The 5 Layers of a New Athletic Field

Athletes depend on safe, stable ground. The right field helps them to push their boundaries and perfect their performance. But without the proper approach and execution during the creation of these fields, issues from unlevel ground to flooding can plague practices and events. To create high-performance fields, you’ll need an experienced and precise excavating team.

Athletic fields are built layer by layer. The quality of each layer is dependent on the precision executed on the layer below. “Completing an athletic fields project is a lot like piecing together a complicated puzzle – each part really needs to be put in place just so to make it work and get it done right,” shares Brian Kane, Vice President of Business Acquisition at Horst Excavating. “There is no room for mistake or error. Each piece must fit exactly.”

In this blog, we’ll go layer by layer through a successful athletic field project, so you know what to expect from your athletic field contractor.

Scheduling & Planning

While planning and scheduling aren’t technically a “layer” of an athletic field, they play an essential role as the true base for the project. One small bump in the project’s planning process can derail the schedule or cause quality control issues down the road.

Whether the athletic field is part of a larger construction project or stands alone, schedules are often tight, and they’re often strict. Schools, associations, and leagues set season schedules far in advance. The fields and courts need to be in working order to host the games, and teams need practice time. Often, construction and excavating crews have as few as 90-120 days to complete a project.

To meet these tight deadlines, the team creates a meticulous schedule. They’ll identify long-lead items and line up all required materials and workforce in advance. They’ll coordinate with sports teams and school officials to minimize the potential for disruptions. They’ll consider all the possible issues and challenges, and they’ll create contingency plans to work around them.

Bulk Excavation and Grading

scraper leveling fieldOnce the schedule and project approach are set, your project team will mobilize. The first stage of the project will likely be the bulk excavating and grading of the site. This will create the bottom layer of the field — what everything else will rest upon.

To complete this phase, they’ll use construction equipment to transform the existing site into a nearly perfectly flat stretch of land for the field and spectator area. The team will excavate rocks, break them down, and remove them from the site or save them for later use within the project. They’ll then distribute dirt and topsoil, grading the land to create a level field.

Depending on the condition of the site, your excavating contractor will start the process with heavy equipment like scrapers. Then, they’ll follow up with low-grade pressure or smaller equipment to achieve the perfect level base layer that’s needed.

drainage pipes under turf fieldDrainage

Weather-related issues can always delay or cancels games and practices. But proper field drainage should minimize the severity and duration.

Exact drainage methods can vary from field to field. In many cases, the team will excavate and grade the field, and will then create trench drains and install thousands of feet of drainage pipe. These drainage pipes zigzag below the stone, padding, and turf, directing water away from the field. This reduces water accumulation and pooling, getting your sports team back on the field faster.

Stone Base

stone in over drainage for athletic fieldOnce the drainage system is installed, a stone base will cover the field. This gravel will help keep the drainage system in place and will provide a porous layer for the field.

The team will have to lay this stone perfectly to achieve a precisely flat, level surface on the final field. A key element to achieving success in this layer is choosing the proper stone size. If the gravel is too large or small, it can impact on how flat the team can get the surface.

There is no available tolerance for variances. To achieve the necessary level of precision, our team uses lasers or GPS technology to make sure the gravel lays evenly. Even small variances in height can have a noticeable impact on the completed field.

Artificial Turf and Grass

turf field installationOnce the team completes the layers below, they will begin working on the top layer. If you are installing a synthetic field, this will include a layer of padding and then the turf above. If you’re creating a traditional grass field, topsoil will be spread, and grass will be planted.

From there, field lines are painted, and other equipment is installed, from goalposts to scoreboards to fences. Meanwhile, work should be progressing on any bleachers or areas for spectators.

Selecting a Precise and Experienced Team

Over our 60+ years in business, Horst Excavating has created several athletic fields for high schools, colleges, and the minor leagues. Whether natural grass or synthetic, sport-specific or multi-use, there are commonalities between all athletic field projects that, when executed correctly, lead to a successful result.

To learn more about how Horst Excavating can help you with your athletic field or facility project, please contact us.


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This blog was originally posted on April 2, 2018 and was update on October 17, 2022