The season began with the removal of the remnants of the IAAF 2001 World Championships in Athletics namely the two end zone areas as well as the east side of the field. The end zones were covered with artificial turf and rubber crumb, Mondo track material, on a base of asphalt and then road crush all of which was removed and recycled. We then inspected our drainage system for defects or damage, following the inspection a .335m layer of 20mm washed rock was hauled in and leveled. This was followed by a .226m layer of base material (blend sand) placed directly on the gravel leveled and compacted. I personally thought that a filter cloth/material should have been used to prevent the percolation of the sand material into the washed rock. Our growing medium, which is a sand and soil mix of 90% sand and 10 % soil mix was then brought in and leveled to rough grade.
Our irrigation supplier was brought in to install new irrigation to the areas where needed and to check the existing irrigation that was installed the previous year.
The next step in the process is to have our survey crew come in and stake out the the field for the final grade.The arduous process of leveling, floating and compacting the growing medium to final grade occurs next. Once this is achieved the irrigation crew come out once again to make any final adjustments to the system.
We are now ready to lay our sod which as most sports fields consist of blue grass mixtures. We are fortunate enough to have the same supplier for many years. It was decided in the winter that we would replace the entire field not just the areas covered with the track and artificial turf. This was done for two reasons, first that the existing turf was not in the best condition and second there would be two different colors of turf. We have learned over the years that even though the supplier is the same, with the different maintenance programs and age of the turf you never end up with the same hue. When we have to remove existing turf our supplier generously offers his harvester from the sod farm which results in substantial labor and cost savings.
Our spring was somewhat wet which meant we had to play the waiting game now in terms of when our sod could be cut and delivered. It takes our crew of 10 members 20 hours to complete the tasks of installing the sod for the entire playing surface.
The turf installation was completed 4 ½ weeks before the first event, a pre-season football game with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders. Our fertilizing program consisted of 3 applications before the June 20th football game. Our first concern would obviously be good root growth and of course after that would be lush green leaf growth.
During this period we had at total of 4 football games so there was a lot of time for maintenance, 5 applications of fertilizer and a very controlled watering program. There was a window of 8 to 14 days between events which allowed for much needed recovery time for the turf plant. We cut the grass to a height of 1 5/8 inches at least twice a week and vacuum the cuttings off the field. The vacuuming not only removes unwanted cuttings but also stands the turf leaf up for a second cutting, like putting the pattern on for sporting events. I thought it would be of some interest to let people know that in the 25 years Commonwealth Stadium has been in operation there has been only 3 Turf Managers hired.
This month was a little busier for us with a total of 7 events excluding several practice dates at various unspecified times. Our main event was the FIFA U19 World Soccer Championships,12 games in 14 days. We had from 11 pm August 15th to 8 am August 17th to transform our football field to a world class soccer pitch.
The football game ended at 11pm Thursday night and unfortunately the turf took quite a beating due to an over abundance the rainfall the previous week. We started right after the game by first mowing the grass and using our turf vacuum to remove the clippings and divots. Six weeks prior, we started lowering the grass height (from1 5/8 to 1 1/16inches) gradually to prevent any shock to the grass plant.
We then removed the football uprights/goal posts and started the arduous task of removing the football markings off the field. We were given permission from The Edmonton Eskimo Football Club to mark the field only in white paint for the two games prior to The Soccer Championships to help make the removal process easier. We also tried a new temporary chalk paint from a company in Ohio for the last two markings that worked very well, but unfortunately we still had remnants of the more permanent paint used from previous markings. Our local field paint supplier came out and took grass clippings from our last cut to take back to their office and try to match the color of the turf to cover any remaining football markings. FIFA (Federatation Internationale de Football Association) is a very meticulous organization and does not stray from its rules and regulations. When they arrived and took over the stadium for the Championships we were obliged to give them what they required. The first thing they needed was a "clean stadium" which meant no markings visible on the pitch as well as no advertising throughout the stadium that was not sanctioned by FIFA, including soft drinks, food products, and alcoholic beverages.
