Turf maintenance and repair

Back-to-back playoff games require quick turnaround, with crews removing one logo while painting another.

With near-perpetual use the norm for most synthetic turf sports fields, a well-planned and executed maintenance program is essential to provide safe, playable surfaces for field users and protect the facility’s investment. The typical supplier’s warranty on synthetic field systems is eight years if maintenance and repair meet their predefined requirements. Most facilities plan and budget for longer effective usage. Jody Gill, CSFM, grounds coordinator for the Blue Valley School District based in Overland Park, Kan., anticipates a projected field life of 12 years with their continual maintenance and repair program.

Each of the district’s five high schools has a synthetic turf field. As with most public entities, field installations are awarded to the lowest bidder of the acceptable synthetic turf system suppliers, with bids based on the detailed specifications for the fields. Blue Valley’s first four fields, AstroTurf’s Game Day Grass XPe, were installed in 2006. The fifth is a Sprinturf field, installed for the newest high school, Blue Valley Southwest, in 2009. All of the fields have 100 percent rubber infill.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Turfgrass Manager Jared Hertzel oversees three FieldTurf synthetic turf systems. The current Memorial Stadium game field was installed in 2005. Also in 2005, an identical field, with all football markings and logos sewn in, was installed in the indoor practice facility, Hawks Championship Center. In 2010, the outdoor practice field was installed adjacent to the center. It has an all sand base reinforced with Stabilizer StaLok fibers. All have combination sand/crumb rubber infill.

Deep grooming rectifies infill migration and stands up turf fibers.

Angelo DeSimone is assistant superintendent for business for the Ridgewood New Jersey Public Schools. The district had FieldTurf synthetic turf systems installed in the high school stadium and on their Stevens Field practice facility in the fall of 2010. Both have combination sand/crumb rubber infill.

General maintenance

Advancements in equipment for maintenance of synthetic surfaces continually bring sports field managers new options. Their choices are based on specific field needs, budgets and suppliers’ warranty requirements.

Ridgewood uses the GroomRight, a combination brush, aerator and rake provided by FieldTurf for most in-house cleaning and grooming. DeSimone says, “We have one for each field and pull them with a tractor. With the city, we jointly purchased a heavy sweeper and can rent a LayMor locally if we need a more powerful machine. We also have a maintenance agreement with LandTek Group, based in Amityville, N.Y., a contractor authorized by FieldTurf for installation, maintenance and repairs, including seam mending. They do cleanup, deep grooming, any necessary repairs and Gmax testing twice a year.”

Blue Valley handles all standard maintenance in-house. At first, they used only the pull-behind sweepers provided by the supplier. About three years ago they purchased Redexim’s Verti-Top machine. “We use it for weekly grooming during the season, setting the brushes to just touch the surface. Once a month, we reset the rollers so the brushes run deep,” says Gill.

The Sprinturf installation contract included supplying the GreensGroomer LitterKat tow-behind, ground-driven sweeper and tow-behind magnet. Gill says, “We use the two in tandem for weekly grooming on that field and the Verti-Top monthly for deeper grooming. Anytime we use the Verti-Top, we make a second pass, towing the magnet with a utility vehicle.”

With the previous logo just removed, the crew paints the next one.

Hertzel also uses the LitterKat and magnet combination for debris cleanup and light grooming, with the timing based on the seasonal needs of each field. He says, “We use the FieldTurf supplied unit to rectify infill migration and stand up the turf fibers, irrigating afterward to settle the infill.”

UNL has pop-up irrigation connections for water guns installed within the sidelines at the corners and midfield for both outdoor fields. Hertzel says, “The guns put out a lot of water and have a long reach, so irrigation is quick when needed. Coverage is an issue in windy situations, especially on the open practice field.”

The Blue Valley fields only have quick coupler valves for access to water if needed for cleanup. Though athletic training or coaching staffs may handle cleanup and disinfecting required for incidents involving bodily fluids, most sports field staffs are equipped and prepared to do so if necessary.

Seam repair

Seams are rarely a problem on anything that was tufted into the field during production. Markings cut into the field during installation can be susceptible, especially in heavy-use areas, and with small insertions such as the numbers, hash marks or arrows.

At Blue Valley, the Verti-Top operator watches for seam issues as they clean. Gill says, “We also walk all the seams once a week. This repeated scrutiny enables our crew to spot a loose seam in the early stages and make the repairs immediately on-site.”

Hertzel follows similar procedures. He says, “We’ve never had a seam problem with the stadium field. We do on the practice fields, both indoors and out. Usually it’s where they run repetitive drills, but it can happen just about anywhere.”

