Lohmann Sports Fields goes yard with Michigan ballpark renovation

 With Spring Training underway at southern ballparks across the United States, Lohmann Sports Fields is waiting for the snow to melt, looking forward to Opening Day up north at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Mich.

Located near Grand Rapids, Fifth Third Ballpark is home to the Single A Whitecaps, a Detroit Tigers’ affiliate. In just six weeks this fall, Lohmann Sports Fields knocked out a comprehensive, $450,000 field renovation before the snow flew.

“This is our first complete baseball field renovation, but we feel like we knocked it out of the park,” said project manager Jim Lohmann. “We had previously renovated the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium [in South Bend, Indiana] with new sod and amendments. At Fifth Third, we took it a step further, ripping out and replacing the entire field and the drainage.

“To date, most of our work has been new fields built from scratch, including two more minor league fields here in Michigan and a softball field at Notre Dame. But doing a renovation around existing buildings and infrastructure is a completely different ballgame.”

 Whitecaps Vice President Jim Jarecki, together with ballpark groundskeeper Greg Salyer, had contacted Lohmann almost one year ago. They had experienced problems during the previous two seasons with the facility’s turf conditions and drainage.

Lohmann Sports Fields determined that neither issue could be properly addressed without completely removing the old turf and drainage capacity, then replacing both. Nothing had been done to the field regarding those two issues since the park first opened 15 years earlier.

The playing surface had local football games scheduled well into the fall, so reconstruction started relatively late – Oct. 13, to be exact. Lohmann’s crews stripped off the top 8 inches of sod, soil and drainage then replaced those materials with a United States Golf Association greens-type sand/peat mix overlaid with new sod. LSF also installed a brand new irrigation system.

The fall weather was a challenge. Cold rains interrupted the work several times during the month-long reconstruction and snow arrived just a few days after the project was completed in mid-November.

“Fortunately, we persuaded the field owners to install turf blankets over the newly installed sod, to help keep soil temperatures warmer for root growth,” Lohmann explained. “The warmth generated underneath will give the turf an extra two weeks of growing time come spring.”

Though a Tigers affiliate, the Whitecaps ballpark, field and team are privately owned. That simplified owner oversight and change orders, because the owners were on-site during much of the six-week reconstruction process.

That proved particularly valuable when construction workers unearthed numerous rocks, especially in centerfield, that were apparently buried there during initial construction. Lohmann excavated and hauled away the stone then used small trenchers to install the drainage.

 Lohmann Sports Fields is a division of Lohmann Golf Designs and Golf Creations, which together have designed, constructed and reconstructed more than 100 golf course projects across the nation. Lohmann Sports Fields was formed to leverage the firm’s agronomic, drainage and grading expertise, while serving the specific needs of the sports turf management industry.

Lohmann Sports Fields eagerly awaits the initial invocation to “Play Ball” atop the new facility sometime this spring and expects the firm’s experience at Fifth Third Ballpark to lead to future projects.

“The job came in on budget and we turned it around before winter, even though we started in mid-October! That’s a message right there for ballpark owners and operators: We work economically and quickly,” Lohmann said. “We do expect to do additional baseball field revamps in the coming years, because renovation is a core competence of our firm, across the sports field and golf course construction divisions. Many fields built in the early 1990s during the minor league baseball craze should be ripe for renovation very soon. Fact is, poor sod and drainage conditions will cost you a lot more than $450,000 over the course of 4-5 years. ”

For more information on Lohmann Sports Fields, call 815-923-1005 or visit www.lohmannsportsfields.com