Changing from natural grass to synthetic turf

When the University of Iowa hired a new baseball coach, it was agreed to build a new turf baseball field. Shive-Hattery was approached in late summer of 2014 to fast-track the project during the fall construction season.

Survey, design and installation needed to finish before Thanksgiving, since turf sewing methods typically do not work well when temperatures dip below 45 degrees. The carpet gets cold and a little rigid, and the sewing machines and needles tend to break in these conditions.

The first project phase included synthetic turf conversion on the infield along with new home and visiting bullpens. To control costs, the university awarded the base work as one project and hired the turf vendor separately. This challenged the base contractor to complete their work on schedule to allow the turf vendor time to finish installation.

Shive-Hattery’s design team worked with the university over the course of three weeks to complete the design. At weekly meetings with the associate athletic director, the team reviewed plans, details and discussed the construction schedule. Construction bid on October 13.

Racing Winter Weather

The base field contractor completed work in a timely fashion by working at times until midnight. This sometimes required rock to be stockpiled to allow work to continue under the lights. Adding to an already tight schedule, no work could be completed after 3 p.m. on Fridays or all day Saturdays on home football games—three weekends during this six-week span.

When the turf vendor, Astroturf, arrived, snow began to fall before the turf could be completely installed. Astroturf was able to find time in the spring to finish work so the baseball team could practice on the new field. 

The next phase included installing outfield turf, a new padded fence, a modified batter’s eye, power for a new scoreboard and padded backstop on the existing concrete wall. Design began in early summer, with full construction documents were out to bid in an accelerated seven weeks.

Construction began at the end of August, sensitive again to the home football schedule. By the time Astroturf arrived, the Midwestern weather was changed once more. Only a few days had passed of putting down the first panels in the outfield when the cold temperatures impacted installation.

Astroturf used its patented glue system for the seams in lieu of sewing. This ultimately allowed the turf and infill to be completed before Thanksgiving, when cold temperatures and snow blanketed campus. Astroturf came in the spring to finish infill and clean up the field prior to the first practice.

Lessons Learned

  • Mother Nature will throw you a curve ball. Have a strategy for working around an early snow and cold temperatures to meet your client’s needs.
  • Always meet with coaches and other stakeholders early in the project. By understanding their expectations, you will be on the same page as the project progresses.
  • Know the intended goals for the project. This allows you to create options to reduce costs and optimize your project approach.
  • Partner with turf managers. They will be maintaining the facilities. They often have good ideas for extending the life of the field.

Jon P. Fitch, PE, is a civil engineer with Shive-Hattery, an architecture and engineering consulting firm in Cedar Rapids, IA.