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Faith Christian Academy Soccer Field
Construction Do-It-Yourself Style

(Adapted from article appearing in Landscape Superintendent and
Maintenance Professional, September 2006)

 

 

What do you do when your field is run down, worn out, poorly drained – in a word, inadequate -- and there is zero chance of finding the funds in the budget to solve the problem? All your mowing, fertilizing, sprinkling, and coring efforts have been to no avail. The dilemma is commonplace, especially in small schools but also for secondary sports in larger schools.

This was pretty much the situation faced by soccer coach Ryan Clymer (Class of 95) at Faith Christian Academy in Sellersville, PA. The soccer field was clearly not up to par and it was not anywhere near the top of the priority list in this year’s budget, (or any other year’s budget for that matter.) Clymer is an active member of the school’s Alumni Association. One night last July (2005), after a friendly alumni soccer grudge match with the high school team, there was considerable hand wringing about the dismal condition of the field.

Fortunately for the soccer program, the timing could not have been better. The Alumni Association was on the hunt for a project to rally around. Clymer suggested that the Alumni undertake a major overhaul of the soccer field. High-octane Faith alumnus, Henry Thompson (Class of '90), was so taken by the idea that he could hardly sleep that night. The board had received estimates of nearly $300,000 to renovate the field and they were not at all confident that even this would provide satisfactory results. Henry was convinced that if given the mandate, the Alumni Association could do the job right and at a fraction of the cost.

The board’s primary concern was the drainage system. The original field had been built some 25 years earlier with little attention to drainage. Considerable compaction and settling had occurred in the intervening years. They did not want to see a lot of time, effort and money invested in the project only to find that imperfect drainage had derailed success. Henry and his cohorts thoroughly researched drainage systems and came to the conclusion that the Multi-Flow drainage system was their ace of spades. Thompson summarized, “It appeared to be effective, fast, and durable: all the things the board was looking for.”

Henry recalls, “We were pretty pleased to find out that we could install a 21st century drainage system, like the professionals use, for about 1/3 the cost of one employing an outdated method.” He was also surprised to find out that the Multi-Flow technical staff was willing to spend time with him designing a system custom made for the Faith field, one that they could install themselves.

Soon the Faith Board of Directors gave their stamp of approval to the Alumni plan which included not only a Multi-Flow drainage system but also a sprinkler system, an enlarged playing surface, extended perimeter safety zones, 1300 tons of fill, amended top soil, scoreboard, press box, sod, and last but not least, a two-tired patio area! Excitement began to build among the students, with parents, and in the surrounding community.

The field was asked to carry a lot of traffic. With varsity and JV boys’ soccer in the fall and varsity and JV girls soccer in the spring and practices all summer long, the field seldom rests. Athletic Director Russ Hollinbach recalled that the situation was especially critical when the school hosted tournaments and eight games were scheduled in two days.

The question remained, however, how was this ambitious project going to be funded? The total value of the project had been estimated at $400,000 but a goal was set to accomplish it with $70,000 in cash. The Alumni Association was willing to raise the cash and it was able to provide substantial free labor. Much of that labor was experienced in various phases of construction.

Still, material costs were a substantial part of the budget. Henry Thompson began the process of establishing working relationships with materials providers. In all of his contacts he spread enthusiasm for the Faith Academy soccer project and he looked for ways that Faith could be of value to the vendors. One example of this was in his dealings with Multi-Flow manufacturer, Varicore Technologies. Varicore had already provided him with drainage consultation, CADD drawings, and cost estimates. Thompson offered to host an athletic field drainage seminar for schools, colleges and park departments in the Philadelphia area. The seminar was a big success for all parties. Forty-five landscape superintendents and maintenance professionals attended the seminar and were effectively educated about innovative solutions to a critical common problem: drainage. Varicore was pleased to establish contact with a large number of potential customers. Faith was delighted with the donation Varicore made to the soccer field project in consideration of the seminar. Everyone went home satisfied.

Similar relationships were established with numerous other companies. Some of these had prior connections with the church or school and wanted to support it, while others found supporting the project to simply be good for business.

