Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping

Revitalizing Old Playgrounds and Sports Fields

Gone are the days when you could simply mow some grass, chalk in some lines and claim to have a baseball diamond. Likewise, you can no longer just install some swings, slides and play equipment without consideration for what lies beneath them. The world of sport and playground surfaces is vast, and there are many things to consider—from budget to safety factors—before you let the players loose on your fields and playgrounds.

Q: Our natural turf sports fields are looking old and worn. How can we renew our facilities?

A: If you've been relying on natural turf, you know that part of ensuring its long life is allowing it to rest. Because of this, you might only get to use your natural high-school football field a dozen times during a season. If your fields are getting worn out from too much use, you should scale back your planned activities to allow the turf time to recover.

If you've got many activities vying for field time, it might be wise to consider artificial turf. The latest generation of artificial turf—which is used at several professional and college stadiums—has more give than older versions, and looks and feels a lot more like real grass. In addition, it is now installed with improved rubber infill, making it safer for athletes playing hard-hitting sports like football. Best of all, it can withstand a day's worth of gym classes, an afternoon marching-band practice and an evening football game.

Q: What surface should we look for to protect children at our playgrounds?

A: According to the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), more than 200,000 preschool and elementary children end up in the emergency room for injuries that occur on playground equipment every year, and falls to the surface are a contributing factor in nearly 80 percent of these injuries. If you've been relying on loose-fill material like pea gravel, sand or mulch, your playgrounds may not be as safe as they can be. As soon as kids play on these surfaces, the fill is redistributed, so the fill at fall points might not be as deep as you intended.

Poured-in-place options provide good protection, and also provide for greater accessibility for disabled patrons. Synthetic turf can offer the look of grass, with the protection of the poured-in-place and tile options. Synthetic turf systems do not require infill material, making them much safer for infants and toddlers, who tend to put everything into their mouths. By adding supplemental padding, you can achieve safe fall heights of 10 feet for those courageous climbers.

Q: What do we need to know to keep our sports fields in playing condition?

A: No matter what kind of field you've got, the key factor in maintaining it is to prevent hazardous conditions from developing. The last thing you want is for one of your program's star ballplayers to twist an ankle in a gopher hole. You need to develop a regular inspection schedule and stick with it. Consult some of the local groundskeepers in your area for advice on what you should include in your plan.

If you've got a natural turf field, you'll need to create a smart maintenance schedule that involves everything from regular inspection for damaging pests and weeds to irrigation and mowing. You'll also need to repaint your lines depending on the sport and inspect your bases, goals and other equipment for wear and tear on a regular basis.

If you're relying on an artificial turf field, maintenance is much more basic over the long term. And unlike a natural field, the more it gets played on, the better it will get.


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