Maintaining the fields at UNH

At the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., campus recreation is grouped within the general category of student affairs. Dennis Byrne, director of campus recreation for UNH, says, “We are a student service. That’s what we consider ourselves and what drives our programs.”

With any university in today’s competitive environment, recruitment and retention are the primary issues. Byrne says, “Prior to the opening of the 104,000-square-foot Hamel Recreational Center 13 years ago, there were four of five professional staff personnel serving about 40 to 50 percent of the student body. Now, 85 to 90 percent of our students participate in some segment of our campus recreation program.”

This cross-field shot shows UNH’s largest synthetic surface, the multisport AstroPlay Bremner Field which covers an expanse 270 feet by 425 feet. Inset, Memorial Field has an AstroTurf synthetic surface.

UNH could be classified as a midsize university, with a total student enrollment just under 14,000, including nearly 2,500 grad students. It’s not only a land-grant facility, supporting agriculture-related academics; but also a sea-grant facility, with an oceanographic program, and a space-grant facility, working full time with NASA.

The NCAA Division I athletics program covers 12 women’s sports and eight men’s sports. The men’s ice hockey team draws wide support, packing the 6,500-seat Whittemore Center arena, with 2,000 of those seats allocated for students. Byrne says, “That leaves between 10,000 and 12,000 more students on campus engaged in some other activity at that moment. Obviously, the potential impact of the recreational program is huge.”

Memorial Field

He says, “The growth here flowed from the necessity and the desire to support student recreation. As we’ve broadened our complexity and what we offer, the student use has grown exponentially. We’re viewed as a vital component of the student experience, along with athletics. It has to be a partnership, and it is.”

Though Division I ice hockey is a heavily supported sport and football also draws good crowds, they don’t generate enough funding to support the overall athletic programs. Recently, the Nordic skiing program was reduced, and men’s swimming, tennis and women’s crew were eliminated as varsity sports.

Byrne says, “Three of those came to the recreation side, bringing us up to 27 club sports programs. All are very comprehensive and competitive, with 14 in the very competitive level and six or seven of these consistently reaching the national tournaments. We currently run over 20 intramural sports programs, with between 100 and 170 teams in each program. Along with that are organized trips, instructional events and short-term programs, all the casual pickup games and the individual fitness and wellness activities.”

Funding

Finding funding is an ongoing process. The campus recreation budget comes through student affairs and is approved by the student senate, as 90 to 95 percent of the overall funding comes from student fees. Byrne says, “Communication is vital. We involve the students in every aspect of the programs so they do understand what we’re trying to provide them, including supplying them with all the facts and figures. We do get their support and have had unanimous approval of our budgets.

“Special project funding is available if supported by a student referendum and approved by the university. We’re currently seeking this process for approval for an auxiliary fitness center to add another 17,000 to 30,000 square feet of space to our current 8,000 square feet. This type of funding comes in the form of a state bond that is paid back through student fees.”

While the prime purpose is to satisfy students’ recreational needs, at the same time the department needs to generate revenues by renting out the facilities whenever time is available. They also seek private and foundation funding whenever possible. The UNH parents association is very active and has endowed the program with grants totaling in the $200,000 range. This funding has gone to everything from vans to a climbing boulder in the lobby of the Hamel Recreation Center. Byrne says, “The people that use that climbing boulder are different from those that participate in basketball and ice hockey. We want to offer something for everyone. Though resources dictate what we can provide, we focus on investing where needs are the greatest.”

Players are in action during a lacrosse clinic held on Memorial Field, a first-generation style AstroTurf surface. The Whittemore Center and Hamel Recreation Center are shown in the background. Recreational activities at UNH focus on meeting the needs of all students. Here the figure skating team runs through a routine on the ice of the ice arena.

Economic stresses extend across the broad spectrum of athletics, recreation and academics. So, communications must flow to others within the university system. Byrne says, “And, we can’t forget that we’re a part of the larger community around us. We need to communicate with them, helping them feel a part of what we are and do. We invite their participation in programs and classes, and we’re the American Red Cross outlet, with community use of the 45,000-square-foot outdoor swimming pool.”

Managing resources

Multiple facilities support student athletics and recreation. There’s the Memorial Union Building (dubbed the MUB), the Hamel Recreation Center, the Whittemore Center, a field house, the ice arena, indoor and outdoor track facilities, and indoor and outdoor swimming facilities. There’s even the 200-acre Mendum’s Pond, 7 miles off campus at Barrington, with canoe, kayak and sailing programs.

Used exclusively for Division I athletics are Cowell Stadium, the football game facility, which was just switched from natural grass to a FieldTurf synthetic infill system, and Lewis Field, a natural grass pitch for women’s soccer.

Two lighted, synthetic fields serve both athletics and recreation. Bremner Field, located next to the varsity football stadium, has a 426-foot-by-270-foot AstroPlay surface. It’s used for varsity football practice and soccer games, and intramural sports. Memorial Field, a first-generation style AstroTurf surface, was installed in the summer of 2003. It is used primarily for lacrosse and field hockey practices and games and baseball practices.

The UNH figure skating team poses on the ice for this shot at the ice arena. The 8,000-square-foot fitness center serves a broad area of the student population.

Bremner Field was also installed in the summer of 2003. It was funded by a seven-year state bond with payback provided through student fees. At the time of installation, the supplier, Southwest Industries, was the long-time player in the synthetic turf industry, and thought to be the most stable. It soon ceased operations, leaving UNH with a worthless warranty. Byrne says, “The pad beneath the surface was incorrectly spec’ed, resulting in continuing drainage problems. We’ve been able to channel funds from camps and rentals into a maintenance fund, raising approximately $20,000 over three years. That’s only enough to alleviate some drainage issues, re-stitch some seams and handle needed patching. I anticipate replacement will be required within five years.”

The UNH volleyball club competes against the University of Connecticut club team.

An additional 5 acres of natural grass fields, called the Outer Fields due to their location on campus, are used for organized and casual campus recreation. Byrne says, “The native soil space has been in use for 60 years. The soil had not been amended and drainage is poor. It’s been under a minimal maintenance program, with aeration, fertilization and overseeding basically once a year in the short window between summer camps and the return of students in the fall.

“We recently undertook a $90,000 major renovation of an upper section of this area, installing inground drainage and creating a women’s softball diamond. It was completed in the fall of 2007. We anticipate renovating the remaining 3.5 acres in a $455,000 project that will include drainage system installation and development of rugby and soccer natural grass fields. We have $100,000 earmarked for this project and hope to borrow the additional funding through a university program that allows for direct payback over a designated time span. If all goes as planned, we would open all these fields to use in the fall of 2008.”

The athletic and recreation programs are joining forces under the direction of Athletic Grounds Supervisor Jim Terenzio to formulate and implement an upgraded, comprehensive field management program for all the outdoor fields. Coordination of the varsity, intramural, club, recreational and rental field scheduling will minimize wear on the natural grass fields and create workable cycles to allow for maintenance procedures. Many practices and some games will be channeled to the synthetic fields without overloading them. The game fields will be retained primarily for game use. Maintenance programs for the synthetic fields will also be upgraded.

This will increase the benefits to all UNH students. Byrne says, “The inclusion of the broad student base within the campus recreation program produces relationships. Students leave with a sense of ownership and positive feelings for what they’ve had here. Looking back on college life, former students remember the time out of the classroom, anecdotal incidents centered around events that were recreational and social in nature, more than the infinite number of things academic. By enhancing the overall college experience, everyone wins.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.