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Longevity cuts costs - tips for optimal sports facility maintenance
Sports facility maintenance is an area that continues to receive scant attention, in particular when it comes to facilities that are not used for elite sport. However, the regular and expert upkeep of sports facilities is essential not only for reasons of sustainability, hygiene and comfort when practicing sport but also to reduce the risk of sports people suffering injury. As is so often the case, the greatest "opponent" of optimal sports facility maintenance is money. Be it the local authority or club budget - there is typically a shortage not only of money but also of available staff. And whether corresponding savings are really economical is certainly open to debate.
A new sports facility or an upgrade costs money and in the case of larger facilities this sum can run into the millions. These large investments are typically financed at various levels and with significant expenditure by the parties involved. Everyone knows of a sports club which is pushing for a new synthetic turf pitch or the renovation of a competition hall. Local authority sports committees also often hold lengthy discussions about whether and how much money is available for individual sports facilities. The advance outlay, which extends over the planning and construction phase, is often very high. Fortunately, if the end result is a new or modernised sports facility, the expenditure is just as often forgotten again. In sports clubs with their own grounds a groundskeeper assumes responsibility for the condition of sports facilities from this point. As a rule, however, these are not professionals and the materials and budget at their disposal are not exactly lavish. For local authority sports grounds responsibility for upkeep often lies with other departments or local authority institutions.
The consequences of poor maintenance of synthetic turf can be effectively analysed
The prime example of the importance and also the problems of sports facility maintenance is the synthetic turf sports facility. Here not only are maintenance shortcomings easy to identify but the consequences can be effectively analysed. This is because a synthetic turf surface needs to be replaced after a certain period of time, with 15 years widely considered to be the typical lifespan. In the case of facilities which have been maintained either poorly or not at all, but used on a regular basis, the condition of the synthetic turf deteriorates so much over time that many are unusable even before they are ten years old and the surface must be exchanged ahead of its typical lifespan. This can be an expensive and problematic undertaking if there are no funds in the budget for such unplanned measures or the club's loan for the original reconstruction has not even been paid off. Effective and regular maintenance of a synthetic turf pitch can prevent the need for early replacement. For such upkeep not only ensures that the facility remains in good condition but also significantly improves economic and ecological sustainability.
Maintenance requirements should be included in planning
Future maintenance requirements should be taken into account at the planning stage of a sports facility. And it is not just a matter of considering the amount of work and expenditure but of factoring in ecological and sustainability aspects. This means that the decision to use a certain material or method should only be taken if specialist maintenance can be carried out. Even if the parties involved want a project to be implemented in a certain way, it can only be sustainable and successful in the long term if maintenance keeps it in good condition over its planned lifespan. Otherwise alternatives need to be considered. A prime example here are sports facilities with natural turf. For ecological reasons and for many sports people this remains the optimum sports facility surface. However, natural turf also requires a great deal of maintenance, and not just on a regular basis but with specialist know-how. A poorly maintained or neglected natural turf facility is not just less fun to play on but can also be dangerous. In case of doubt it must be closed and the turf completely replanted. And this is not desirable for any of the involved parties.
Read maintenance guidelines and draw up a maintenance plan
While sports facility maintenance is not rocket science, there are standards for procedures and execution. Therefore every operator of a sports facility should acquire the correct maintenance instructions and guidelines for the surface, condition and purpose of the facility. Manufacturers and construction firms can be helpful in this regard - producers of synthetic turf, for example, are even required to provide the customer with maintenance instructions. An appropriate overview is provided in the publication "Sports Facility Maintenance Guidelines", available from Forschungsgesellschaft Landschaftsentwicklung Landschaftsbau e.V. (fll.de). This can be used to draw up a maintenance plan in which individual maintenance steps are scheduled, thus ensuring the medium- and long-term upkeep of the facility. Within a club or local authority the maintenance plan should be discussed with representatives of operators and users and arrangements should be made to train staff internally or externally. After all, it makes no sense for the club chair or sports department employee to be familiar with the guidelines if those who are going to be responsible for carrying out the maintenance work do not receive appropriate training.
Make specialist maintenance material available
Effective sports facility maintenance not only requires theoretical know-how but also specialist and pragmatic maintenance materials. There are many producers of devices and machines which facilitate sports facility maintenance and optimise performance. From the cleaning of surfaces, improvement of drainage and the topping-up of sand and granules to protection from weather damage and improving durability – the range is varied and offers solutions of all sizes. Naturally it is necessary to invest in good maintenance material and to perhaps take a new approach to financing. After all, many costly machines and devices do not need to be used on a daily basis. One approach is for several clubs or local authorities to make a joint purchase, thus reducing the outlay. The latest digital innovations even allow savings to be made in terms of time and staff costs. For example, there are robots for both mowing natural turf pitches and the maintenance of synthetic turf. This is a good solution for sport at all levels.
If in doubt use the services of a specialist
As mentioned earlier, costs are the biggest obstacle in sports facility maintenance. Staff and material costs can grow quickly or even jeopardise a project in advance. However, it isn't necessary to do everything oneself. There are service providers which specialise in the maintenance of synthetic and sand surfaces in particular. Specialists are on the whole well-trained and use professional maintenance machinery. Whenever there are staffing issues and perhaps also a lack of specialist expertise, or it is simply not worth buying machinery, the best option is to use the services of a specialist company. In many cases the outlay is smaller than it would be to use trained staff or purchase maintenance machinery.
Fortunately, the number of sports facilities has increased significantly in recent years, but from a sustainability standpoint they must be kept in good condition for as long as possible and the health of sports people must not be endangered. Accordingly, specialist sports facility management is essential. It is important to be well informed about standards, costs and options at the planning stage of a new building or renovation and to develop an individual strategy.