Developing a parks and rec department

W hile the town of Miami Lakes, Fla., is relatively new, having incorporated in 2000, the community has graually developed over the last 30-plus years. That development was, and continues to be, guided by a master plan formulated in conjunction with the vision of the Graham family, including family member Bob Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. senator.

Green space was an integral part of the plan from the beginning. Tony Lopez, director of parks and recreation, says, “We’re unique in that no matter where you live within Miami Lakes, you have park space within walking distance. We have 96 neighborhood parks. Some are simply open space, some have just a few benches, and some are ‘tot lots,’ with playground equipment.”

Lopez became part of the parks and recreation department five years ago, starting as a recreation leader and became director in July of 2007. He’s a certified parks and recreation professional; a certified playground safety inspector; and recipient of national state and local awards, recognizing his innovation and pioneering leadership in the parks and recreation field.

“We’re still a very small department, with a total of four full-time and four part-time personnel,” says Lopez. “We’re also responsible for two major, active parks and two community centers. We’re in the process of building a state-of-the-art LEED Certified Green community center at our Royal Oaks Park. It’s slated for completion in early 2009. We’re building a marina/dock facility for nonmotorized boating activities. We have lakefront beaches to maintain, but currently have no other aquatic facilities. The town’s future projects include the development of a clubhouse/gymnasium facility and a community swimming pool.”

With a history of over 30 years, it’s understandable that some of the neighborhood parks needed renovation. Lopez says, “Many of the playgrounds we inherited didn’t meet current safety standards. We set up a five-phase program to correct that and are now in the fourth stage.”

Photos courtesy of the Miami Lakes Parks and Recreation Department.
Tony Lopez, director of parks and recreation, stands on the skinned infield of one of the sevenbaseball/softball fields at Miami Lakes Optimist Park. Royal Oaks Park’s shade shelters add to the atmosphere of this multiuse facility.
This view of Royal Oaks Park shows the multiple soccer field setup. Along with the sports fields, Royal Oaks Park includes a playground, shelters and a concession building.

Major parks

The oldest active park is the Miami Lakes Optimist Park. Along with the general use turf areas, it has four full-size, multipurpose sports fields used for football, two other fields that are used for football and youth soccer and seven baseball/softball fields. These outfields are also used for youth tackle and flag football.

Royal Oaks Park was added in 2005. It has open, general use turf space and four regulation-size sports fields. Two are designated as soccer fields, and two are used for football and soccer.

Nearly all the sports fields in the area have bermudagrass turf, with the majority Tifway 419. “It was on all the fields at Optimist Park, and we sprigged three of the fields at Royal Oaks with it,” says Lopez. “I’d heard good performance reports on seashore paspalum, so we sprigged one of the new fields with it for a side-by-side comparison.”

With such a small staff, construction and maintenance in most areas are outsourced to local contractors. Lopez says, “We use several outsourced companies to handle all the projects and maintenance taking place at any one time. Each project and new or recurring maintenance agreement is subject to the bid process. We currently have two different contractors covering the maintenance of the two active use parks and neighborhood parks.”

Photos courtesy of the Miami Lakes Parks and Recreation Department.
Work progresses during the sprigging stage of field construction at Royal Oaks Park.
Sprigging during the initial construction of the fields at Royal Oaks Park.
Across the outfield toward the backstop of one of the baseball/softball fields at Miami Lakes Optimist Park shows the lights and a soccer goal.

Field use

The recreation programs are outsourced to volunteer groups. The Miami Lakes Optimist Club runs the baseball, tackle and flag football and basketball programs, and has done so for over 30 years. The Miami Lakes Soccer Club runs the soccer program. Lopez says, “All of the programs are coordinated through our department. We maintain the fields and facilities and handle the game setup for the programs. The volunteer groups do the sign-up, team coordination, arrange for the coaches and officials and do the practice field setup. We work together on the field use schedules. They are essentially an extension of our department.”

The Optimist’s outdoor sports programs include fall and spring baseball, a summer flag football season and a summer-to-fall football season that practices at Optimist Park and plays its home games at Royal Oaks. The soccer program runs from August to May, with practices and games all held at Royal Oaks.

“When I came on board, if there was no scheduled activity on a field, anyone could use it. With so much overuse, most of the fields were about 10 percent turf and 90 percent weeds,” says Lopez. “We established a program with built-in downtime. We try to rest the fields for at least one month during the summer with no use, or at least very minimal use. We also shut them down for two weeks in mid-November to overseed the bermudagrass fields with perennial ryegrass, and we take them out of play from mid-December through January 1.

The switch

The soccer program combination of practices and play, plus the football home games put a heavy load on the new fields at Royal Oaks Park. Lopez says, “The bermudagrass would get worn down to the point we’d have to resod at least part of each field in the summer to get ready for the next round of play. The seashore paspalum stood its ground with equal play, and even when we put more activity on it attempting to preserve the bermuda. We decided to switch one of the other fields there to paspalum and to replace one of the multiuse bermuda fields at Optimist Park with it.”

