're pretty confident that we've caused the CIA a problem," he said. "You can pick up our color surface from satellite imagery. It's pretty bright."

More information on Clemyjontri Park can be found on its Web site at www.clemypark.com.

Talk the Talk

A little bit of research can go a long way. Knowing some of the terms that may be thrown at you by manufacturers and consultants can help you speak surface:

A surface that bends at the point of pressure and absorbs energy. Most synthetic surfaces belong to this category.

A rigid, non-bending surface that yields gradually to pressure and can return energy, such as wood floors.

A surface with characteristics of both point and area elasticity, often a synthetic surface over wood.

A floor's ability to bend or give. Synthetic surfaces often have greater resiliency than wood.

Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed atop strips of wood studs.

Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed atop sheets of other material, often plywood.

Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed atop sheets of other materials, often plywood, with "sleepers" under the plywood, then mechanically attached to the subsurface.

Similar to the anchored system except that between the concrete subsurface and the plywood subfloor, there's a resilient layer.

The depth to which a floor indents under a load of weight.

The spread of a deformation, or the area it covers, when a floor indents under a load of weight.

Ethylene propylene diene monomer, a type of synthetic rubber flooring that comes in granule form.

Styrene butadiene rubber, another granulized form of synthetic rubber.

Polyvinyl chloride, a common form of synthetic plastic flooring.

Another form of plastic, often used for flooring squares or tiles.

Synthetic flooring manufactured off-site and delivered in rolls or sheets.

Also known as cast-in-place or full-pour systems, these are synthetic flooring systems created on site by covering the floor in a liquid that hardens into a seam-free surface.

This can be the real thing: natural rubber used for point-elastic surfaces. Technically, rubber is not a synthetic, but this type of flooring falls under the synthetic category since it's not wood. Synthetic vulcanized rubber also exists.


Most things eventually boil down to cost. As you consider your options, make sure to compare the initial costs with the costs you will incur over a product's lifespan. Sometimes what may seem too expensive up front becomes less expensive over time when compared with the cheaper options. Keep your facility's long-term goals in mind and don't be afraid to reach out and ask a lot of questions of experts in the field.

In the end, what's most important is that you find the surface that best matches your needs and budget. Given the choices on the market today, there's no reason you can't cover it all.

The World of Surfaces

As this issue was going to press, sports surfaces were making national news. Just before the Kentucky Derby, the oldest continuous sporting event in the country, the Associated Press ran a story on the switch from dirt to artificial surfaces at horse tracks around the country. The synthetic surfaces are a mix of wax-coated sand, synthetic fibers and recycled rubber and, according to the article, are "gaining a reputation for their consistency and safety."

The article reports that Churchill Downs isn't necessarily making the switch just yet, but track officials are thinking about it. Arlington Park, located outside Chicago and owned by Churchill Downs Inc., is making the switch and three tracks in California are also switching. One of those is Santa Anita, which is where the Breeders' Cup is held making the 2008 event the largest on a synthetic track.

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