In May of 2012, BDE SportsTurf, an athletic field contractor based in Monroe, Conn., was awarded a two-field reconstruction project at Chase Collegiate School, a private K-12 school located in Waterbury, Conn.

The awarded bid was based on a request for proposal (RFP) issued by the school to three contractors. Although the BDE SportsTurf price was twice the amount of the competing bids, the school’s board of directors knew that they were getting a product that would address a trifecta of problems that have plagued their native soil fields for many years.

These problems, common to many poorly constructed native soil fields, include poor drainage, undulating grades and compacted soil, which does not allow for common cultivation practices. In addition to poor turf coverage and an uneven appearance, these fields were often unplayable for days after a modest rainfall, resulting in many rescheduling and game cancellations. The BDE Sports- Turf proposal was labeled “The Cadillac” by some of the board members.

The larger of the two fields (88,000 square feet) is home to the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams, and is used for intramural sports and lower school recess. Sport camps are conducted in the off-season. The second project was a relocation of the girls’ softball field (45,000 square feet), which serves as a multipurpose field in the fall season. The focus for this article will be on the larger field, which is central to its campus and provides the best viewing platform.

BDE SportsTurf has had an ongoing relationship with the school since 2010. The company was called in to consult and perform some cultural practices in order to improve the conditions of the school’s four athletic fields. In spring 2010, a battery of comprehensive soil tests were conducted, the results analyzed, and both long-term and short-term plans were initiated using the soil test results as the guiding instrument. With a focus on balancing the soil chemistry, getting the soil fed with the proper nutrients and creating a soil that breathes, work commenced in spring 2010 with the goal of obtaining a healthy, regenerative stand of turf.

This process was a top-down approach and would not address grade issues. The soil modification began to pay dividends, and at the six-month mark the fields could be core aerified without the machines riding over the turf or self-destructing in the process.

In spring 2011, another soil test was performed and the results compared with the results from the previous year. There was a marked improvement on paper, and it was physically evident by the fact that the field could be deep tined. With the Verti-Drain set for a 12-inch-deep penetration, the tines pierced the soil, but encountered many spots where the machine would bounce out of the ground, indicating a multitude of stones buried not too far beneath the surface. This condition is not uncommon on many of the athletic fields built in the New England area and is probably the rule rather than the exception.

The decision to reconstruct was made in spring 2012, and BDE SportsTurf started the project in June. The first order of business was to establish a grade on the soccer field, which now carried the “Showcase” designation. Soccer was used as the field of choice because it has a larger field footprint and the lacrosse field would fit inside. After surveying the site, a grade of .35 percent along the long axis (X) and .25 percent along the short axis (Y) was determined to be the best fit. This grade would tie into the existing slopes on two sides of the field and a multipurpose field that is to be reconstructed at a later date.

The disturbed field dimensions were 385 by 230 feet, with a 10-foot sacrificial strip along the lower long side. The field is a tipped plane that appears flat, and there is enough room to rotate the goals seasonally and still have a spec field with safety runoff on its perimeters.

With the field corners established, the BDE SportsTurf crew set to work pulverizing the existing turf into the soil by disking and breaking up the sod clumps. The disking incorporates organics back into the soil. The soil test showed 3 percent organic content, and the target goal was to get to 5 percent, so this function served a dual purpose of raising the percentage, as well as not having the expense of hauling off the stripped sod.

Once the soil was pulverized, a two-shank subsoiler with 3.5-foot shank spacing was employed, and a depth of 24 inches below grade was achieved. The subbase was fractured in two crossing directions, and where it lifted out of the ground or stopped the tractor that area was flagged.

The marked areas were sites where large rocks were located, and a backhoe was used to remove them. Some of the rocks were larger than .5 cubic yard. The rocks were stockpiled and would be removed off-site later in the project.

Once the field was subsoiled, a chisel plow was used to pull stones up from a depth of 14 inches. A Degelman rock picker was used to remove any stones from 2 inches up to the size of two bowling balls. The Degelman is pulled by a tractor as it removes rock mechanically with a ferris wheel-type motion. It has a self-dumping 2-yard- capacity hopper.

The initial picking of stones resulted in 50 cubic yards of material that was buried just beneath the surface of the existing field. At this point the field was laser-graded to the predetermined percentages and the 2-plus acres began to take shape.

The irrigation service lines being installed 15 inches below grade in the field.

The irrigation service lines being installed 15 inches below grade in the field.

Fifty percent of the soil amendments were then topdressed onto the smooth-tipped plane. Amendments included gypsum, a 50/50 blend of compost and sphagnum peat moss and triple phosphate. The amendments were disked and plowed into the rootzone with a spring tooth harrow set on 9-inch centers in a crossing pattern down to a 14-inch depth, creating a deep amended rootzone. The stone brought to the surface was again picked to a 2-inch product using the Degelman rake. The second round of stone picking resulted in an additional 15 cubic yards.

Once the large stone was removed, a Barber Turf Rake was utilized to remove small stones from the top 6 inches of rootzone. The spring-action steel fingers of the Barber Turf Rake combed the loosened soil and deposited stones on a rotating, elevated conveyer that emptied into a self-dumping hopper. With a 1.5-cubic-yard capacity, it was filled quickly on the first pass. The tractor-pulled rake removed stones and other debris down to a .75-inch size using a crossing pattern. This process resulted in 20 cubic yards of small stone being removed from the field, bringing the total to 85 cubic yards of stone removed.

