Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / ValeStock
Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.
In movies, the stars generally receive all of the accolades (or not—depending on their performance), but seldom does the audience give praise to the make-up artists, the casting crew, the lighting professionals, the sound technicians, and all of the other support-staff members who make the stars shine.
The same can be said about outdoor sports facilities. The star—the one that gets the most attention—always seems to be the turf, whether it’s natural or synthetic.
It is true that the turf requires a great deal of maintenance to keep it looking good under hot lights, zoom lenses, busy schedules, and the ravages of time. But like the behind-the-scenes people in a movie, there are many support-staff members who make the fans’ experience so pleasant that the star’s performance seems flawless.
Take any outdoor sports complex—regardless of the sport—and consider the number of systems at work.
“We have many different fingers handling the facilities,” explains Ray Frankeny, recreation supervisor with the southern California city of Huntington Beach. He manages the 45-acre Huntington Central Park-Sports Complex, which includes eight softball fields overlaid with seven soccer fields in the outfields, three open artificial-turf fields, one arena-turf field—and all of the bells and whistles that come with them.
“For example, we have our pole, trees, and lighting guys who handle the parking lot lights; we have a contractor who handles the field lights; we have a contractor that handles the irrigation, plants, and grass; our hardscape crew handles the parking lot and sidewalks; I have a full-time man who handles the infields; we have the batting cages that require regular maintenance, and we both work on them; I have a part-time crew that handles cleaning restrooms; I am the facility manager, and I take great pride in keeping it up, but there are so many different people we need to make it happen.”
What’s more, Frankeny has an enviable set of user groups that applaud his efforts. “I hear from all the groups, and they really appreciate having the facility available for their use, and if they see a problem, they do let me know.”
The facility also hosts tournaments, requiring additional attention outside normal working hours. “Our sets of bathrooms interconnect with the concession buildings, so our concessionaires handle cleaning restrooms during tournaments, but our in-house staff is on hand during regular use to ensure they stay clean,” Frankeny explains.
Consider a sports field as the center of a circle; expanding from the center are rings of support systems requiring specialized maintenance as well as a considerable budget.
Beginning in the middle of the field is the irrigation system, the irrigation heads, and all of the underground pipes that supply water. Extending beyond the sidelines are the valves, timers, and control systems—whether mechanical or computerized—that keep the water flowing. Whether the field is natural turf or synthetic, water is essential to a safe and healthy field.
For natural-turf fields, a proper water cycle keeps grass alive. For synthetic fields, water is needed to keep fields clean, and in hot summer months to keep the turf cool. Maintaining the irrigation heads is critical. Under the field is a series of pipes that carry water onto the
Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Rigucci
field and drainage systems that collect the water and carry it off. Pipes can break, clog, and leak; drainage systems can become clogged. Valves can break, timers can wear out, and a computerized control system adds an entirely new layer of specialized requirements.
Every part of the irrigation system requires constant attention from the maintenance staff—either in-house or contract—with plumbing expertise. Old systems are infamous for breakdowns; new systems have glitches, and problems on both seem to occur at the worst possible time.
Beyond the field perimeter is a host of items often taken for granted, collectively termed here as support equipment. These include lights, player benches, fencing, bleachers, dugouts, batting cages, and on most football fields a running track around the field. Each of these items serves a specific and important purpose that supports the game, and if any one of them is deficient, an unpleasant experience for players or spectators is created.
For example, if a set of bleachers is not properly inspected and maintained, they might collapse under heavy use and cause injuries, or worse. Or, a rubberized running track can be badly damaged if not properly protected against wear and tear from football players’ cleats crossing back and forth.
One of the more vexing support players on the sports-field stage is the lights. The adverse effects of improper lighting can range from irritating for the players and spectators to downright dangerous. Properly cleaned, repaired, replaced, and aimed lights are incredibly important.
