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December 15, 2018   
Athletic Field Drainage: Do It Yourself Style  October 12, 2006

What do you do when your athletic field is run down, worn out, poorly drained – in a word, inadequate –and there is zero chance of finding the funds in the budget to solve the problem? All your mowing, fertilizing, sprinkling, and coring efforts have been to no avail. This dilemma is commonplace, especially in small schools but also for secondary sports in larger schools.

This was the situation faced by soccer coach Ryan Clymer at Faith Christian Academy in Sellersville, Penn. The field was clearly not up to par and it was not anywhere near the top of the budgetary priority list (or any other year’s budget for that matter). Clymer is an active member of the school’s alumni association. One night last July, after a friendly alumni soccer grudge match with the high school team, there was considerable hand wringing about the dismal condition of the field.

Fortunately for the soccer program, the timing could not have been better. The alumni association was on the hunt for a project to rally around. Clymer suggested that the alumni undertake a major overhaul of the soccer field.

High-octane Faith alumnus, Henry Thompson was so taken by the idea that he could hardly sleep that night. The board had received estimates of nearly $300,000 to renovate the field and they were not at all confident that even this would provide satisfactory results. Henry was convinced that if given the mandate, the alumni association could do the job right and at a fraction of the estimated cost.

The board’s primary concern was the drainage system. The original field had been built some 25 years earlier with little attention to drainage. Considerable compaction and settling had occurred in the intervening years. They did not want to see a lot of time, effort and money invested in the project only to find that imperfect drainage had derailed success. After doing some research, they came to the conclusion that the Multi-Flow drainage system was their ace of spades. It appeared to be effective, fast, and durable: all the things the board was looking for.

Henry recalls, “We were pretty pleased to find out that we could install a 21st century drainage system, like the professionals use, for about 1/3 the cost of one employing an outdated method.” He was also surprised to find out that technical staff was willing to spend time with him designing a system custom made for the Faith field, one that they could install themselves.

Soon the Faith board of directors gave their stamp of approval to the alumni plan which included not only a drainage system but also a Toro sprinkler system, an enlarged playing surface, extended perimeter safety zones, 1,300 tons of fill, amended top soil, scoreboard, press box, sod, and last but not least, a two-tiered patio area. Excitement began to build among the students, with parents, and in the surrounding community.

The field was asked to carry a lot of traffic. With varsity and JV boys’ soccer in the fall and varsity and JV girls soccer in the spring and practices all summer long, the field seldom rests. Athletic Director Russ Hollinbach recalled that the situation was especially critical when the school hosted tournaments and eight games were scheduled in two days.

The Alumni Association was willing to raise the $70,000 (a fraction of the $300,000 estimate) needed for the project and it was able to provide substantial volunteer labor, most of which were experienced in various phases of construction.

The project implementation began in April when several small buildings including the press box were dismantled and 1,500 tons of fill were hauled in. The additional fill allowed for the field to be expanded 30 feet to the south which was in the direction of a very steep downward slope. The fill also provided for a leveling of the field surface. After the field was graded, a large group of volunteers gathered to remove rocks, sticks, and other debris.

Next came the sprinkler system. Installing a system usually reserved for larger sports complexes means that the field should remain green well into the fall. The TR70XT sprinklers can be easily adjusted for trajectory and rotation taking into account wind and coverage requirements. They are regulated by an IntelliSense timer that automatically adjusts watering schedules combining user preferences with daily satellite-transmitted weather station data received via WeatherTRAKTM. This technology provides substantial money, water, and time savings.

Next, drainage lines were trenched into the field at 15 foot intervals carefully avoiding the irrigation lines. The shape insures that water can enter the system quickly; the Multi-Flow structure assures that water can be carried away speedily; and the heavy needle punched geo-textile filter will protect the system from siltation. These collector lines followed the natural contour of the field emptying into PVC transport pipes on each side of the field. Trenches were four inches wide and 15 inches deep. Coarse sand was used to backfill the trenches. This backfill surrounded the Multi-Flow and extended to the surface. It will provide a favorable path for water to follow to reach the drainage medium as well as protecting the geotextile filter from clay and silt.

Two collector lines, one down each side of the field, graduated from a four-inch, to a 6-inch, and finally to an eight-inch PVC pipe as they progressed down the field allowing for the increased volume of water they will be expected to carry.

Following the installation of the sub-surface drainage system the field was regraded and a layer of field mix was added and finally sodded in late June.
The system’s first major test came only hours after the sod was in place, when five days of record setting rainfall began. When the rain finally stopped most athletic fields in the area were submerged–many heavily damaged– but there was no water left standing on the Faith soccer field. Coach Clymer commented that he is confident that his “field will be in excellent shape despite the wettest summer in 50 years.”

The alumni group has now started work on the two-tier 2,000 square foot patio overlooking the field. The field is located on a terrace of a hillside overlooking scenic Sellersville. The patio will make a great place to grill some brats while watching the boys’ team pursue their fifth district championship in six years or the girls’ team working at earning their sixth championship in seven years.

Obviously it would be less hassle if such projects could be funded in the general budget, but the approach taken by the Sellersville group gave the field a degree of personality and uniqueness it never would have had under a conventional budget/engineer/contactor approach. Additionally, the team and other project participants feel a high degree of ownership in the completed project. The successful end result–costing the school absolutely nothing–was of a much higher quality than it would have been if it had been funded from the budget.

In only a few months a dedicated group of parents and alumni were able to successfully research, fund and install a state of the art drainage system, like the professionals use, for about 1/3 the cost.

Irrigation Insights

10: Feet, the typical length of a channel drain used in irrigation. These channel drains are typically about four inches wide.

4 to 6 : The preferred size of the drain line used when installing a French drain.

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