Even without games happening, the University of Rhode Island needs its outdoor facilities in tip-top shape before the action resumes.
The person in charge of that is Brian Boesch, the manager of turf and grass athletic grounds at the University who runs the day-to-day operations of the athletic grounds division. He and his team of five people manage the area from Keeney parking lot and the tennis courts all the way to the intramural fields near the Flagg Road parking lot. In total, Boesch said that’s about 50 acres of recreational fields and 15 acres of varsity fields.
The University has multiple surfaces for its various outdoor athletic facilities. The URI Soccer Complex is home to a large, natural grass practice field that can be configured into multiple different sizes of fields, and it also contains an all-grass match field that is used by both men’s and women’s programs. Men’s Soccer Head Coach Gareth Elliott frequently cites the facilities as a reason student-athletes choose to come to URI. The URI Softball Complex is also a grass surface.
On the other hand, the University has synthetic turf fields at its disposal. Meade Stadium converted from a natural grass field to an artificial turf surface in time for the fall of 2019. Boesch said the synthetic turf was installed by FieldTurf, a world-renowned field installation company that also has worked with Gillette Stadium and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Bill Beck Field is also a synthetic surface.
Even though one may think that taking care of a synthetic turf field is easier than a grass field, Boesch says it’s a common misconception.
“A lot of people think that the synthetic field is maintenance-free, and while there are some aspects of it that are different, it is definitely not maintenance-free,” he said. “You have to groom it, you have to clean it.”
Extended time off due to the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t necessarily held true for Boesch. He said they have used athletes’ time away from the field to fine-tune maintenance on the field since it is less busy. Once the action starts to pick up again, he said things like painting and work around the field become harder to do simply because the field is in use.
“It hasn’t been a complete holiday,” he said as sports remain on hold. “Obviously, it has been a lighter load on the athletic side without the sports and such, but at the same time it has given us an opportunity to do some work on the fields, put a little time more in on the turf.”
Boesch, who completed his master’s degree at URI in the mid 2000s, said a big aspect of taking care of synthetic fields is regularly cleaning it. Whereas germs can decay into the soil on natural grass fields, that isn’t the case on turf. Trash and debris constantly need to be picked up, while hosing down the field also eliminates potential bacteria concerns. Still, Boesch said that research has shown that concerns such as MRSA, COVID-19, and other diseases are very low-risk.
In order to prevent injuries on synthetic fields, Boesch said that he and his team put a heavy emphasis on grooming. Without even distribution, Boesch said that certain areas can become thicker and thinner than others. When a spot is thinner, there is less absorbance the field can take, which he said then leads to the athlete taking more of the force of impact. Grooming also helps the surface’s longevity.
“The purpose of that (grooming) is for, there is a safety aspect to it but also a protection aspect of the field,” said Boesch. “If you don’t redistribute the rubber where it needs to be, it will wear out quicker on the field.”
The concern for the health and safety of student-athletes has never been greater in the world of college athletics, and the University of Rhode Island continues to work on their facilities to ensure a safe environment for return to play.
For avoiding injuries on synthetic field, very important to groom the field so the turf pellets are evenly distributed. Areas become thicker/thinner
When a place is thinner, there less absorbance the field take, and the athlete takes more of an impact
Said based on the research that he has read about concussions, no one field is better in terms of synthetic field and natural grass field
Intensely used fields and sidelines get hosed down to kill bacteria
Research has shown that other bacterias and covid related things are very very low.
Difficult to do the fine tune maintenance in season because they are so busy, things like painting and work around the field
Part of the facilities department, not the athletic department. Has helped out with covid measures around campus as a result of this.
“Overall it’s been a different year. I wouldn’t say the workload has been less, its just different. It’s been strange, very strange.”
Graduated from grad school in 06
Did consulting work for the groups team as a consultant
Graduate degree in service management – golf course maintenance and sports field management
Former director of lands and grounds was retiring as Brian was graduating,
director of facilities hired brian as the interim director of grounds in 2008
University created sports field position, brian first person to have that honor (was previously director of grounds for all of campus)
Decided needed a specialists for the sports fields
Terms it naturally grass vs synthetic turf.
“That’s the industry lingo,” he said with a chuckle. “A lot of people do that though. They say turf when referring to artificial grass.”
Have to clean turf from germs and debris
Natural field things fall into the soil and decay.
Natural grass needs irrigation, fertilizing, mowing
“The labor on a day to day basis is a lot less for a synthetic field but it is a much more expensive field to install and maintain over their lifespan.”
After five to ten years, you have to replace the turf due to maintenance issues. Expensive to fix an issue as opposed to swap out a new field
Some universities spraying the fields down more regularly out of an abundance of caution
Work with local farms on natural grass fields when needing sod or doing development around building
Have a purchase order with sodco right now. Have done work with kingston turf farm in the past. But that purchase order comes up regularly but it can change when the contract expires
The secretary of the new england chapter of the sports field manager’s association. Gives him a chance to network and talk with other field managers in the area
“Some people were super busy, some weren’t at all. Some institutions made quicker decisions than others.”