Patrick White, Sports Field Management Magazine, October 24, 2016
EXCERPTS FROM THE ARTICLE:
The reality is that everything requires some sort of maintenance if you want it to perform well and stand the test of time.
“Synthetic turf maintenance is crucial to the longevity, performance, safety and appearance of a synthetic turf field,” explains John Baize, managing director of Act Global, an Austin, Texas-based synthetic turf manufacturer. He says that a poorly maintained synthetic turf field may exhibit premature aging, uneven surface, compaction, infill loss, poor shock absorption, loss of traction, drainage issues and more.
Baize also serves as chair of the Synthetic Turf Council (STC), and last year led a task force that created and published “Guidelines for Synthetic Turf Maintenance,” which is available for download on the STC website.
This type of information hasn’t always been so readily available. “Many of the fields installed 10 or 15 years ago were sold on the idea that they were low-maintenance or no-maintenance,” says Patrick Warner, field care service manager with Chenango Contracting in Johnson City, N.Y. “Unfortunately, that is not correct. There are things that have to be done to synthetic fields on a regular basis. In fact, there are a few manufacturers that now require certain maintenance steps be done in order to maintain the warranty.”
FieldTurf is one manufacturer that has created an extensive maintenance guidelines booklet and accompanying DVD to help sports field managers and their staffs understand how and why the company’s fields should be maintained. It walks field managers through steps ranging from how to create a comprehensive maintenance log to various groomers, brushes and cleaners that can or should be used.
Perhaps the most critical maintenance step, says Warner, is to regularly de-compact the infill. “Rubber, especially small granules of rubber, will compact over time and make the field harder,” he states. “And the harder the field is, the higher its GMax is.” The GMax rates how much force is being transferred from the field to the athlete when they hit the ground, says Warner, noting that there’s increased focus on this safety measure as concerns over concussions rise.
While the attention started at the pro and college levels, it’s spreading throughout the sports turf industry, he says. Whether by regulation or to protect against liability in lawsuits, field owners will need to routinely check and ensure that their fields are within the safe range on this test. For example, Warner notes, “If a school doesn’t have a GMax test done yearly, that opens them up to a lawsuit. There’s been quite of few of those, unfortunately, around the country lately.”
In addition to de-compacting, Warner usually does a thorough debris removal on the fields he maintains. “We use a vacuum unit that actually lifts up the top portion of the rubber infill and sifts through it. The unit has a HEPA filter on it, so the air is completely sealed, allowing it to take out all the hair particles and the skin and dust and dander and other debris. Then the rubber is put back onto the field,” he explains.
This is usually followed by a brush sweeping machine. “It’s called a static brush – it’s a hard-tipped bristle brush made out of nylon. It moves the infill around a little bit to even it out, and it helps stand the fibers up,” Warner says.
He also adds infill to the high-traffic areas, such as the center area or the goalmouths on soccer and lacrosse fields. Just like on a natural turf field, those areas are more prone to wear. “Over time, your field wears down; the fiber actually gets shorter and shorter,” says Warner. “When the fibers get shorter, they can’t hold as much rubber, and when that happens the field ends up with a higher GMax because it’s harder.”
One critical maintenance step is seam analysis, basically checking for any seams that might be lifting up. Depending on the manufacturer, seams in the turf may be joined mechanically (sewed) or chemically (glued). “We also check all the perimeter anchorage to make sure everything is holding down by the track or along the edge of the field,” Warner details. “Sometimes we also apply an antimicrobial spray that will help kill MRSA [a dangerous staph bacteria] and things like that.”
“One thing you absolutely have to do is to add infill to high-traffic areas,” emphasizes Warner. “Having a company come out a couple of times a year to do that is wonderful, but you should be checking that every week.” Just as the infill protects players, it also protects the turf fibers. “The less infill that’s there, the more exposed fiber you have and the faster it gets beat up. So the more infill you have, the more it will protect those fibers,” he explains.
Warner advises field managers to regularly clean and remove debris from fields.
There are also preventative maintenance steps field managers can take to preserve their fields. One common problem, he observes, comes with lacrosse goal areas. The goalie stands in the same area for much of the game, without the roaming that typically occurs with soccer goalies. This leads to heavy wear in a very concentrated area of the field. Encouraging coaches to move the goal areas or putting down a protective mat during practices can help alleviate this wear dramatically, suggests Warner. “If those areas aren’t taken care of, they can cost you $8,000 to $10,000 to replace down the road,” he states.