Sitting in a stadium to watch your favorite team play might be temporarily on hold, but there are few things as exhilarating as watching athletes compete. Whether under Friday night lights or Sunday afternoon sunshine, sports teams and athletes at all levels deserve the best fields on which to play.
Athletics programs are especially important for schools, including K-12 and colleges and universities. From practice time to game day and from intramural programs to sports tourism, sports fields are asked to do more than ever.
Despite the increased demand from sports fields, many schools are trying to manage on traditional grass fields that just aren’t up for the challenge.
Why aren’t these grass fields effective?
Three Primary Challenges
Justin Cornwell, a Draper Aden project manager who specializes in sports fields, lists three primary challenges for grass fields. First, maintenance costs are rising year after year. Not only does the grass need consistent maintenance, but weather conditions can severely damage the field, requiring ongoing capital improvements. Second, poor field conditions can severely limit the ability of a school to use the field. That means using other facilities and lost revenue from programs who want to book a sports field. Third, there are major safety concerns. Natural grass and older turf fields can result in harder surfaces with higher GMAX scores, a key consideration in potential concussions. Likewise, fields that flood easily can create uneven and unstable surfaces, resulting in more injuries.
It’s no surprise that more K-12 school systems and colleges and universities are exploring synthetic turf sports fields. Synthetic field technology has advanced exponentially in recent years and offers an array of benefits, especially when compared to natural grass fields. Draper Aden’s team has become an established leader working with schools to design and install new synthetic turf fields.
Synthetic Field Advantages
Notably, Cornwell says, synthetic fields can be more durable and multipurpose. The use of organic infill materials made with coconut husk, cork, corn husk, and other materials are a more widely accepted alternative to traditional crumb rubber infills. These materials may provide for softer surfaces as well as reduce the amount of heat trapped on a field. Improved shock pads are also installed underneath synthetic fields to further enhance safety.
“Vastly improved drainage of artificial fields further reduces maintenance costs and allows a field to be in use more often,” Cornwell adds. “For example, new synthetic turf fields installed at Henrico County, Virginia high schools can drain 12 inches of water per hour.”
Henrico County offers a timely example of school districts recognizing the value of new synthetic turf fields. The county has initiated a multi-year phased project with us to replace the natural grass fields at its high schools with new artificial turf. The fields are designed and engineered to reduce maintenance, enhance safety, and ensure proper drainage.
Turf Fields for Higher Education
College and universities see significant merit in these new fields as well. One college we worked with installed synthetic turf on intramural fields. This move now allows the college to program the field for additional hours and use it for a wide array of athletic events, including team practices and intramural programs. More opportunities to use these fields means that the college can offer additional athletic and recreational opportunities for students and maximize their investment in the synthetic fields.
Investing in new sports field technology and upgraded surfaces has shown to pay off for schools. From decreased long-term maintenance costs to additional revenue generated by renting fields for more uses, many schools recognize the value and enduring investment that a new artificial field brings.
This blog post is part of a series exploring projects and services that have helped clients realize their goals while preserving time and resources. Click here for additional blog posts in this series, which covers a variety of engineering challenges.