Blog: approvals, design and construction of rec field project

by John Horn

You’ve got approval to do a major field project, now what?

The joy of receiving approval to do a major project on our campus quickly turned to tribulation when we learned of the necessary procedural steps to deliver this project to students. As much as we wanted to complete design and stick shovels in the ground, getting to that point involves an enormous commitment of time, people and approvals. In previous blog entries, we focused on goals within the project, but this entry will focus on process and steps taken before finally breaking ground, as well as updating you on our current progress towards substantial completion.

Core team meetings

As a State of Wisconsin project, ours is driven and managed through the Division of Facility Development (DFD) and the State Department of Administration. Selection of an architect and engineer (A/E) firm to design the project is done by means of a submittal and interview process involving DFD. SmithGroup JJR, a national firm who also has a design office in Madison, WI, was the firm selected to design our Near West Playfield Upgrade project. Their mission is to create a legacy of inspiring places that enhance the environment and enrich the human experience and to create well-thought, well-crafted places that artfully balance beauty with function.

Once we secured SmithGroup JJR, it was time to develop the core team for the design. Our core team consisted of the following personnel:

  • SmithGroup JJR project manager
  • Facilities planning and management project manager
  • State of Wisconsin Division of Facility Development project manager
  • Rec sports director
  • Rec sports senior associate director
  • Two UW-Madison students

The kickoff meeting with our A/E (SmithGroup JJR) for the Near West Playfield Upgrade project was in August 2015. As we went through the design process, we included many different team managers, engineers, turf specialists, student groups, users and staff. As the cliché goes, it truly took an army to design this project.

Design approvals

Designing a project at UW-Madison assumes an incredible amount of steps; all requiring various levels of approval. For example, the Major Projects process includes approximately 80 steps along the way, from project approval and starting design, to completion and warranty. A few steps included presentations for approval to these groups:

  • Joint campus neighborhood approval
  • LEED/sustainability
  • Plan commission
  • DFD peer review
  • State Building Commission (authority to construct)

Design process

In all, we hosted 16 formalized core team design meetings and had countless side meetings, phone calls and emails back and forth. At each approval step, we’d pause, listen, and consider alternatives along the path. At the same time, we continued efforts to engage our users, share design options and communicate ideas back to the core team. This process took almost a full year before we finally got approval to construct — and all of this was just for design!

Turf request for proposal

As we neared the end of design, we worked directly with our campus business office to create a Request for Proposal (RFP) for synthetic turf. This RFP went out in the beginning of June, and the synthetic turf project was awarded to Kiefer USA to install the Mondo FTS Turf System with Ecofill. This system met all of our design goals to make the safest, most playable and environmentally friendly system we could install.


When the design process was completed, the project had to go before the State Building Commission to get a signature for approval to hire a general contractor (GC). The GC was selected through a State bid process. The GC selected for our project was RG Huston.  Once approved to move forward with construction, we hosted a pre-construction meeting at the site to go over project logistics, start date and any questions from the GC. Within a week of this meeting, equipment started showing up to the site.

Construction and site challenges

Our project had to consider many challenges. Most of these challenges were in relation to the location of the site: a very environmentally sensitive area in addition to notoriously unpredictable Wisconsin weather. Not only was this a very large earthwork project, it was located in an area next to a lake and creek, and surrounded by bioswales used to capture storm water. Every precaution had to be taken throughout construction to protect those areas.

Site visits and construction progress meetings

Throughout construction, regular site visits were made in order to monitor progress of the GC and subcontractors, as well as to gain approvals for various submittals as we advanced the project forward. Every Thursday, a construction progress meeting was hosted by our DFD project manager and our A/E, which included the GC and any subcontractors who needed to be present. At these meetings, we’d go over any concerns, approvals that needed action and the project schedule.


I like to always encourage my team to “control what you can control.” In this project, the most frustrating challenge was one we had no control over — the weather. Almost as soon as we broke ground on the site, it started raining, and it rained a lot. As a matter of fact, it was the wettest August and September our city had seen since the early 1980s. For a project that required the removal of over a hundred thousand tons of soil and the creation of a sub-base for the synthetic turf system, the weather was, and still remains, a severe obstacle for the project. As the heavy rains continued to pound the site, the sub-base for the turf system softened considerably, incurring delays. This created issues that we had to correct before allowing the turf to be installed. The site was shut down several days throughout the topsoil removal and creation of the sub-base. This pushed our project well into November.

After all of the delays and extra work by the GC to repair the sub-base, the earthwork and sub-base were finally completed the third week of November, with the turf being installed behind all of the repaired sub-base. As of December 1, it appears that while we’ve almost got all of the turf installed, Wisconsin weather will shut down work at the site as winter is now upon us. As disheartening as it is to not finish the project this fall, we can see the finish line and can’t wait to open this spectacular facility to our students next spring.

John Horn is the director of the Division of Recreational Sports at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. See more UW-Madison Rec Sports blog posts here.