Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture partner Tim Bonaparte recognizes that no fan goes to a football game for the sole purpose of seeing a renovated press box or improved concessions area.
That’s why he suggests that coaches working with a limited budget focus their money and energy primarily on improving the quality of their playing surface. After all, fans want to see a quality game – not a quality restroom.
“All of the other things are secondary,” Bonaparte said. “There’s plenty of small things you can do that won’t necessarily be noticeable for all fans. Are the players intermingling with the crowd? Can you separate them? How do fans experience the facility? Is the lighting old? Are there dark spots? All of that is important, but not as important as the field.”
Bonaparte and his partners at Appel Osborne (Syracuse, N.Y.) recommend that coaches address the quality of the field each season to ensure a safe environment for the players. For coaches who have the budget for synthetic turf, Bonaparte said that one improvement legitimizes a decision to table all other improvements for years.
“Once you have synthetic turf, the maintenance is minimal,” Bonaparte said. “Other than grooming the carpet and making sure it’s safe, there’s nothing to it. Grass fields can be very inconsistent. Because of drainage problems, the fields often have slopes. I also encourage teams with grass fields to find somewhere else to practice to avoid wear and tear.”
While Bonaparte encourages coaches who have access to healthy athletic budgets to go the way of field turf, he understands many must live with grass for financial reasons. In that case, he offers options for improving the field quality.
“Different budgets allow for different options,” Bonaparte said. “At the bare minimum, coaches can look to improve field planarity by top-dressing. The next step is compaction with a small drainage system. We’ll cut small holes 12 inches deep in the soil in herring bone patterns for drainage and aeration.”
Coaches with more to spend might consider the installation of a drainage system. While the process is more invasive than simple aeration, it’s also more permanent.
In his spare time, Bonaparte is the Pop Warner coach for the East Syracuse Minoa Eagles. As part of his day job, the partner at Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture oversaw a $1.5 million renovation of the East Syracuse Minoa football field. The athletic complex renovation included the installation of synthetic turf with improved drainage, field furnishings and protective netting.
“A lot of high school multisport facilities have JV and freshmen teams practicing on the same field,” Bonaparte said. “By the time the football players are on the field, the grass is shot. The muddy fields result in safety concerns and losing football.”
East Syracuse Minoa’s field renovation was completed in 2009 and also included a renovation of the eight-lane all-weather track. Safety was also improved from a commuter’s standpoint. The renovation project included the addition of a drop-off loop with a 15-car parking lot.
1 Field planarity. Grass fields tend to lose the “crown” over time and need to be top-dressed or corrected to correct the field parameters.
2 Compaction. Grass fields tend to become compacted with heavy use. Limit the use and practice time to let the fields rest. Core aerate, top-dress and overseed each season.
3 Drainage. When a field becomes compacted, it doesn’t drain as well. A school can install vertical drainage to assist during wet and rain events. Options include sandmaster systems or vertical drains.
4 Stadium improvements. Options include a new scoreboard, goal posts, bleachers or renovations to a press box. The home team should always consider the experience of the visiting team and fans.