The Groundsman

July 2012

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the Groundsman July 2012 "Look beyond the construction phase" FEATURE 21 Noel MacKenzie, Principal Consultant from Sports Turf Consulting, says he found the Merchant Taylors' project to be one of his most demanding - yet one that he relished, working in an environment that would keep the most proficient of turf scientists on their toes. "The schools market is an area that I really enjoy working within," says Noel. "I like multi-sports grounds in that they are dynamic venues with differing requirements that keep you thinking on your feet. Keen groundsmen like Richard Ayling want to raise the standard of schools pitches but that comes with financial commitments, which some schools aren't always willing to commit to, largely due to a lack of understanding by bursars and sports staff of what's required to keep turf healthy. Fortunately Merchant Taylors' School is enlightened and really committed to the cause aided, of course, by Richard's total commitment to the grounds." The school was a tricky site to work on because many thousands of years ago the river Thames used to flow northwards through the valley. Consequently, the soil and grounds contain bands of clay/silt and gravel sediments that provided a challenge to specify an appropriate plan and also forced some revisions to work during the project due to localised areas of soil instability. If the difficult soil type wasn't tricky enough, the site proved to be more complex, with a handful of other hurdles for the team to wrestle with. The original concept was to outlet the drainage system to the lake on site, but close to the school is a specified asbestos burial site which meant that plan had to be scrapped. A new system outlet directed water from the three full-sized rugby pitches and running track into an old ditch system and new main drain to discharge into a stream. "We cut a metre at the top of the field, then graded to 0.5% gradient down the field, digging a borrow pit to bury all the stone we moved," Noel explains. Noel MacKenzie's role also includes working with Richard Ayling for at least two years after the works were completed. "I like to ensure projects are truly up and flying before easing out or settling into an ongoing agronomy support role," adds Noel. "Clients require help and support during this key phase as some of their past practices or products may not be effective on a re- engineered ground. The range of measures that can be used is endless – the key to success is selecting the right ones and working closely with good groundsmen like Richard in charting a successful course through the post- construction phase until the pitches reach a normalised level of performance. "At Sports Turf Consulting, as an agronomist I often have to fulfil a management role by having to provide independent support to groundstaff to handle the demands of sports venues and managers, many of whom often don't fully understand what's best for a new pitch and expect instant results – especially after spending large sums on their reconstruction. "Frustration and sadness are my main emotions when I encounter a development that hasn't stuck to the job and looked beyond the construction phase. It's ultimately a waste of time and money if investment is not continued after construction," he states. Richard Ayling, however, is "conscious and aware" of the scientific dimensions to jobs like this, he stresses. "Richard has shown that he and his staff are willing to learn and continue to take training courses, which is what needs to happen if groundsmen are to be effective and have more say and influence on financial decisions that effect the health of turf."

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