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Creating a Synthetic Turf Budget

One of the most comprehensive capital improvement projects a school can undertake is the installation of a synthetic turf system. Cost is a major factor in these decisions, but other elements require at least as much attention when the time comes to design a system that meets the needs of the athletic department, school, and community at large. Researching these factors can take several weeks—and as we talk to Bruce Lemons, President of Foresite Design, Inc. in Berkley, Mich., doing that homework can make all the difference.

Lemons is a Synthetic Turf Council-certified independent consultant, with a client base primarily comprising educational institutions. He has more than 20 years of experience designing athletic facilities, including 12 years developing synthetic turf systems. He has an extensive portfolio of tracks, tennis courts, and natural grass fields. Lemons talks about what athletic directors should know when creating a budget proposal for a new synthetic turf field.

What factors determine the project cost for a school's synthetic turf field and how can an athletic director develop a projection of each of these factors?
"The project costs are directly related to the installation of the following features, and the client needs to know what the school is getting for "X" amount of money," Lemons says. "All too often the guy with the most appealing sales pitch—which translates into low cost—is favored."

Infill systems. "When developing a cost model, the difference between sand/rubber and all-rubber infill systems is one of the first concepts the client needs to become better educated about," says Lemons.

Size of the field. When a design consultant asks about the size of the field, he or she is trying to figure out if the dimensions are large enough to accommodate the necessary trucks and equipment. This is directly related to the overall cost, so if there is any difficulty getting the proper machinery to the project site, you can expect the cost to increase.

The playing field size is based on established guidelines set by the league of which the school is a member. The school, then, is responsible for making sure its proposed turf field meets those requirements.

Access to the site. This refers to the cost associated with obstructions that may affect contractors getting to the site, such as steep banks, buildings blocking travel lanes, and other obstacles. ADA-compliance and spectator and emergency entrances/exits are already factored into the stadium design, notes Lemons.

The "D" zones. These are the areas behind the goalposts and inside the curves of the track, and many schools have their long-jump and triple-jump areas located in these zones. The best surface for the "D" zone depends on how they will be used. Lemons suggests three options: asphalt with track material, asphalt with acrylic material, or synthetic turf.

"The major difference among the three is the cost," says Lemons. "A 'D' zone with acrylic coating will cost around $30,000 to construct. The same area with a half-inch all-weather track surface will cost $15,000 to $45,000. If covered with synthetic turf, the cost is $75,000 to $85,000. Safety is not an issue—providing the concrete anchor placed behind the end zone is at least 14 to 15 feet away, although the NFHS requires only six feet."

Maintenance among the three options is minimal, he says. Synthetic turf requires occasional sweeping and grooming. Acrylic and track surfaces require none unless delamination occurs. (Delamination is the result of poor drainage trapping water in the subsurface, causing the track to degrade when the water evaporates in the summer or freezes in the winter.)

Dynamic shock pad. This pad is the half-inch elastic or "insitu cushion" layer sometimes installed directly beneath the synthetic turf carpet to provide extra shock absorption. It measures well below ASTM International's standard 200 G-max rating. (The G-max rating is a measure of a surface's resiliency or shock attenuation.) This rating is important because ASTM International advises that a surface with a rating above 200Gs be replaced.

"But having or not having shock pads will not affect the average user," Lemons says, nor will it have an impact on the infill system, which has to be adjusted periodically. "I educate my clients on the benefits and associated costs to help them decide whether they need it—not if they want it."

Availability of materials. This refers to raw products and finished products available to the installers/suppliers for their projects.

Designing the logo, end zone lettering, and yard-line markings. Lemons notes that costs for aesthetics can quickly add up. While some are necessary expenses, others may not be as critical. "Adding the individual inlaid 4" x 24" hash marks is time-consuming and costly." he says. "Most of these items are graphic features that enhance the look of the field, but are not required."

Additional/Ancillary costs. Other fees schools need to take into consideration when creating a turf budget include design, environmental testing, and construction management costs.

What factors are often overlooked?
"I can't emphasize it enough for schools to do their homework when hiring a design firm, consultant, or installer," Lemons says. "If an installer is suggesting only one turf consultant, be careful of that relationship—and get references for the projects he or she has worked on and the systems installed.

"Call the references," he continues. "It's surprising how much fabrication occurs within this industry—like bogus test reports, site evaluation reports, and projects that one company installed appearing on another company's literature. All of this can be quickly verified or dispelled with several phone calls."