Seams can be repaired by sewing or gluing. Some sports field managers use only one method. Others use both, selecting the remedy based on where the problem occurs and the type of synthetic field. The choice of adhesives varies by facility and supplier recommendations. Many use those specifically formulated for synthetic fields, often opting for field repair kits. Gill and Hertzel generally use a PL (polyurethane) adhesive from a local source.

The first repair step is removal of infill material around the problem area. “We’ll use a hand-held, cordless vacuum for removal in small areas; a shop vac for larger areas, says Gill. The next step with glued seams is removing as much of the remaining glue as possible. Hertzel says, “We use a putty knife, cutting and scraping back to the fabric surface so the glue will hold better.”

The third step is applying the adhesive according to supplier recommendations. Next comes working the infill material back in, making sure it is level with the surrounding material.

At Blue Valley, logos are painted for playoff games.

Special situations

All three stress the importance of maintaining good communications with the synthetic field system supplier, and contacting them for recommendations and assistance when special situations occur.

Blue Valley noticed uneven wear with the AstroTurf fields during the fifth year of use. Gill says, “All of the white fibers were wearing down twice as fast as the green fibers. It was visible looking across the field with the white lines appearing to dip into the turf. It was worse in high-use areas, but occurred all across the field. The AstroTurf people were excellent to work with. They came in, recognized the problem and, though they didn’t explain why it occurred, they stepped up to solve it.”

The fix was complex, removing the existing white segments and replacing them with new material. The new sections were glued in on-site and the infill replaced at the company’s expense. Gill says, “We had to take each field out of play for two to three weeks, but they scheduled the work during our lowest point for field usage.”

At UNL, the indoor field was installed without a vapor barrier over compacted native clay soil and very small white rock. Hertzel says, “There are no irrigation or additional internal drainage systems, so we didn’t irrigate that field at first. With winter heating, there’s virtually no humidity. The field has a 9-inch crown, so that area dries out the quickest. The drying clay particles began pulling away from each other, creating cracking underneath the field surface. We contacted FieldTurf. They were great to work with, coming in to help us repair it.”

They cut through the turf, anticipating about a foot-long crack at a 4 to 5-inch depth. Hertzel says, “It was nearly 4 feet long. We forced sand into the opening to channel water down to the crack. Then we put a fabric layer over the top of the crushed rock. They sewed up the section they’d cut and replaced the infill. Since then, we’ve had just a few smaller cracks appear. We follow the same procedure in-house, though now we’re gluing rather than sewing. So far, we’ve not had to redo any areas that cracked previously. I now pull in a hose and irrigate periodically as conditions warrant it.”

At Ridgewood, Ho-Ho-Kus Brook runs between the two synthetic fields. In late August, Hurricane Irene dumped 11 inches of rain in a very short period. The brook flooded, covering both fields with nearly 3 feet of water. Water pressure trapped air in the system under one field and the surface bubbled up, creating two camel-like humps that ran lengthwise between the goalposts. The humps deflated as the air came out of the system, but the force had separated some of the seams where markings had been inserted.

DeSimone says, “When the waters receded, scattered debris and a thick covering of very fine, very muddy silt covered the fields. We’d removed silt left by lesser flooding early in the spring, but this layer was much deeper and so packed we were concerned about silt infiltration of the infill creating a hard surface unsafe for play.”

Not wanting to risk more field damage or affect their warranty, the school contacted FieldTurf. DeSimone says, “They were very supportive and helped guide our decision to contract LandTek for the work. It couldn’t be done until the silt dried to the dust-like consistency required for effective removal. That took until mid-September.”

The District hired a local contractor to remove large debris, clear areas around the fields and replace fencing that had been destroyed. “LandTek brought an arsenal of equipment,” says DeSimone. “They did the seam work first, restoring a level surface for the silt removal. They tested different machines, working from the least disruptive up, settling on a process that vibrated the infill while pulling up loose material. It stirred up so much dust they had to rig up a hood-like covering to contain it. Even with our crew assisting their personnel, the process took a full week on each field, removing approximately 100 cubic yards of silt and silt-contaminated infill from the two fields. Gmax testing results following installation of new infill matched those registered following the initial installation. Costs just for LandTek’s work totaled $130,000.”

Because the fields are downstream from a wastewater treatment plant, sewage contamination was a possibility. Though test results showed none, the fields were disinfected immediately after the cleanup and restoration were completed. The stadium field reopened the first weekend in October; Stevens field two weeks later.

DeSimone says, “The project was time intensive, in coordination for the work involved and in communications with the multiple field user groups. We’re weighing our options for potential flooding in the future. It may be more cost effective to buy the equipment and train our staff than hire outside contractors.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.