Is a major makeover right for you?

Photos Courtesy of Alpine Services, Inc.

In the real world, there is no unlimited budget. Every field renovation project has its limitations. When existing field conditions are less than ideal, and funding for new fields is not available, renovation can make a big difference in the overall athletic program. The question is, how much renovation is needed? The goal is to find the right balance of available dollars to most effectively improve the fields you have.

If you have a fixed amount of money, determine what can be done with it to effectively work toward your goal. Further funding will more likely be available when the original expenditures have resulted in visibly improved fields.

A 14-foot blade grader does a final grade on 10-inch fill along the right-field side of the softball field.

You need fields that work and stand up to the required loads. The first step is to review the existing field use program and identify the shortcomings of the fields. Once you have identified the problem, you can start working toward the remedy.

You may decide to work with an architect or a consultant to develop your remediation plan and help identify the contractors to carry it out, or you may decide to work directly with the contracting company that focuses on building and renovating athletic fields. Regardless, they should make an assessment of your current field conditions, and the problem areas should be identified. Renovation strategies to alleviate those problems should be addressed, and a schedule that will cause the least disturbance to your programs should be determined.

Key input on the needs, goals and site decisions should come from the facility’s sports field manager who should be involved in every step of the process. In addition, they will have insight on what resources will be required to sustain field quality once the renovation work is completed.

Be aware that the available post-renovation maintenance budget should be taken into consideration when determining the renovation decisions.

Multiple-field renovation

Here’s an example of a multiple field renovation project for Kent County High School in Worton, Md. This high school serves the town and surrounding rural area. Work on the fields has been needed for some time and under serious consideration for four years.

Budget constraints would not allow the complete renovation of all existing fields, therefore the scope of the project was to make the greatest improvement in the most economical manner.

The school’s baseball and softball fields along with their stadium field were located on the east side of a square parking lot at the back of the school. The one existing rectangular practice field was located on the west side of that lot, next to a smaller asphalt parking lot that extended beyond the field, farther away from the school.

A field at Kent County High School before stripping the grass and installing the crown. The initial fill material dump will allow installation of a crown.

With limited funding for the project, no inground irrigation would be included in any of the field renovations, and no work would be undertaken on the stadium field, which was in usable condition.

The baseball infield turf was overgrown with a mix of grassy and broadleaf weeds, and the skinned area was in poor condition. The existing slope trapped water in the infield, keeping it constantly wet. The outfield had a decent stand of grass, primarily a blend of turf-type tall fescues, but the heights of the two sections of the field did not match.

The weedy top layer of the infield was removed using a Koro Topmaker, and the remaining soil and infield mix was taken down to a depth of 4 inches. For at least 38 years, the field had not lined up with the existing backstop. The layout was shifted 3 feet to come into alignment. To rebuild the infield, native topsoil was brought in from a local source for the grass area. It was graded to match the base path and to provide drainage slope.

Level base paths were rebuilt using a 4-inch depth of infield mix. The arc behind the base path served as the transition to match the base path with the existing outfield. A standard mound and home plate area were constructed.

A fescue mix sod was installed on the reworked infield using standard-cut, 14-inch, slab sod grown on native sandy loam soil. After the sod was down, the final touch-up work was done on the skinned areas to ensure the proper transition from turf to dirt.

On the outfield of the existing softball field, areas in deep left field were nearly 2 feet higher than the surrounding field surface, yet a 30-by-60-foot section beyond third base was lower and filled with standing water. On the skinned infield, home plate was about 10 inches lower than regulation. The right field line was almost 10 inches lower than home plate.

About an acre of asphalt parking lot and hard-surface tennis courts were located 6 feet above the field and approximately 60 feet away from it. Water from those surfaces drained down onto the softball field, so home plate was always wet.

Because so much dirt and infield material needed to be moved, this was a significant renovation. The existing turf on the outfield was stripped using the Koro Topmaker so that no grass or weeds were mixed into the remaining soil. Soil and infield material were moved, and the field was precision-graded to establish the proper elevations. The process raised home plate 8 inches. A crown was created in the outfield with a gradual slope from the 3-inch high point in center field down to either foul pole. A deep swale was installed to extend around the outfield behind the warning track. Water from the outfield will run off into the swale instead of moving into the infield as before. The swale will also intercept the water from the hard surfaces above the field.

This area is within the highest section of the eastern shore of Maryland. The entire region has a grid of drainage ditches going from county to county. The swale channels water into one of these drainage ditches.

The skinned infield was topped with new ball diamond mix. A local contractor slit-seeded the outfield in two directions with fescue mix.

The existing rectangular field had been serving as the only practice site for the football, soccer and field hockey teams. Field conditions reflected that overuse. Additional field space was needed to mitigate excess play on the grass.

A 30-foot extension was created at one end of the field, bringing it up to regulation size. The existing weedy surface was removed, and a 12-inch depth of native soil was brought in and precision-graded to match up with the existing field surface.

The finished baseball infield. Alpine Services precision-graded the total infield area, cut out for the skinned area and baseball paths, installed topsoil and compost for the grass area, and built the mound and home plate areas.

The asphalt was removed from the parking lot at the far side of the existing rectangular field to free up enough space for one and a half regulation-size football fields. A stone base was topped with a 12-inch depth of native soil and precision-graded with a 1 percent crown running from centerfield out to the sidelines. This created a surface flat enough for soccer and field hockey with sufficient surface drainage to avoid overly wet conditions. A local contractor slit seeded in two directions, putting down a mix of tall fescues on both the new fields and the extension of the existing field.

The renovated fields will make a huge impact on the sports program. The school is a great community unifier and it was obvious that the field work plays a significant role in raising community spirit. The multiple field renovations used the school’s money very wisely. Though it’s hard to compare the expenditures to new field costs without a determination of the types of fields that would be constructed, one may estimate the costs at approximately one quarter of the funding needed for new fields.

Whether the makeover is major or minor, completed all at once or over an extended period of time, it’s all about defining the goals and finding a way of working together to achieve those goals.

Grove Teates is president of Alpine Services, Inc., in Gaithersburg, Md. The company specializes in building and renovating athletic fields for all sports activities.