Track and Field Maintenance: Invest in the Facility and Get Great Payback

April 3, 2018

By Mary Helen Sprecher


March Madness winds down, baseball starts up and all those athletes who have been working out in the gyms are suddenly headed for the great outdoors – meaning tennis courts, tracks and more.

Whether it’s an early spring or whether everything is happening on schedule, it’s not unusual for some A.D.s to get an acute attack of sweaty-palmed self-consciousness about the shape of the facilities. After all, in many areas, they’ve been buried under a layer of snow. At the very least, they’ve been suffering from weather that is inhospitable when it comes to athletes. And in all cases, it means the staff is trying valiantly to get ahead of the curve.

So what’s the first thing you can do to get those facilities back into shape? Take stock of what’s going on. That means get out to the courts (or the track, or the field, or whatever) early and do a physical inventory. There may be some problems you can address immediately. Take a walk through the facility – carrying your phone as well as a notebook – and make note of any problems.

Sam Fisher of Fisher Tracks in Boone, Iowa, says that a key component of each coach’s responsibility should be making regularly scheduled visits to the track – not to watch athletes but to examine the facility.

“I think it’s so important that the track (and field for that matter) is walked over at least twice a year in and around season changes,” notes Fisher. “I strongly recommend that one of these walk-throughs be done at the time that the sprinklers are on. When sprinkler heads get lodged or turned and are watering the track in the middle of the night, no one really becomes aware of it. This constant water affects the base far more than it does the rubber surface. When asphalt, for example, is always subject to moisture; it commences to strip and ultimately the asphalt loses its viability and we have track failure from the bottom up. Again, the biggest overall success for a long lasting athletic facility is someone paying attention, taking a notebook and a camera and walking through and over their facility on a regular basis.”

Being proactive and catching problems early, say contractors, can make a world of difference.

“It’s the little items that don’t seem to be much of an issue when the track is new that can soon turn into big and, more importantly, expensive headaches when neglected,” Fisher adds. “I always encourage owners not to be shy about taking a few pictures and sending them out in an e-mail to me with questions. I’d much rather take the time and address such than wait for that call in the middle of track season when they have track failure and their district meet is only weeks away.”

“If the surface is forming mold and mildew (recognizable as a black film), pressure washing is a valuable maintenance service,” says Paul Nagle of Nagle Athletic Surfaces in East Syracuse, New York. “For polyurethane tracks, the mold and mildew coats track markings and can create a slippery surface.”

And, he notes, if you happen to have tennis courts, check there as well. “For courts, the mold and mildew cause a slippery surface and cause the acrylic surfacing materials to deteriorate.”

If the track is used by the community, the pros recommend the school keep an even closer eye on it, since it will have more frequent – and often unsupervised – use.

“What we don’t want are the bike spills, the kick stands or pedals gouged into the track, or kids skidding their dirt bikes on the rubber and doing wheelies and horseplay with strollers, wagons, etc.,” says Fisher. “Most communities have a substantial investment in these athletic facilities and everyone wants to see them maintained; providing their district and community a long term safe complex.”

In many cases, posting rules at the gate to the facility, using fence mazes – and asking other users to police the facility and report problems to the school – can help take care of problems.

But, says Paul Nagle, no track lasts forever. Even when is used according to the manufacturer’s directions and all necessary precautions are taken, eventually, there will come a time when the school needs to plan for replacement. And, he notes, this has nothing to do with the workmanship of the track.

“It is important that the facility owner plans for complete resurfacing. For polyurethane tracks, we recommend a period of every eight to 12 years. For courts, we recommend a period of six to eight years. These recommendations are based on the facility owner performing basic maintenance and normal use of the facility.”

To avoid sticker shock, he adds, owners should stay in touch with the installer of the venue throughout the surface’s useful life, and should engage in dialogue with that company, should any questions arise.

“Facility owners should engage surfacing professionals two to three years prior to resurfacing to assess the condition of the surface,” he adds, “and to develop a budget for the complete resurfacing project.”

Ultimately, many things will contribute to the condition of a track: amount of wear, maintenance, climate, problems with sprinklers or water runoff – and more. Only by staying in contact with the professional can the owner be sure that all necessary precautions have been taken.


All images courtesy of American Sports Builders Association

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