Proper planning key to success

Field renovation at this site works around the existing track and natural grass field.
Photos by Suz Trusty.

Sports field projects range from minor to major renovations through conversions and new construction. Though the details will vary for each facility, and often for each field, thorough pre-construction preparation is key to the success of each project.

A paved walkway to the track will reduce wear on the surrounding turf once the sod is installed and field use resumes
Photos by Suz Trusty.

Gregg Roberts is director of construction and facilities for the four high school sites of Placer Union High School District in Auburn, Calif. For the majority of his 19 years with the district, Roberts has overseen the entire maintenance program, as well as field construction and renovation. His staff, the equivalent of 7.5 full-time people, handles everything on the sites outside of the buildings, including the landscape features and trash detail, as well as the fields.

While the number of students is relatively stable, sports participation has increased with teams at all levels for most sports. The largest site has a synthetic turf stadium field; a practice field next to the stadium that also serves as the events area for track; two soccer fields, one lighted and one not; two baseball fields; and a softball field. The next largest site has a multiuse natural grass stadium field, plus one field each for football and soccer and two each for softball and baseball. The third site has a stadium field, with a practice area next to it for soccer and football, and a softball field. The last site has a stadium field, and a softball and baseball field. Baseball and softball outfields are used as practice fields for football and soccer in the off-season.

Mike Tarantino is director of maintenance and operations for Poway Unified School District in Poway, Calif., an area where population growth continues to drive the construction of new schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. He served as director of grounds for the district, including the sports fields, prior to moving to his current position where he also oversees the building maintenance.

Poway’s newest high school site, covering a total of 70 acres with 14 acres of sports fields and 20 acres of general turf and landscape, is typical of recent projects. Each site has a lighted stadium with a synthetic turf field for use by the multiple levels of boys’ football teams and boys’ and girls’ teams for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and rugby.

As public school sites, both the Poway and Placer Union fields also are used by PE classes during the day and camps during the summer. When not used for school events, they can be scheduled for use by other organized sports groups. Some areas, such as the tracks, are open for community recreational use.

Both urge including post-construction maintenance considerations in pre-construction maintenance. Roberts says, “If you’re the one responsible for maintenance after you build it, you’re definitely going to be looking at the long-term impact. When those roles are filled by different individuals, or even different departments, effective communication is essential at every step of the process to ensure everyone is focused on the same goal.”

Tarantino adds, “Be realistic. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you develop specifications for a Petco Park type sand-based field without the budget for the equipment, supplies and staff to maintain it. Also, remember to include provisions for maintenance for the additional fields as they come into use when you develop your annual budgets.”

Setting the stage

With budgets increasingly squeezed, most facilities have been exploring different ways to fund capital projects, such as adding new fields at existing sites, converting natural grass fields to synthetics or creating fields at a new site. Obviously, each facility needs to abide by the parameters of their own administrative authorities and with the designated entities for their city, county and state, as well as any federal regulatory agencies that would be applicable to the situation.

The area between the football field goalposts and the curve of the track is being prepared for track and field events.
Photos by Suz Trusty.
This area of contour renovation will channel excess water from the field surface.
Photos by Suz Trusty.

After considering all the ramifications, the state of California has officially recognized lease-leaseback as “a construction project delivery method” that school districts can use as long as all the guidelines are followed.

In a lease-leaseback project, the school district owns the property, even if it’s a new construction site. They select a developer-contractor (DC) who serves as the general or prime contractor for the project, leasing the property to the DC for $1 for the duration of the project. Initial meetings to develop a preliminary maximum price typically involve input for all potential participants, with both buildings and grounds represented for the school district and subcontractors as well as all key managers on both design and construction for the DC. Unlike typical design-bid processes, with lease-leaseback, district personnel can request that specific design and construction subcontractors be designated for segments of the project such as the sports fields. This allows site-specific issues to be addressed at the beginning of the process, reducing time-consuming and costly change orders during construction. Once the final set of plans is completed, incorporating all of this input, the subcontractors present their pricing to the DC who then develops a guaranteed maximum price (GMP). That’s the cost to the district to lease back the site and all the improvements on it upon completion of the project.