Inspections were made by numerous officials of FIFA pertaining to the condition of the pitch itself which included the exact length and width, and of course the markings. They are a thorough group as they measured the penalty kick point, the goal and penalty area and the corner kick arcs. One official noticed that the center mark had increased in size a few cm after a few games and would not allow the match to start until we went out and corrected this problem. The turf crew were asked by FIFA to cut the grass in different directions until they decided which was most pleasing to the eye and looked the best on television.
The fertilizing and watering programs were changed dramatically as they did not want any type of product put on the turf for the period they were here. Watering was difficult because each game day was a double header and as more teams arrived from other locations they are allowed a 45 minute practice on the pitch where the game occurs. Any breaks between game days were practice dates as well as the rehearsals for both the opening and closing ceremonies. We were to cut, vacuum and mark every game day and we were having some warm temperatures as well, all this combined to take its toll on the turf.
September 1st the last two games of the U19 Championships, Japan versus Brazil and Canada versus the USA. The Final was a great game but unfortunately the Canadian girls were defeated. FIFA came to us and told us that this event was a major success for all concerned and they praised the condition of the field and the expertise of the staff.
We now have our facility back with four days to do the reverse transformation from soccer to football. The turf is not in the best condition and I am informed that a product was used after a concert that will perk up the grass. It is a liquid fertilizer that when applied is fed through the leaf of the plant and is guaranteed to work within a 24 hour period. I was more than a little sceptical but was out voted by my superiors in its use and unfortunately I was right, it had little to no results. After the September 6 game we were back on our own fertilizing/watering program and had two weeks to get the turf back in shape. We had great success in bringing the turf back up to our standard much to the pleasure of the football club and our management.
September and October were our standard months with 4 games in total and a lot of time between events for maintenance with our growing season coming to an end. At this time I was really convinced that all we will have to do is aerate over seed and top dress in the spring.
The Eskimos have clinched first place and we will now have the Western Final on November 17th and The Grey Cup on November 24th. We had a significant snow fall but chose to leave it on the field as a natural insulating blanket . We started the snow removal on Tuesday November 12th for the field marking which is a little more extensive with all the advertising logos added. Trucks with plows mounted on the front along with various sizes of equipment with front mounted brooms are used to remove the snow off the playing surface. All conditions considered there was no precipitation in the forecast for the week so we started our work on the field. Wednesday, November 13 we woke up to 3 cm of snow on the ground and my work plan not only for the day had changed but for the spring as well. The second snow removal removed a lot of the plant leaf/thatch and the temperature was dropping somewhat, the field was starting to get hard. We were very fortunate that the weather turned mild and the turf for the Western Final according to the players and the media was in very good shape.
On November 19th we once again check all sources and with no precipitation in the forecast we started our field preparations. The weather was warm for the week and we finished all of our field work and everyone seemed quite happy. We may have to come in and do some touch ups on some of the markings as there has been some foot traffic on the field. The temperature was starting to cool down but still very reasonable.
On November 24th Grey Cup Day, I received a call from one of the staff at 6 am saying that there is a few centimeters of snow on the field. I start making phone calls to all of the staff to be on site ASAP and when I arrived shortly after there is a considerable accumulation of snow. There was a small path of snow that passed through the city and wouldn't you know Commonwealth Stadium was right in the middle of it. Once again we had to run the snow removal equipment over the field taking even more of the turf leaf with it. Cool temperatures, hardly any turf leaf left and we now have to remark the entire field with a latex paint that has no chance of drying in the short period we have before game time. So needless to say by game time field conditions were less than perfect and believe me the media sure let us know about it.
It's funny how during the entire season the media will talk to you and do small interviews saying how we have one of the best natural turf fields in North America and then do a complete reversal. We at Commonwealth Stadium take great pride in the reputation we have earned over the years and take criticism as a tool to work from. Unfortunately some criticism is given without proper knowledge of what Turf Management really is.
This was a typical year at Commonwealth Stadium, some come with many more challenges stemming from a wide array of events and timelines. I hope this was of some interest to those involved in Turf Management and it was my pleasure to share it with you.
Larry Noon is Turfgrass Manager at Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, AB and is a long time WCTA member.