Frankeny notes that the complex has a “3-10” plan with the sport-light contractor, whereby three times over the 10-year contract all sport lights are totally re-lamped and re-aligned, or otherwise serviced as needed, including the remote-control system. “It’s been a really great deal,” he asserts. “We’ve been very happy with their service and can call them 24-7 and get a live person; it’s worked out very well for us.”
Frankeny clarifies that, for other support equipment the city staff handles the maintenance as needed. “We have open purchase orders with specialty contractors who come out and fix things if we can’t.”
Restrooms And Concessions
Ask any parks and rec maintenance professional what the most prevalent complaint is at any sports complex, and odds are it is the restrooms, which are generally associated with concession buildings.
If toilets are clogged or malfunctioning, if faucets don’t work, if toilet paper, soap, or paper towels are missing, if trash cans are overflowing, if the hand dryers are inoperable, if the facility is a mess—complaints will follow. For the ladies’ restroom, make that a double.
Keeping public restrooms in a heavily used recreation complex clean and properly functioning is one of the most constant maintenance tasks for a parks crew.
Parking, Walkways, And Signage
Some of the more commonly ignored areas in the supporting cast include parking areas, walkways, and way-finding signage.
Lots for parks and rec venues are usually not large enough to accommodate a large volume on busy days or the size of many modern vehicles. For some reason, when facilities are built and the budget gets “value engineered,” the first item reduced is parking. So, during high-use times or especially in multi-use complexes, parking can be a nightmare.
Most lots are paved with asphalt, which can break down under heavy and sustained use, creating pot holes, uneven edges, or worn parking lines, all of which require plenty of maintenance attention. Construction codes vary, but most lots require drainage and water-quality systems, so landscaped areas may also need attention.
Many unpaved parking areas require even more intense upkeep, calling for crews with gravel-hauling and grading equipment. Unpaved lots make organized parking a nightmare, and if parking wheel stops are added for assistance, they have their own special-maintenance problems.
Walkways, even those constructed of concrete, can fall victim to budget cuts and end up as unpaved trails. Either way, constant attention must be paid to ensure they are safe, unobstructed, and handicap-accessible.
Unfortunately, signage is often minimized or overlooked entirely; however, providing “way-finding” signage to clearly direct people to where they need to be is essential to a smooth-running facility. Strategically placed signage also clues people into the rules of the venue.
Drainage And Water Quality
Proper drainage, both on and under the surface of fields, parking lots, and walkways, not only creates a safe, puddle-free venue, but also ensures compliance with the many local, state, and federal water-quality regulations. Paved surfaces require extensive water-quality mitigation due to the oils and pollutants that are collected and then drain into the water table.
All of the swales, drains, water-quality basins, culverts, and other water mitigation-control devices must be inspected and cleared regularly to ensure proper runoff.
Surrounding and encompassing the entire facility are common grounds that vary with each complex, but may include landscaping, playgrounds, shelters, picnic areas (some with barbeque pits), water fountains, stand-alone restrooms, and other amenities. All of these features must be consistently observed and serviced as needed to keep them safe and useable.
In a perfect world, the long-term maintenance requirements for all of these supporting elements are considered and planned for. However, in the real world, they more often are not; human nature and budgetary constraints will more often direct resources to the star—the field itself—and the supporting cast gets attention only when something breaks.
A truly dynamic recreational sports facility will address the needs of players, coaches, spectators, and even casual users. Proper planning to build or redevelop complexes must include educated projections of long-term budget requirements for proper functioning. Those people holding the purse strings and the users who influence decisions must fully understand the cost of supporting the star and be prepared to provide the necessary funds.
Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
To Learn More About Support Systems
For multi-tasking maintenance managers who want to learn more about specific support systems for sports-field facilities, visit the International Facility Management Association’s website at http://www.ifma.org/know-base/how-to-guides for a no-cost collection of white papers and how-to guides on a variety of topics, from sustainable landscaping and water conservation to lighting and food service.