Sports Field Management - January, 2013

FEATURES

Field Care: Synthetic Turf for All Seasons

Month-to-month maintenance guidelines
By Mary Helen Sprecher

It's tempting to think that a synthetic field doesn't need special treatment in the winter. After all, one of its advantages is the fact that its playing season is longer than that of the old grass field it replaced.


The field at Cal-State Maritime.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BEALS ALLIANCE, FOLSOM, CALIF.

Unfortunately, no sports surface is maintenance-free. To reap the maximum benefits and keep your synthetic turf field looking and performing its best, you need a maintenance plan, and that includes in the winter.

A suggested month-by-month checklist is included with this article; turf managers can tailor it to their individual needs. The manufacturer of the turf system can also provide maintenance recommendations. According to the American Sports Builders Association's publication, "Synthetic Turf Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual," any maintenance plan should include routine cleaning and grooming, as well as periodic inspection, repair of minor irregularities, testing and topdressing.

If your field will receive year-round use, you'll want to keep up with the regular maintenance plan. However, if you'll be shutting down for the winter, your maintenance program should decrease in intensity along with the amount of use the field is getting. This can continue until the snow flies and totally closes down the field.

In general, the best way to do maintenance is to think C-P-R: cleaning, protecting, repair.

Cleaning

It sounds simplistic, but it's true: keeping the field free of debris is good for the surface in general, and it allows the field manager to inspect the turf and note whether any repairs are necessary, or if any potential problems have cropped up.

Keeping the field clean throughout the season is essential, and it becomes no less important as winter takes hold. Be proactive by keeping as many problems away from the turf as possible. Prohibit smoking, food and beverages, gum, etc. in areas near the field. Remember that any snacks that are allowed on or near the surface can attract pests like mice, which are fully capable of damaging and polluting your surface and surrounding structures. These critters will become extra hungry with the approach of cold weather, so it's important to make sure they don't view the athletic facility as a place to eat or nest.


Pomfret School, Pomfret, Conn.
PHOTO COURTESY OF HUNTRESS ASSOCIATES, INC., ANDOVER, MASS.

Do a walk-through of the facility and remove debris immediately, before it has the chance to decompose and filter into the turf and down through the infill. This includes all trash such as food wrappers, pompom sheds and tape, as well as crumbs and spills from snacks. Leaf blowers may be used to remove dry debris, however, avoid holding the nozzle too close to the surface, since this has the potential to cause damage. Additionally, do a postgame inspection and clean any spills or stains off the turf using warm water and a mild soap. Colored sports drinks and sodas, in particular, can leave stains.

Unlike natural grass, a synthetic turf field does not contain organisms that break down contaminants like blood, urine, sweat and vomit. Disinfect the turf regularly and keep it clean. Choose a product that also addresses mold and mildew, and keeps down odor-causing bacteria. A variety of EPA-approved athletic turf-specific products and equipment are available. This can also help to allay parents' fears about their children contracting infections including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has received a lot of press lately.

The ASBA

The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including fields, running tracks, tennis courts and more. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the association, as well as the ASBA's Membership Directory. For more information, call 866-501-ASBA (2722) or visit www.sportsbuilders.org.

To prolong the useful life of an artificial turf surface and keep it looking and performing its best, installers and manufacturers recommend regular grooming. Surface manufacturers often recommend specific grooming equipment or techniques. One form of grooming is dragging, in which a piece of synthetic turf or a soft brush is dragged behind a utility vehicle. Power-grooming equipment is also available and has rotary-action brushes that are mounted on a motorized unit. A third form of grooming, scarification, involves the use of a sweeper or greens groomer. No matter which grooming method is used, the goal is the same: preventing or remedying compaction of the surface, redistributing and re-leveling the infill and bringing fibers upright again.


The field at Villanova University.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STANTEC SPORT, BOSTON, MASS.

One last thought: Because dog owners occasionally walk their dogs on local playing fields, see to it that signage prohibiting pets is posted. (We don't need to say more about that, right?) This will become even more important as winter approaches and the field sees fewer athletes and coaches whose presence acts as a deterrent.

Protecting

A synthetic turf field does not regenerate itself the way natural grass can, so it is essential to protect the surface not just from vandals, but even from well-intentioned individuals (in this case, those who drive maintenance trucks or other equipment). Since off-season maintenance on the track or structures on the field may take place, set the parameters now.

According to the ASBA's sports fields manual, it is essential to keep any machinery used on or near the turf in good repair so it does not leak oil or other fluids onto the sport surface. Equipment should also have wide, soft tires, sometimes referred to as turf tires, and should be driven slowly with wide turns to avoid disturbing the aggregate base of the turf. No machinery should ever be parked or allowed to stand on the surface. Heavy equipment should be prohibited from the turf surface.

At least once a year (late winter/early spring or late fall/early winter), the field should be professionally inspected and tested to make sure its playing qualities remain stable.

Repair

Do a walk-through of your facility and look for problems, such as splitting seams, loose areas, or high or low spots, as well as places where the drainage system might not be doing its job. Although an experienced maintenance professional may be able to repair problems, it is recommended that the installer be contacted for advice.

While you can't head off every problem in every season, you can stay on top of new developments and assure that minor flaws don't become major catastrophes. Winterizing your field calls for a combination of proactive techniques and a healthy dose of oversight, and when done properly can lead to many seasons of use for the field.

Mary Helen Sprecher is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association.