The evacuation of excess moisture is paramount to the success of an athletic field. We know that a field with a small amount of organics, or top soil, generally tends to be better at binding more nutrients in the rootzone. Beyond the ability to retain more nutrients, the presence of native soil in rootzones tends to improve the surface stability. The downsides to a field with excess amounts of clay, or organic material, include getting compacted easily, a poor exchange of air and water and a susceptibility to get water-logged in times of excess moisture.
The ideal athletic field utilizes a gravel blanket and an underdrain system to create a high-quality surface. It’s hard to beat the outstanding drainage and rootzone these types of fields provide. The design of these fields allows for a uniform medium to be established and they remove excess moisture very quickly. These types of fields have few downsides, beyond the upfront cost to construct and an increase in the level of maintenance. A couple of points of focus here are increases in both irrigation and fertilization, due to the sand rootzone. Typically, fertilization should be increased, or the field will require “spoon-feeding” due to the rootzone’s inability to adequately bind the nutrients. It’s important to consider the inputs, but this type of natural field is the highest performer in its class.
Another option to consider for a facility is a sand-slit drainage system. This system can reduce intense maintenance while improving a field’s drainage capability. It’s a happy marriage of the two aspects, because the system can evacuate the excess moisture while still utilizing native soils that can be easier to maintain (for natural fields). This system requires fewer inputs, with respect to fertilization and daily irrigation.
Sand-slit drainage is a functional and economical way to improve an athletic field (without complete reclamation of the facility) that has good planarity, a good variety of turf and a native-soil rootzone. The system can whisk away excess water without drying out the field. Cost-wise, it’s cheaper for the owner to maintain, requires less staff time and is cheaper to install in the front end.
This system also cuts down on maintenance, as it requires less fertilizer, irrigation and direct maintenance – it doesn’t need to be watered or fed as much, due to leaching through the rootzone. The long-term maintenance of this system is maintained by having it re-slit after five to seven years of use. This improves the overall downtime for the facility.
The installation time is also significantly quicker, since it doesn’t involve total renovation of the existing facility. It’s about a two-to-three week process to install and the sand-slitting process itself only takes a couple of days.
The real benefit to the system is that water doesn’t have to move more than 10 inches over the surface area to find pore spacing for it to be evacuated. Water moves into the sand slits and then into the lateral collector lines. These lines then drop into another collector line that will either remove water from the field, or into a site drain system.
By having this system, the field will be wet with significant rainfall, but not muddy because the excess water will be evacuated. It removes moisture in a way that keeps the field playable, even with a major rain event. In return, fields will be able to tolerate heavier wear.
In September 2014, Sports Turf Company installed a sand-slit drainage system at Bacon County High School’s (Alma, Georgia) football, baseball and softball fields. The school system wanted fields that drained efficiently, but were also easily maintainable. The most economical way we saw to accomplish both goals was through the installation of a sand-slit drainage system.
Three years later, the fields are still performing at an optimal level. Scott Taylor, facilities and maintenance director for Bacon County Schools says, “the fields are great, drain well and are easy to maintain.”