The project implementation began in April of 2006 when several small buildings, including the press box, were dismantled and 1500 tons of fill were hauled in. The additional fill allowed for the field to be expanded 30 feet to the south which was in the direction of a very steep downward slope. The fill also allowed for a leveling of the field surface. After the field was graded, a large group of volunteers gathered to remove rocks, sticks, and other debris.

Next came the sprinkler system. They installed a system usually reserved for larger sports complexes. This means that the field should remain green well into the fall. The sprinklers are easily adjusted for trajectory and rotation, taking into account wind and coverage requirements. They are regulated by a computer operated timer that automatically adjusts watering schedules combining user preferences with daily satellite-transmitted weather station data. This technology provides substantial money, water, and time savings.

Next, Multi-Flow drainage lines were trenched into the field at 15 foot intervals careful to avoid the irrigation lines. The Multi-Flow shape insures that water can enter the system quickly; the Multi-Flow structure assures that water can be carried away speedily; and the heavy needle punched geo-textile filter will protect the system from siltation. These collector lines followed the natural contour of the field emptying into PVC transport pipes on each side of field. Trenches were 4 inches wide and 15 inches deep. Coarse sand was used to backfill the trenches. This backfill surrounded the Multi-Flow and extended to the surface. It will provide a favorable path for water to follow to reach the drainage medium as well as protecting the geotextile filter from clay and silt.

Two collector lines, one down each side of the field, graduated from a 4-inch, to a 6-inch, and finally to an 8-inch PVC pipe as they progressed down the field allowing for the increased volume of water they will be expected to carry.

Following the installation of the sub-surface drainage system, the field, was regraded and a layer of field mix was added. Sodding occurred in late June. Only hours after the sod was in place, five days of record setting rainfall began. Five inches fell on one day alone! Most athletic fields in the area were submerged. Many were heavily damaged. Henry Thompson and his group were delighted to find that there was no water left standing on their field when the rain finally stopped. Coach Clymer commented that he is confident that his “field will be in excellent shape despite, the wettest summer in 50 years.”

The alumni group has now started work on the two-tier 2,000 square foot patio overlooking the field. The field is located on a terrace of a hillside overlooking scenic Sellersville. The patio will make a great place to grill some brats while watching the boys’ team pursue their fifth district championship in six years or the girls’ team working at earning the sixth championship in seven years.

Obviously it would be less hassle if such projects could be funded in the general budget, but the approach taken by the Sellersville group did have some advantages. To mention just a few:

  • It has heightened awareness of and support for the Faith Christian Academy soccer program.
  • The field has attained a degree of personality and uniqueness it never would have had under a conventional budget/engineer/contactor approach.
  • Valuable relationships were established that will be beneficial for future business dealings.
  • The team and other project participants feel a high degree of ownership in the completed project.
  • Previously untapped community skills and resources were identified and developed.
  • The end result was certainly of a higher quality than it would have been if it had been funded from the budget.
  • The cost to the school was zero!

This fall when the snare drum and bagpipes lead the team up the hill to make their traditional entrance onto the field the team will have its sights set not on the field but on a state championship. One thing is for certain, they will have a very pleasant venue for soccer and fans will be treated to watching a match on a premier field ready for action, regardless of last week’s weather or schedule.

Faith Christian Academy is located in scenic Sellersville, situated 30 miles north or Philadelphia.
Good volunteers can be found in most organizations. But take-charge, hands-on, volunteer coordinators like Henry Thompson are the key to harnessing their enthusiasm.
Many tons of fill were necessary to extent the field over a rapidly descending hillside.
Trenching for irrigation, drainage and transport required careful coordination.
The alumni discovered that Multi-Flow was not only effective but also easy to work with.
Clean, coarse sand surrounding the drainage medium will protect it from clay and silt buildup.
PVC pipe makes for a reliable transport system for irrigation and drainage. The irrigation and drainage transport systems share a trench.
Coach Clymer and a crew of volunteers were excited to finally lay the sod. The sprinkler system helped protect the fragile sod during the simmering heat that had settled in.
The soccer teams have their sights set, not on the pristine field, but on state championships.

 

  

Landscape maintenance, whether by staff or volunteers, is all about anticipation. The empty field anticipates sod. The sodded field anticipates students, fun, action, work, excitement, and hard use. Faith Christian anticipates many years of service from their new field.