Because of the collaborative preplanning of the lease-leaseback process, sports field construction details are worked out in advance, allowing projects to start and proceed as scheduled.
Work moves forward smoothly, hitting the mark as laid out in the preplanning process.
Field surface preparation is planned and executed for top efficiency.
On-site work is compared with scheduled progress with any adjustments communicated to all parties, thus sod arrives on-site as needed for installation
Sod installation moves forward on schedule as the good communication established in the collaborative preplanning process has set the tone for communication throughout the project.
Photos courtesy of Mike Tarantino.

Poway uses the lease-leaseback arrangement for development of their new school properties. Tarantino says, “We still do our request for qualifications (RFQ), but we have the opportunity to send them to the design and construction firms that have the expertise, equipment and personnel to develop sports fields and the willingness to follow our specifications. All prevailing submissions for approval and inspection processes must be followed throughout the project as they would for any other project.”

The pre-construction site evaluation remains an extensive process with the suitability of space, soil components, projected water use, movement and drainage, lighting impact and anticipated traffic patterns among the many concerns addressed.

Tarantino generally opts for amended native soil fields, with the amendments based on the results of site-specific soil studies. He says, “We often have to adapt to multiple microclimates across a site, as well as different timing and levels of use, so we’ll have some bermudagrass and some tall fescue fields with the varieties selected to stand up to anticipated wear and mowing with rotary mowers. The use of reclaimed or potable water is certainly going to change my irrigation design and may change my turf selection. We started using the smart irrigation systems 23 years ago, so new site irrigation must have access to evapotranspiration (ET) data by satellite and off-site programming.”

The same level of consideration comes into play for the Placer Union District. Roberts reports that they’ve used the lease-leaseback process for their last five major projects, including their stadium field conversion in 2007. He says, “The plans called for stripping out the existing natural grass field and viewing the synthetic field and new track installation as a new construction. Even with the interactive preplanning of lease-leaseback, we’re always prepared to make adjustments, and some were needed during the installation. With all parties invested and working together, those changes become a collaborative process. The field is entering the fourth season in the fall of 2010, and there have been a few warranty issues the contractor has needed to come back on-site to address. A bad batch of glue had been used on the track so the contractor had to completely redo it. All issues have been handled cooperatively, reducing the impact for the contractors, as well as the district.”

With limited change orders, construction time can be reduced, too. Tarantino says, “Using the typical design-bid process, our typical high school site development projects had taken five years from conception to occupancy, middle schools two to two and a half years, and elementary schools from 18 months to two years. With lease-leaseback, our last elementary school construction took six months of planning and just eight months to install. That allowed us to open at the start of the school year, eliminating the costs and time required for a midyear occupancy.”

Preparing for renovations

Tarantino says pre-construction for in-house sports field projects with his existing staff is a process he has fine-tuned over his 26 years with the district. Much of the preliminary work is the same as that of field construction projects. He says, “We assess the soil profile and take soil samples to gauge the micronutrients and EC rates to determine what amendments will be needed. We also check for any drainage and field leveling issues. We know what type of turf we’ll use depending on the type of field, anticipated use and microclimate. Renovating or replacing the irrigation system is streamlined in-house, because my staff knows what the standards are and what we’re looking for in the setup, heads, valves and clocks.”

With his existing natural turf fields in nearly constant use, Roberts has developed a program of scheduling one or two fields at each school site for renovation each year. With personnel limitations and a tight window for project completion, he starts the planning process with site assessment in February. He says, “We generally use the same turf supplier, Delta Bluegrass, and work with their sports turf project specialist, Steve Abella. He and I walk the fields at each of our four sites with our grounds people to assess conditions, identify the fields in the poorest condition and determine how to address the issues.”

The work could range from a simple aeration and topdressing to total renovation. Some procedures are done in-house, some by the contractor, and some jointly, all based on the procedures to be completed, the time available to complete them and the best allocation of resources. Roberts says, “They may bring in sod and install it. We may harvest sod from non-field areas on-site to use as sod or sprigs for field renovation, with our personnel doing most or all of the work. Last year, we shut down two fields at one site, with the contractor harvesting the useable sod from sections of one field, resodding that area and using the harvested sod to sprig the second field.”

As both Roberts and Tarantino demonstrate, it takes effective pre-construction preparation to efficiently produce the desired results.

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.