Building new softball fields in Union City, TN

SportsTurf magazine asked Stephen, the Director of Turf Management and Athletic Facilities for the City of Union City, TN some questions about the city’s building new softball fields. Here’s what he said:

Why did you have to re-build these softball fields?

“In 2017, we began a major park project in which we removed one youth baseball field and a parking lot, to install two new softball fields. This project was undertaken due to the lack of field availability within the park. Initially, the project called for one softball and one baseball field but was later changed, due to the fact that we could play youth baseball or softball on the fields. The project was scheduled to begin in July 2017, but a number of problems in the engineering phase led to a late start date. The actual project would not begin until September, thus causing numerous weather-related problems. These problems would be a recurring theme during the project. “

Did you lead the project? If not, who did and what was your role?

“The only aspect of the project under direct supervision of the Union City Sports Turf Department was the actual playing surface. The department made all decisions in regards to clay, grass, warning track material and irrigation. The City contracted directly with Tri-Turf Sod Farms of Paris, TN for on-field grading, grass, clay and warning track installation. The department had no control over any infrastructural aspects of the project outside of the fields. Due to the late start date, this would be a major problem as the inside the field was directly related to what was going on around it. As tree removal and outside grading was running behind, the target field date was initially moved to November. The various sub-contractors had major weather issues and the field date was scrapped, and moved to April 2018. The upside of the delay was having a full summer to grow in with a target date of July 2018 for beginning of play.”

What kind of grass did you choose and why?

“Initially the project called for Latitude, but this was changed to 419 prior to the actual beginning of the process, as a cost saving measure. 419 is on all of our athletic fields so this was not a major problem. In the beginning with the November target date we overseeded a rye blend on the actual sod farm site; this would become an unnecessary action as the project pushed back to April, and we would have a quality growing period following installation.”

Describe how the weather affected the timing and completion of the project.

“The weather in Union City was brutal in winter 2017-2018, and project delays outside of the playing surface led to continued target date changes. The park flooded at one point during the winter creating a major delay. The lights where installed during a hard freeze when cranes and other equipment could move in. Even as April arrived and the playing surface was installed, contractors outside of the playing surfaces had failed to install sidewalks, backstops and other major infrastructural aspects of the project.”

Describe mistakes that were made during construction and how they were fixed.

“Initially this project should have been on go in July of 2017, break downs in communication with the engineering firm, failure to complete permit paperwork and several other problems would arise outside of the control of the Sports Turf Department. The project not starting on time is what led to the major weather- related problems.

“The fields were designed for over-the-top drainage, and it was evident that this would not work due to another, non-related project adjacent to the site, where currently drainage is a problem. But on-field drainage could not be installed during the project due to the contract and change order process. Now that the contract has been completed there are plans to retro install on-field drainage.”

How are the fields doing now?

“The playing fields and all of the infrastructure around them where completed in August, the usage target date was missed and the fields have still not been open [as of November 27, 2018]. The playing surfaces are in excellent condition, as they have never been played on. They have been overseeded for spring and will go into full use in March 2019.”

What other comments do you have re the project?

“The field project was done at the same time as a concession stand/restroom project, and done by the same engineering firm. The projects where not overlaid prior to the beginning of the project. The concession stand is 6 feet above the grade of the park, this has created a quality viewing area of the new fields, but it has also dammed up two of the outfields that where supposed to be over-the-top drained. The actual slope of the concession is adjacent to an outfield wall.

“Two contractors and two projects that overlap do not work out well for anyone; we spent some time as mediators between the two contractors, for example in one location their silt fences crossed one another. A failure to overlay the two projects and communication breakdowns hurt the project.

“This entire process has been taxing on our staff, administrators and everyone involved. The fields will be considered successful, and they will be very nice for the community, but the process was a complete disaster from beginning until end, and I would say personally the worst year that I have had in this business, and it had very little to do with field management.”