Master Planning for Multi-Use Athletic Fields

Master Planning for Multi-Use Athletic Fields

AUGUST 04, 2016

Effective planning is essential to the success of almost any project, which is one reason why Parks & Rec Business has been publishing a series of articles about planning for different types of athletic facilities. Having been involved in the planning, design, and construction phases of a number of athletic field projects, I was pleased to be able to contribute an article to the August issue of PRB focused on the key aspects that field owners and managers need to think about before developing new athletic fields. You can find the full text of the article in the online sports fields issue of PRB, but here are a few of the key points I make in the article for those of you who’d like a condensed version.

Choosing the right surface for your needs

One of the first things to think about when planning for field development or redevelopment is whether you’ll be installing natural grass or synthetic turf. Many project owners may be initially driven to one or the other based on the upfront costs of construction, however there are many other factors to consider including site conditions and constraints, level of demand on the facility, and resources available for maintenance, to name a few.

While the initially lower cost of field construction for natural grass fields might be immediately attractive to many project owners, looking beyond upfront capital provides a much better idea of what the overall cost of the field will be. Things to keep in mind when weighing the options of natural grass and synthetic turf are the types of sports the field will be used for, water availability, existing soil and terrain, and the amount of use and level of play.

For factors like water availability and native soil condition, geographic location can be a key indicator, so looking at other multi-use fields in your geographic region might help you to get a better idea of what types of fields are most successful there for your particular use.

Costs and capabilities of effectively managing your field

Some project owners may be in the position of already staffing a full grounds crew, which makes maintaining a natural grass field much more manageable than it would be for those without one. For departments with smaller budgets, synthetic turf generally requires less upkeep—without mowing, fertilizing, and applying pesticides or herbicides, maintenance costs can decrease significantly. Keep in mind, though, that synthetic turf fields do require maintenance like sweeping, grooming, topdressing and even some weed control. The other major aspect to consider here is what your cost per player use hour is going to be, which will depend on the types and amount of activities that will be taking place on your field.

For some owners, the choice between a natural and synthetic field will be an easy one, but for others, looking more closely at the costs of operation and maintenance, and even rehabilitation or replacement, will be necessary in determining which surface is best. I’ve cited a few studies in the full article that may offer guidance for those looking for further information on maintenance costs of each field surface, as well as formulas for calculating a field’s life cycle cost and per hour cost.

Developing a solid plan

The single most important phase of a new project is the planning phase. Taking the time (and spending the money) to perform the proper tasks at the planning level for an athletic facility project will pay off many times over throughout the remainder of the project. It’s no secret that parks and athletic fields are often located on tracts of land that are not particularly good for other types of development, especially in highly populated areas. These properties might be in areas with compressible soils, floodplains, or a high level of environmental sensitivity—such as land in close proximity to wetlands or steep slopes. Without proper planning and heeding the advice of qualified professionals, you run the risk of encountering unforeseen conditions at the project site later in the design phase or—worst-case scenario—during construction or after construction is completed. This can easily lead to change orders, delays, and generally a significant decrease in the leverage the owner would have had over the contractor, had the scope remained on track.

Some of the main tasks that should be completed during the planning phase are:

  • Thorough site investigation (pit tests, geotechnical borings, percolation tests, groundwater assessments, etc.)
  • Initial cost estimate development, including appropriate contingencies and budgeting for the highest cost scenario
  • Community outreach for stakeholder input
  • Permitting discussions with all applicable regulators
  • Rehabilitation and replacement considerations for the field at the end of its functional life

Though detailed and thorough planning can be overwhelming for many, projects that are frontloaded with plenty of research, input from members of the community, and contingency plan development for the worst-case scenario are much more likely to succeed than those that largely skip the planning phase. Asking the right questions at the beginning can make a huge difference in terms of deciding on the right type of field and components for your specific geography, funding scenario, and athletic or recreational needs and can save you money at all remaining stages of project implementation. For more information or assistance with planning your next multi-use athletic field facility, feel free to reach out to me at


Technical Manager
Recreational Facilities

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