The switch took place the summer of 2007. The renovations were handled by the maintenance contractors for the respective parks. At each site, the bermuda was killed out with glyphosate. The surface material was removed, and the existing soil was leveled, topped with a layer of sand, leveled again and crowned for surface drainage, treated with a preemergent and sprigged with paspalum. At Royal Oaks, the sprigs were rototilled in. At Optimist Park, they were injected into the soil.

Lopez says, “To speed up the process, we did end up sodding at the top of the crowned area and at a few other spots on both fields, using a seashore paspalum sod grown on a similar soil profile. We held them out of play for a total of two months overall, waiting until we felt they were well enough established for use.”

The Royal Oaks field is performing as well as the first field, as anticipated. “We are having issues with the paspalum field at Optimist Park and are in the process of analyzing why,” says Lopez. “It may be the different underlying soil conditions, the different microclimate, the effects of the water restrictions, any combination of those factors, or something we’ve yet to discover. Initially, the town considered a different variety of bermudagrass instead of the paspalum. But, overall, I’m pleased with the choice we made. Fertilization costs are lower, and we save the overseeding costs. We do see a little browning as the temperatures drop, but it’s not a big problem.”

Maintenance program

Care for the general-use park space is included in the contract with each maintenance supplier. It covers the bahia and St. Augustine turf. Baseball and softball field maintenance is also spelled out, including the basics of infield care, game and practice field preparations and safety inspections.

Irrigation system maintenance and operation are covered within the terms of the agreement. With so many variables involved, it does not spell out the amount of water to be applied, or the timing of irrigation. Instead, it calls for “the proper amount of water to keep the plant material in optimum health.” It also contains a provision for adjustments for seasonal conditions or when water restrictions are imposed.

Severe water restrictions started in January of 2008. Lopez says, “On the athletic fields, we’re allowed to irrigate after 11 p.m. and before 7 a.m. for 20 minutes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at each site. On the general turf areas and the small neighborhood park sites, we’re only allowed to water between 4 and 8 a.m. once a week for 10 minutes. Use of reclaimed water is exempt from these restrictions, but, to date, that’s not something we’ve incorporated into our program.”

The contract requires core aeration “at least” once a month, with additional aeration as needed “in areas of noticeable compaction and wear.” Verticutting and either slicing or spiking are specified for once a year, with additional use of these procedures if required. Rolling is specified when the field grade is impacted by “use, topdressing or damage.”

Separate program details are given for the general maintenance segment for the two types of turf used on all the athletic fields. Both specify mowing with a reel-type mower a minimum of 104 times per year, with the height of cut ranging from .5 to .75 inch. Both types of turf areas are to be topdressed twice a year with a material that matches the soil profile of each field. The need for additional topdressing as required by field conditions also is addressed.

There are two major differences in this segment of the two turf programs. Overseeding with a ryegrass blend is required on the bermudagrass fields and conditioning with a calcined clay or similar approved product is specified annually. Neither procedure is listed for the paspalum.

The fertilization program for all the turf areas calls for a minimum of three soil tests a year, with additional testing if needed to diagnose problem areas or address nutrient deficiencies. The soil test results are to be provided in writing. The fertilizer formula for each application is to be determined by the soil test results, soil type and time of year, with the appropriate “commercial-grade” products selected by the contractor, but subject to approval by the department.

Insect, weed and disease control follows standard IPM procedures, with any applications made by certified applicators. In Florida, fire ants and mole crickets are the two most persistent pests. Lopez says, “Preventive or curative use of any control product is discussed in the weekly meetings with the contractors and is subject to my approval. All details of applications must be provided in writing to our department by the contractor.”

Communication

Information and education are key to the success of the program. Lopez or a department representative personally meets weekly with the presidents of the Optimist Club and the Soccer Club, so there is one main contact for each group. They share information, discuss needs on both sides, and Lopez has the opportunity to explain what procedures will be taking place and how they impact safety and playability. There are also weekly meetings with the maintenance contractors. Lopez says, “These are usually site walk-throughs out on the fields. Our recreation operations manager handles much of that.”

The third part of the equation is the volunteer committees that are involved in the town’s activities. These currently include: the Economic Develop-ment Committee, Youth Activities Task Force, Elderly Affairs Committee, Cultural Affairs Committee, Beautification Advis-ory Committee, Education Advisory Board and the Historical Society Committee.

Lopez meets with representatives of these groups on a regular basis. He says, “Just one example of the committees’ activities is the second annual Senior Olympic-style Games the Elderly Affairs Committee is currently planning. The work of these committees and the two sports groups add so much to the community overall, the combined effect is outstanding.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.