Field construction projects

Develop a road map for the project, no matter howlarge or small, with the finished project clearly in mind.

The goal of every sports field construction project is the creation of a safe, playable field that functions effectively and performs well. These 10 steps can serve as a guideline to achieving those results whether the construction involves a natural turf or synthetic turf field.

1. Know your product.
Spend time researching exactly what you want and expect to get as the end result, and the professionals that you need to have involved. As the sports field manager, it’s your responsibility to educate your decision-makers. Gather information from multiple sources: industry publications, company literature and Web sites, researcher data and your networking resources.

Identify successful field installations of similar programs within your geographic location. Walk on those fields, and ask questions that will reveal details. Find out which architects, engineers, contractors and subcontractors were used in the project and ask how they were to work with. Gather input from all of your potential field users to clearly define their wants and needs. If the construction project will replace an existing facility, determine the potential impact on those currently using that facility.

Understand your facility’s budgeting process. Discuss your budget parameters, but don’t sell yourself short. Get advice from a qualified engineer on the specifics of your site that could add costs to your project, and research the long-term maintenance needs and field renovation or replacement costs.

Share your knowledge with the decision-making team so everyone is of one mind.

2. Make a road map.
Make a set of specifications that cover the entire, well-defined scope of the project from the development of the design through the implementation. Do this regardless of the size of the project.

Be prepared to work with the entire decision-making team within your facility, as well as any in-house or contract specialists, such as engineers or architects. Define all of the necessary components. Have examples of the products involved that clearly show what you want. Prequalify the architect or engineer as thoroughly as the contractor and subcontractors that will be used. This should take place at the beginning of the development of the bid document.

3. Look for high-quality supplies.
Don’t cut corners. The finished product will be in direct correlation with the quality of materials and workmanship involved. With today’s tight budgets, administrators and financial personnel may seek alternatives at bargain prices. Make sure the specifications as developed are precise enough to weed out unacceptable alternatives. Do the homework, comparing costs and efficiency and considering the overall impact of proposed bargains.

4. Utilize the professionals.
Have a qualified architect and/or engineering firm define and enforce the specifications, and take the responsibility for testing and product submittals.

The sports field manager or qualified field consultant can make certain recommendations based on fact-based opinions, but to achieve the desired end result and make sure that everyone involved clearly understands the specifications, you’ll want to work with an architect or engineer that is licensed in your area. If you’re going to specify two or three types of synthetic turf that have the quality and characteristics you want, or drainage stone that delivers specific parameters, you should not have to look at everything that is submitted to be sure that it complies with the specifications. Use the professionals as a filtering device to do away with the unwanted products.

Photos by Stan Moscrip.
Maintain good records, including lots of photos, as the work is taking place. Check for accuracy at each step of the project.

5. Set a realistic timetable.
Don’t expect things to happen overnight. Develop reasonable expectations based on seasonal situations that could affect grading, seeding, grow-in, installation, etc.

Be cognizant of everyone involved—the sports programs, the coaches, the other facility and community-related events—that will be using the new field and the timetables of their programs. Set up a completion date based on the first projected field use and develop the timetable allowing sufficient time for all the steps of the project. Realize that a weather-related delay during the early stages of the project will affect all the steps following it.

6. Have a backup plan.
Expect the unexpected. Start with reasonable expectations understanding there may be weather-related or supply-related delays. Be willing to work with your suppliers, but hold them to their contractual responsibility.

Look at the processes from an efficiency standpoint. Know the target dates and how a delay in any one of them will affect the next process. Develop plans to overlap processes if necessary to regain lost time, as well as qualified, workable alternatives for materials and service providers.

Have alternatives to accommodate your field users should a delay make it impossible to meet the projected finish date.

Have the proper equipment on hand andready to go when needed.

7. Establish a well-defined chain of command.
From the initial bid to completion, someone needs to answer questions definitively and make decisions.

Set up a chain of command during the road map stage. Identify one person, ideally the sports field manager, who will be on-site and can make pertinent decisions.

For decisions that could affect engineering or design, you’ll want to have an accountable professional involved, so make sure the correct individuals are clearly identified for any potential issues within the chain of command.

8. Keep the end user in mind—all the time.
Know who will use the field, how they will use it, and what needs to be included to accommodate their needs. Consider long-term maintenance, too. Many times a project provides a product that forces unrealistic expectations upon the maintenance staff, or has no thought put into maintenance at all. Consider all the issues, such as gate locations, logistics, power sources, water sources, etc., when developing the road map prior to the design stage, and keep them in mind throughout the design development and project installation. A field constructed for efficiency of maintenance will ultimately save time and money.

9. Maintain good records.
Use a combination of formats to develop a complete record: as-built drawings, a daily log and lots of photos. This forces people to be accountable.

You’ll have specifications for the various stages of the project, but changes will occur. You’ll want to note those changes on the as-built drawings.

Take pictures of everything. There’s no better time to take a picture of what’s below the field. Photograph where the trucks are putting materials; document weather conditions; take pictures as the installation of the sod or synthetic surface takes place.

As the person in charge, you’ll have that documentation and can go back to a situation if its necessary to put a backup plan in place or show that a supplier or contractor is responsible for a problem.

It will also provide a record for later maintenance, such as documenting where the incoming water line or shut-off valves are when changes are made in the irrigation system, or where the underground power source is if you need to tap into it to add new connections.

Look at the process from the efficiency standpoint, having therequired materials on hand so they are available when needed. Research material needs, looking for quality products thatmeet specifications.

10. Take the walk-through seriously.
This will likely be the last chance to meet together with all the definitive players: the architect, engineer, contractors, subcontractors, administrators, financial personnel and sports field manager. If a problem does occur down the road, you may not have everyone there to discuss it.

Too many times, a facility is so anxious to take control of the field that they’re willing to take possession despite problems. This is the time to hold people accountable for any deficiencies. Clearly state what is unacceptable and must be corrected, and the timetable within which these details must be completed.

Ideally, any remaining problems are minimal and easily corrected. Everyone can be proud that a safe, playable playing field is now in place that will meet the needs of the field users.

Stan Moscrip and his wife Michelle founded Athletic Field Development, LLC. The company specializes in the construction and renovation of athletic fields. He also serves as the primary consultant for outdoor turf projects for Mondo U.S.A.