The irrigation system was installed on the established grade. The components were Hunter I-40 heads utilizing eight zones. Separate zones were used at the future goalmouth areas to allow for precise watering in the maintenance plan, and quick couplers were placed on both ends of the main line. The main line was sized to allow for future expansion for other fields with the system operating at 80 PSI. The main line was set at an 18-inch depth, with the field service lines set at a 15-inch depth. All the lines were trenched, not pulled, and backfilled with clean material. The trenches were compacted to prevent a sunken trench line.

Every valve has a shut-off and a 1-inch poly pipe was installed box to box as a wire chase in case of a future wire break. The boxes are neatly lined up off the playing surface along the long axis. An additional water line for two drinking fountains were included as part of the package. The system was fired up and coverage areas noted.

A large stone is removed from the field by a backhoe.

A large stone is removed from the field by a backhoe.

After the irrigation system was installed, the surface was picked again using the Barber Turf Rake. The final finish was accomplished by adding the remaining prescribed amendments and lightly disking them into the soil profile to a 4-inch depth. An 8-foot Harley Pro-8 power rake with scarifiers was used in a crossing pattern followed by the BDE SportsTurf crew with 3-foot-wide aluminum rakes hand finishing behind the tractor and working around the irrigation heads set flush with grade.

The final seedbed finish is a product that has a less than 1-inch stone tolerance and is firm enough to hold a landscape tractor yet soft enough to reveal a footprint when stepped upon.

From experience and past testing, when this condition in the rootzone is achieved, the compaction rate is in the 86 to 89 percent range. At no time was any heavy construction equipment allowed on the rootzone once work commenced. If it’s ever necessary to take heavy equipment on to a finished rootzone, the tracks and work area are decompacted by plowing and disked to the bottom of the rootzone level in order to not compromise the integrity and consistency of the base. BDE SportsTurf’s cultivation equipment remains at the project site until the completion of the job.

The field was fertilized using an 18-24-12 starter fertilizer, and an Earthworks 5-4-5 soil rejuvenator was applied. The materials were watered in, and the field was allowed to dry overnight after loading up the rootzone with moisture prior to seeding.

The field was seeded with an 80/20 bluegrass-ryegrass mix formulated by the Tom Irwin Company. The custom blend was four types of Kentucky bluegrass and three types of ryegrass. The cultivars were selected using results from the NTEP trials and selected for hardiness, early green-up, color and establishment times. The mix was sown with a Brillion seeder using a crossing pattern at 75 degrees splitting the 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet rate. The pattern was determined by the field grades for maximum protection.

The field was seeded on August 10, 2012, and the seed was watered in. The following afternoon there was a 3-inch rain event. The field sustained a minimal amount of damage, which can be attributed to the consistent grade, decompacted rootzone and the buffering by the ridges created by the Brillion seeder. The affected areas were later fixed with the addition of some topdressing and seed. The total repair time was 20 minutes.

The field was given its first cut at three and a half weeks after planting. Then it was cut every three days using a Toro triplex reel mower set with a 1-inch height. Fertilizer applications were made every 10 days at a three-quarter rate with starter fertilizer. At the six-week interval the establishment was about 75 percent, and a crust began to form because of the water being used. A 6-foot disk with the plates straight was carefully run over the field to break the crust. At seven weeks the field was topdressed with compost and the coverage was nearing 85 percent.

Lining the field for soccer 10 weeks after seeding. The previous day there was a 3-inch rain event.

Lining the field for soccer 10 weeks after seeding. The previous day there was a 3-inch rain event.

The end of September was a cold, rainy period, and it seemed like the sun did not come out for weeks. The surrounding fields were saturated, but the project field held firm and dried quickly without any imperfections evident. We still were on a three-day cutting cycle, and our start times were varied in order to keep off the field if it was wet. Fortunes changed, and by the end of the first week of October growing conditions were ideal and the field reacted accordingly.

At the eight-and-a-half-week mark we had better than 95 percent coverage with a deep rooting that took place. On October 15, 2012, the head of facilities informed us that the school had homecoming on October 20, and the new field would be used for boys’ and girls’ soccer games. The day before the games, on October 19, there was a 3-inch rain event that ended at 9 p.m. The first game was scheduled for 11 a.m. and the BDE SportsTurf crew was on-site at 7:30 a.m. to inspect and prepare the field for play. The field was dry, the turf dense and glistening in the morning sun. The soccer field was laid out and painted, and two games were played on the field that day without any turf tear-ups or slippery conditions evident.

In the final two weeks of the season there were 15 soccer games and many school recesses held on the field that had been planted just 10 weeks before, and the field showed only a trace of wear in the goalmouths.

The “Cadillac” of field proposals proved to be a success. Obtaining, understanding and implementing the results of the soil test are the first steps. Creating a consistent grade and using the correct equipment to build an uncompacted rootzone is next. Most importantly, contracting with a construction company that specializes in athletic field construction will ensure field projects that exceed expectations.

Skip Filanowski is the president and owner of BDE SportsTurf. BDE SportsTurf has been building athletic fields since 1989. The company constructs both natural and artificial turf fields in the private and public sectors. Their emphasis is on total field construction, specializing in laser grading and turf grow in.