Worcester Academy, a private, independent, day and boarding school for grades six to 12 in Worcester, Massachusetts, takes its athletics very seriously.
In 2013, the school’s synthetic turf field was named the “Outstanding Single Field of the Year” by the American Sports Builders Association. Most of the school’s students are athletes, and six of its 2015 graduating class have signed letters of intent to play college athletics — some alumni even have gone on to play professional sports. That’s why, for sports turf manager Ben Polimer, it’s imperative to keep the school’s fields in top condition.
Despite its strong athletics program, its facilities are not immune to budget restrictions. This year, Polimer reports that his maintenance budget is lower than in 2014, and he’s had reduced budgets for the past several seasons. Like many field managers in similar positions, he’s found he has to do more with less.
In SportsField Management’s 2015 State of the Profession Survey, published in our January issue, one of the questions asked, “What is your 2015 maintenance budget?” Of the 321 survey respondents, here is how the answers broke down:
- Up more than 10 percent: 12 (3.74 percent)
- Up 10 percent: 20 (6.23 percent)
- Up 5 percent: 38 (11.84 percent)
- Same: 211 (65.73 percent)
- Down 5 percent: 18 (5.61 percent)
- Down 10 percent: 11 (3.43 percent)
- Down more than 10 percent:11 (3.43 percent)
Also relating to budgets, 25 percent of the respondents said that having “old equipment to do the job right” is the biggest problem they have in managing their field. These answers clearly indicate that, to a number of field managers, working with a lower budget in some form is a definitely a challenge — but not one that should cripple your operations and practices.
Polimer understands that every budget has a natural ebb and flow, and that academics remain a higher priority than athletics. His plan to cut costs while creating great playing surfaces nearly 700 students? Get back to basics.
Prior to budget cuts, a large portion of work was contracted out to companies with the appropriate equipment. Now, many of those jobs — such as core aeration, deep tine aeration and topdressing — are done in-house or not at all. For example, since the school doesn’t have a topdresser and sand can bulk up the budget, topdressing has fallen by the wayside.
Handling as many tasks in-house as possible is crucial to Polimer’s money-saving strategy.
“Mechanic work is in-house; we do as much in-house maintenance of anything — equipment, fields, anything — as we can,” Polimer says.
He also informs vendors of his constraints and has developed a network of vendors who are willing to work with his budget.
“I work with vendors who understand my situation,” Polimer explains. “I get multiple bids from all different vendors.”
And, most importantly, he says: “I rely on the basic agronomics — aeration, seeding and fertility.”
Maintaining this strategy during both lean and more prosperous economic times allows Polimer to do more when he has the money, and to sustain beautiful fields when there isn’t as much cash to go around.
Of course, no sports turf manager at any level could get by without an excellent staff.
Polimer and his staff of an assistant, tech and a number of part-timers manage the synthetic Morse Field, the winner of the 2013 ASBA honor, as well as 18 acres of natural grass sports fields. Efficiency is a must, since they have more to do with less time and money. Practices and games start right after school ends for the day, sometimes as early as 1 p.m. Polimer’s team arrives at 7 a.m. at the latest to prepare the fields by midday.
And the best part — he hasn’t had to cut anybody from his staff. “We’re very lucky,” he says. “The institution understands how important our staff is.”