The longevity of fibers and warranties are also overlooked. While the industry standard is eight years, Lemons often sees 10- and 12-year warranties/guarantees and 20-year lifecycles touted. "They appear so appealing," says Lemons. "I'd love it if a supplier provided a 10- or 12-year warranty—but that's not being realistic. And a 20-year lifecycle is absurd." Furthermore, he notes, nylon withstands UV degradation much better than the polyethylene (PE) fibers used in many of today's systems.

"If a school hires or buys a product or service with these claims attached, chances are they will be very disappointed," says Lemons.

What is the average total cost of a synthetic turf field?
Prices may vary depending on the location of the school, but in the Midwest, Lemons says the average cost is $8-$9 per square foot. That includes excavation and demolition, concrete, stone and asphalt, geotextile fabric, drainage system, aggregate, synthetic turf, goalposts, limited conduits for future electrical needs, and cleanup.

"It does not include permits or government agency reviews, if required or needed," he adds.

How should a synthetic turf budget proposal be presented to a school board to guarantee approval?
According to Lemons, getting a school board to approve a synthetic turf system is a 50/50 proposition. "That's why athletic directors need to remember that a synthetic turf system is not just for the sports program," he says, adding athletic directors should include information on how physical education classes, the band, and community will benefit, and get their endorsements of the project.

In order for these and other community benefits to stick out more, Lemons has worked with athletic directors who have prepared surveys, polls, and technology during proposal hearings. "We have been very effective with our PowerPoint presentations and artist renditions," he says.

How long does the budget proposal process take?
According to Lemons, developing a project budget takes approximately two weeks before the consultant or firm is able to present the proposal to the administrators. Getting the athletic department to decide on the specifics of the logo seems to take the most time and could hold up the process.

"One project we worked on included generating a complete set of bid documents for a new track, eight new tennis courts, a synthetic practice field, and a synthetic competition field," says Lemons. "From start to finish, the process took about five weeks."

Sidebar: Getting a Good Quote
For many schools, constructing a synthetic turf field is part of a major capital improvement plan. Therefore, when creating a budget, getting a quote for the overall cost is essential. Fortunately, says Bruce Lemons, President of Foresite Design, Inc. and a Synthetic Turf Council-certified consultant, it's also relatively easy.

Experienced synthetic turf professionals can determine a quote fairly quickly, he says, based on the factors outlined above as well as the school's design preferences. Before calling a firm or consultant, Lemons suggests an athletic director first search the Internet for a college or professional stadium design that matches the athletic department's vision for its synthetic turf facility. "There are Web sites with some surprisingly detailed aerial photos," he says. Then make the call and use the images as a reference when explaining the project idea.

But how do you know if the firm or consultant is giving you a good price? Lemons says it's imperative for athletic directors to ask these questions during the conversation. Answers should be readily available—if not, call another professional.

Sidebar: Turf References
To help your athletic department research its synthetic turf project proposal, visit these Web sites for information on industry standards and specifications, performance qualities, testing methodologies, rating systems, evaluation guidelines, and warranty standards:

American Sports Builders Association -
The American Sports Builders Association is a national organization for builders, designers, and suppliers of materials for tennis courts, running tracks, synthetic turf fields, and indoor and outdoor synthetic sports surfaces. The association offers an online guide for synthetic turf construction.

ASTM International -
ASTM International establishes testing methodologies for various performance characteristics of synthetic turf.

International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) -
International Federation of Association Football has developed a standard to evaluate which synthetic surfaces are the best for soccer.

Sports Turf Managers Association -
The Sports Turf Managers Association is a national association for sports turf managers at all levels of competition. The association has developed a certification process for its members, works with ASTM International on sports facility standards and recommendations, and has devised a taskforce to provide the public with factual information about synthetic turf surfaces.

The Synthetic Turf Council -
The Synthetic Turf Council serves as a nonproprietary resource to guide the public with the selection and use of synthetic turf systems. The council has developed a certification procedure for manufacturers and installers in the synthetic turf industry and recently published Suggested Guidelines for the Essential Elements of Synthetic Turf Systems, which discusses the process of selecting, designing, manufacturing, installing, and maintaining synthetic turf systems. is brought to you by a recognized and established name in the school athletics arena, MomentumMedia—publisher of Athletic Management, Coaching Management and Training & Conditioning magazines.