SUMMIT COUNTY " Summit County School District fields, some of which earned a "C" grade last year, are greener and healthier following extra attention from maintenance experts.
"Never before has this much work been put into the fields," said Tom Dickey, who has been with the district for 20 years as a Summit High School physical-education teacher and coach. "They are in so much better shape."
Last year, an assessment found four of 12 district fields to have grade "C" conditions, including poor turf and low soil fertility. Norris Design of Denver and Frisco and American Civil Constructors of Denver comprised the project team for the Summit County athletic fields needs assessment.
The report raised concerns with some community leaders, who suggested that improving the fields should be a higher priority than a proposed $1.4 million synthetic-turf field project at the high school.
But proponents of artificial turf argue that it would conserve water and is more durable than grass and better able to withstand activity, especially during the early and late seasons.
District facilities manager Woody Bates, who was hired as the assessment was concluding, said dedicated expertise was needed to care for the shoddy fields and that district employees lack the necessary time and resources.
Tim Henning of Grassmaster Lawncare was contracted to take over field maintenance. He began working on the fields in May, overseeding them with premium athletic seed, aerating and spraying compost.
Soil samples were sent to a laboratory in Ohio to determine details such as the ideal amount of fertilizer needed for healthy growth.
Among other issues, Bates said he was "shocked" at the condition of the sprinkler system, and the budget for sprinkler repair was tripled.
"The sprinklers lacked preventative maintenance," he said.
Nancy Secor, parent of two Summit High School students, said Tiger Field is nicer than she's seen it in the past four years.
"It's so thick and green, more than I've ever seen," she said. "The fields (before) were just so brown and hard as a rock."
Henning said he used a bluegrass-seed blend of four varieties that survives the winter.
"I think we took it as far as we could," he said of this year's field maintenance.
Unlike much of the United States, winter conditions limit Summit County's field maintenance to roughly May through September. Henning said lack of organic matter in the area's land requires additional care and attention.
And attempts to delay field openings until the "mushiness" reduces have been difficult to execute.
"As soon as they see green, people are on them," Henning said.
Bates said that because of this, field use is highest when groundskeepers are trying to cultivate the grass.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.