Field Construction & Site Specifications

The Basics for Field Construction and Site Specifications

When reading through a set of specifications for field construction, there is a lot of information that just confuses what is really important. Below are some important issues we should look for and think about, when getting involved in building a new athletic field:

Part 1 – Field construction Specs.
Part 2 – Root zone Specs.
Part 3 – Contractor & Equipment Specs.
Part 4 – Turf Specs.
Part 5 – Field maintenance after construction


Part 1 – Field Construction Specs.

Site selection; make sure the site you decide to build on will work. Is your field going to be flat, crowned or sloped to one end. Check sun direction, water run off from adjoining areas, are there any wetlands close by, do you need sub-surface drainage and if so where is the water going to go and how are you going to access the facility. Are you going to sod or seed the field, if your going to sod you must install an irrigation system and if so do you have adequate water supply, usually 20 gallons a minute is the minimum.

Set up field lay out using transits {laser preferred} outside dimensions, field, road, any drainage, buildings and setbacks

Remove and pile off construction site all loam from construction areas that are to be used for the root zone material. No existing loam to be stripped off fields should be hauled off property. Make sure to get a good soil test done for P.H., fertilizer requirements and soil texture on all loam to be used for your root zone.

Set sub grade of field making sure sub grade mirrors what the final grade will be on the finished field. Use a laser to get this set accurately. All drainage lines should be installed and back filled before Final sub grade is established. Any sub base material added after drainage pipe installation should be pushed onto area from the sides as to insure that no piping is crushed.

After sub grade has been checked for proper pitch spread screened loam, make sure loam is spread from sides and pushed onto field so that no equipment is driven on set sub grade. Get a final root zone depth of minimum 6 inches, make sure to account for 20% compaction. This final grade will be consistent with the sub grade, this is especially important on a crowned field. and a laser grader should be used to establish the final grade.

After final grade is set, field should be hand raked to take out any uneven areas, a 50-foot grid system is helpful to get this done. Check again with laser transit to confirm grade.

Part 2 – Root Zone Specs.

Pile loam off construction area and screen with a 1/2 to 5/8-inch screen, remove all debris.

Take soil test of screened loam for soil texture and P.H. Make sure screened loam texture is the same if any loam is hauled onto site. Make all necessary adjustments to the root zone material to achieve this match. For native soil fields I find that a texture with 70% sand is adequate to give you good drainage.

Root zone depth should be a minimum of 6 inches after compaction. Make sure to allow for 20% compaction. On a full size soccer field 200 x 360 this will require app. 1800 yds. of screened loam. So if you want a 6-inch root zone you need to put 8 inches down or 10 inches for an 8-inch root zone.

Add lime to get a proper P.H. reading of 6.2 to 7 and incorporate into top 3 inches of root zone.

Apply starter fertilizer to surface before sod installation or seeding at recommended rate.

Part 3 – Contractor Selection & Equipment Specs.

Try to stay away from road construction companies. Select a contractor with at least 3 athletic field installations under his belt and check on them. Remember you can reject low bid, it is lowest qualified bidder you need to consider.

No road grading equipment should be used to set grades, example road graders these are designed to compact the soil and compaction is your field’s enemy. Contractors like to use this equipment because it is quick, but you will pay in the long run with added maintenance costs.

Low compaction wide track dozers should be used on sub and final grade to minimize compaction of soil. A rear-mounted laser grading box on a tractor will give you a good final grade for seed or sod.

No rollers are to be used on the root zone material.

When writing up the specifications ask your architect to separate the site work for the project into 2 parts. One for general site work, foundations, roads etc. and a separate one for the athletic fields.

Part 4 – Turf Specs.

Grass seed selection is very important for your field. Seed is cheap so get the best mix that is suited to your fields use. Questions you need to ask are do we have irrigation, what is our maintenance program going to be, this is very important, what sports are going to be played on the field. How short are you going to cut the grass, 3/4 inch or 2.5 inches, because not all grass cultivars can be cut below 2 inches without damaging them.

I like a Blue-Grass and Perennial Rye grass mix of 80%-20% so to get good strength and recovery from some of the tough sports like soccer, football and lacrosse. Not all blue-grass cultivars are the same so do some research and pick the better ones.

Part 5 – Field Maintenance

The follow up maintenance of the field is often overlooked. Make it clear in your specifications who is responsible and what is expected for the maintenance of the field until you accept it. If there is no irrigation is who is responsible to water, who will mow, fertilize and monitor the field for dieses and insect problems. What will define final acceptance? Turf density, weed free, no standing water etc. Make this clear to the contractor up front so there are no problems later. Finally have a good maintenance program in place for the field and know the cost involved. All fields need regular maintenance to hold up to the demands of an active sports program. Core aeration, fertilization, over seeding, deep tine aeration and mowing should all be incorporated into your maintenance schedule. Remember that a well designed and maintained field is the best insurance against injury for the athlete and the athletes safety is our most important job.

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