“Start the process of selecting a synthetic turf system by clearly defining needs. Then base the field requirements on the most intensive level of use. The sports field manager can play a vital role during the planning process by helping facility owners develop realistic expectations for what the synthetic turf field under consideration can and should contribute to the program,” says Jim Puhalla. As president of Sportscape International, Inc., a firm specializing in the design, construction, renovation and maintenance of sports fields and related facilities, he’s seen how important that guidance can be.

Fortunately, there are some great new resources to aid in synthetic turf selection. One, a 2010 update of a respected industry resource, incorporates Puhalla’s experience in project management and coordination, conceptual drawings, construction drawings and specifications, on-site inspections, construction supervision and overall construction administration. The title of the new book is “Sports Fields, Design, Construction and Maintenance. Second Edition” by James C. Puhalla, Jeffrey V. Krans and J. Michael Goatley Jr.

Another new resource introduced in 2010 comes from the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), the second edition of “Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual.” While the first edition covered only synthetic turf fields, the new book includes natural turf fields. The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) has developed several publications to assist in the selection process including “Suggested Guidelines for the Essential Elements of Synthetic Turf Systems.”

Even application of the infill material is a critical step in the installation process.

Set the parameters

When planning, consider features that could be incorporated to make the field more versatile, such as inlaid lines for multiple sports, or more visually appealing. Those alternating light and dark green sections on synthetic turf football fields might never have happened if sports field managers hadn’t asked for them.

FieldTurf has developed an innovative end zone tray system for the New Meadowlands Stadium so that the New York Giants and the Jets can have their own customized end zones for each game. Some of the special logos for the 2010 Bowl games on synthetic fields were installed sections of custom-designed synthetic turf, rather than paint applications. While each extra feature will add to the initial cost, it could result in savings over the life of the field by trimming prep time.

A design consultant or architect experienced in synthetic turf system installations involved early in the process can help analyze the options and make sure all environmental and site-specific construction and installation issues are properly addressed. This individual or firm generally will determine what will be specified in the contract, basing those considerations on the factors developed by the facility’s decision-making team.

A major aspect of the decision to install a synthetic turf system is the cost involved, both in comparisons between the various synthetic systems and with various natural turfgrass fields. Facilities, suppliers, researchers and turf-related associations have sought to define this over the years, with varying outcomes.

Two such studies reported in 2010 focused on what many sports field managers might consider a realistic format for comparison: the cost per event over a 20-year life span of the field. While both studies were reported to have considered the installation costs along with the annual maintenance costs, the estimated available hours of on-field events in one study were six times higher for synthetic turf fields than for natural turfgrass fields. In the second study, use estimates for the synthetic fields were slightly under twice that of the natural turfgrass fields. Obviously, the estimated costs per event reflected that disparity.

Compiling original installation costs, tracking field-use hours and total field maintenance costs, both overall and as allocated per field within the existing program, will provide site-specific, per-event costs. These can be used as a base for comparison in estimating the anticipated per-event costs of the synthetic field systems under consideration.

This synthetic turf field from Shaw Sportexe features a football-specific layout that highlights team spirit.

Explore the options

Puhalla recommends reviewing supplier information in printed brochures, on websites and at trade shows to determine which companies to contact for more in-depth information. He says, “Set up direct sales presentations with the selected suppliers for your decision-making team.”

These suppliers may have additional resources to offer as part of the introductory sales presentation. Dan Collier, western U.S. sales manager for Shaw Sportexe, says the company can provide prospective customers with a series of forms to work through for comparative analysis of nearly every step of the selection process. This includes product audit forms for the fiber, backing, infill, testing and the system.

Many suppliers offer multiple options in products, with design factors tailored for the anticipated uses. Some present each of their products only as a complete system. Others offer the fiber, fibrillation pattern and backing combination, giving the purchaser choices such as the type of infill and/or stitched or glued seams. Some other key considerations include split film or monofilament fibers or a combination, the length of the fibers, the height of the infill as compared to the selected length of the fibers, and if a pad should be used.

Whatever the synthetic turf system selected, it will require proper and technically accurate preparation of the subbase, drainage system and all other subsurface components, as well as precise attention to detail during the installation process. System suppliers acknowledge this. Jim Dobmeier, president and founder of A-Turf, says, “The key to a successful synthetic turf system is the craftsmanship of the construction and installation crews.”

Some suppliers have employee crews and/or certified subcontractors that must meet their requirements and perform to their standards. The ASBA has established a Certified Field Builder program with the CFB-N designation for those certified only for natural turf fields; the CFB-S designation for those certified for only synthetic turf fields; and CFB for those certified for both natural and synthetic turf fields. The Synthetic Turf Council provides a listing of member contractors and installers.

Puhalla says, “Quality matters. Ask for a list of references for the product supplier and construction and installation companies for both new installations and older ones. Check those references. Invest the time and money for the facility owner and the sports field manager to make a few site visits to see the systems being seriously considered.”

He recommends developing a list of questions to ask when meeting with the owners and field managers of those sites, and includes a list of suggestions for these in the book. He says, “One of those that should always be asked is: Would you use the manufacturer and installer again if you were to build another field?”

Monitor and verify

The sports field manager has an equally important role to fill after the selection decision has been made. Puhalla says, “The field manager should be on-site for observation and quality control throughout the construction and installation process. Work with a set of ‘as-built’ plans and note any variations made on it so you have accurate records of all subsurface components.”

Puhalla notes part of the contract process should verify the warranty of the construction and installation providers, as well as the warranty of the surface materials and other system components. He says, “Carefully review any limitations on field use and maintenance stated in the contract that could affect the warranty, and make sure your staff is aware of them and understands their importance.”

A list of standard methods for the testing and quality assurance of synthetic turf systems has been issued by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Generally, the design consultant or architect will determine what type of testing will be specified in the contract. If Gmax testing is required, the acceptable range also will be specified.

Puhalla says the sports field manager should include all such testing procedures and the manufacturer’s recommendations for grooming and cleaning when setting up the field management schedule. He says, “Your oversight will be key in ensuring the synthetic turf system retains top playability during the anticipated life cycle and the facility receives the full value of its investment.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.