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15.02.2024 - Ausgabe: 1/2024

Inspect First - Then Refurbish

Why it makes sense to have a professional sports pitch inspection carried out before resurfacing an artificial pitch, as it can save costs and allows for sound long-term planning.

By Dennis Frank, ISP GmbH - Institut für Sportstättenprüfung
© ISP GmbH

In recent years, the number of artificial pitches used to practise sports has continued to increase, largely replacing old surfaces such as hoggin playing surfaces. This development is due, among other things, to the fact that artificial pitches are durable, year-round playing surfaces, that they are able to withstand intensive use and all kinds of weather and that they are pleasant to play on. In amateur football in particular, artificial turf pitches have now become the standard alongside the classic natural grass pitches. 

Once a high-quality artificial turf surface has been installed on sports grounds, it is usually replaced after 10 to 15 years, depending on how it is maintained and how heavily it is used. However, it may well be necessary to refurbish the pitch at an earlier stage. Many operators of artificial turf pitches, however, find it difficult to recognise when a surface needs to be replaced and to what extent it needs to be refurbished. In addition, there are new EU regulations in place that primarily affect artificial sports pitches: infill granules for artificial turf applications will no longer be available in just under 8 years for the sake of environmental protection. This means that it may well be necessary to refurbish the pitch at an earlier stage and this should, of course, be done sustainably. 

In order to address all of these problems, it is best to have the pitch inspected in advance by an expert. This involves analysing the current condition of the existing artificial turf pitch, including the base and elastic layers. The results can then be used to determine both the need for refurbishment and possible next steps. 

Such a preliminary inspection of artificial sports pitches makes sense for several reasons:

  • Having an expert with the relevant expertise and experience inspect the pitch ensures a sound and reliable assessment of its current condition.
  • The inspection can help determine whether the pitch needs to be refurbished and which components need to be replaced in the event of refurbishment, but also which can be retained. This is likely to save higher costs. 
  • If the condition of the artificial sports pitch jeopardises athletes' safety, this would be immediately identified during the inspection. This may add to the urgency of refurbishing the pitch.
  • The preliminary inspection allows operators to reliably estimate the costs and the time required to replace the surface.
  • As part of the inspection, it can be assessed whether the existing artificial turf system is well harmonised. The expert can give the operator additional useful tips and advice for an upcoming refurbishment.
  • A preliminary inspection by a specialist company provides quality assurance and allows operators to rest assured that all components of the existing pitch, which can be retained in the event of refurbishment, also comply with current norms and safety standards. 
  • Following the inspection, the experts can also provide the operator with sound advice on sustainability criteria and proper disposal (recycling) of the old surface. 

Of course, operators should make sure that the expert or company commissioned to carry out the inspection has the necessary accreditation and experience in this field. The scope of such an inspection includes a thorough visual inspection, an assessment and a test of the playing properties and of the protective function, an analysis of the risk of injuries, and an inspection of the substructure (applies to bound elastic layers as well as bound and unbound base layers). All inspections must be carried out in accordance with the specifications of the currently valid DIN 18035-7, the German standard for Sports Grounds — Part 7: Synthetic Turf Areas.

It should be noted that such a preliminary inspection can by no means supersede the work carried out by expert consultants specialising in sports ground construction. However, it provides them with important data and findings that they can subsequently benefit from in their work. It is therefore a more than useful supplementary measure to optimise planning in many respects.  

Following the inspection, the operator will be informed of the extent to which the pitch needs to be refurbished and what steps should be taken to modernise it. At the same time, a reliable overall picture of the safety status is provided, which in turn helps operators to fulfil their responsibilities towards the users. 

However, the preliminary inspection of an artificial sports pitch described above can also have a number of other advantages. It is often the users themselves who notice defects and want the pitch to be refurbished. Or a local authority in its capacity as operator wants to push ahead with modernisation. In cases like these, the relevant sponsors (e.g. the club's management or political bodies) must be convinced that this measure is necessary. However, they usually refer to the aforementioned "15-year life span" of an artificial turf surface, which is often interpreted as a minimum rather than a maximum, and as a result, they reject the request for an early refurbishment. In such cases, the preliminary inspection by an expert described above can clearly be beneficial. Well-founded results and an expert opinion on the condition of the pitch can substantiate the arguments of those in favour of modernisation and clearly demonstrate the urgency of the refurbishment. This could help convince the sponsors to release the necessary budget. 

On the other hand, sports clubs that are unsure whether a costly modernisation is already necessary can have a preliminary inspection of the pitch carried out to determine whether it can still be used for some time to come. This is because the refurbishment of club-owned facilities is usually a major investment. And in terms of both economic and ecological sustainability, a sports pitch surface should be used as long as it is safe to play on and conforms to standards. 

In some cases, however, the aforementioned EU ban on granules used as infill material in synthetic turf pitches will require that synthetic turf pitches be refurbished ahead of schedule. It is then a matter of sustainability to check which components of the pitch can still be retained. 

Preliminary inspection can also provide important findings when recycling old artificial turf pitches if not only the surface but also the bound elastic base layer is to be disposed of. This is because it is possible to estimate the quantity to be recycled very well by directly analysing the condition of the base layer. It is often the case that when an agreement is made with a specialist company in the field of sports ground recycling, a significantly smaller quantity is estimated than is actually the case in the end. Another factor that can cause problems during recycling is the condition of the base layer if a large number of stones have become embedded in it over time. The described preliminary inspection provides a reliable picture of the condition, which allows the disposal and recycling process to be optimally planned.

Despite new legislation and regulations, artificial sports pitches will continue to be widely used. An expert inspection of the sports ground helps operators to ensure that it fulfils the requirements in terms of safety and playing properties and will continue to do so after refurbishment.

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