Artificial Surfaces - Project Management Considerations

David Rhodesin Synthetics

DavidRhodes NewBuild
This article is the second in a series of six, prepared by David Rhodes of Traction Sports, that considers the procurement of synthetic and artificial facilities.

Here, he looks at project management considerations between client and contractor, and why a consultant might be an important addition to the project

In my opinion, site conditions and site constraints are often overlooked and not considered in enough detail. I cannot stress enough that the success of a project which essentially involves digging a big hole in the ground is aligned to and significantly influenced by the conditions of the site. As a result, enabling work has to be done to understand the prevailing conditions and any potential pitfalls that may be found during the project works.

This sort of information can affect planning applications and subsequent permissions granted, which can significantly affect project timetables and budgets. Sometimes, so called enabling works take place as a separate phase before the main project works, and would seek to remedy any services or findings on site that may influence the project and starting on site in general.

Obvious examples of this are service runs going through the main working area, such as gas, electric, data cabling or water mains, that will need diverting well before the project is due to start on site.

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To give you some idea of this, I have experience of one site where the enabling phase took nearly twelve months and the cost was in the order of £120,000. This was before we did anything to the site to develop the sports facilities.

It is not unusual for me to ask about services, only to be told there is no knowledge of anything running through the site.

On a recent project, I quickly became aware of an outdoor swimming pool that had been buried some decades beforehand and backfilled with contaminated and inappropriate material to build on. As a result of finding this out, we could investigate the working area in more detail and at least ascertain allowances within budgets to make good this area to build on.

A detailed understanding of any site is, therefore, a prerequisite of a successful build in my opinion. Similarly, access and egress to and from site for construction traffic is also a significant consideration, particularly in busy environments such as schools. Restrictions on deliveries are not uncommon and temporary track ways to protect haul routes are sometimes required, depending upon the time of year the works will take place. In any case, significant landscaping will be required at the end of the project to make good haul routes to and from the site itself.
For obvious reasons, including health and safety, it is best to refrain from significant lorry movements through the main infrastructure of the site to avoid parking issues or traffic management issues, including interaction with pedestrians. Appropriate CDM co-ordination will consider this issue in more detail.

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Finally, geotechnical information of the site needs to be ascertained. This would normally take the form of a geotechnical report, including onsite investigations by trial holes. Modern ground scanners can be used to eliminate some of this requirement, but even scanners would normally be supplemented by onsite investigation to verify services and structures found. This will allow you to understand the topsoil and subsoil type and the nature of the ground in general, including any unstable material and the potential for drainage that the site holds. This will influence the overall design solution, including drainage design and the ability of the ground to support the subsequent layers built upon it.

Topsoil should be carefully considered in terms of storage on or removal off site, as it can be a significant cost to remove off site. Likewise, on site storage needs consideration, as there will be an appreciable volume of the material. It can be used in final landscape works, but not in the general building of the facilities. Any organic matter or inorganic mineral material would also be stripped as part of the topsoil component, as it is unsuitable to build upon.

Some sites are acute in terms of their geotechnical nature and status and detailed consideration will need to be made to formulate a successful tender package for contractors. You can, in the instance of small schemes, push the onus of investigation onto the contractor but, in terms of competent information production, ideally this data should be gathered beforehand. Again, a suitable procurement programme will allow you to do this formally and properly.

In terms of costs, the greater the understanding of the site, the more accurate the budget will be. An example of this is a reduction in stone depth, which may or may not be acceptable depending upon soils data that has been prepared. Information gathering can actually lead to design savings on site (value engineering) because a sound construction philosophy can be adopted based on evidence rather than guess work. Contractors will generally err on the side of caution with unknowns.

Going to Market

Procuring synthetic and artificial sports facilities is, in my opinion, fraught with danger. The contractors that function in this market are not all the same and should be compared very carefully in terms of their overall configuration and operational capability.

Of course, market forces dictate that there will always be new starters and people entering and leaving the market on an ongoing basis, but the company you choose to work with will need careful thought in terms of long term warranty offers and design and build capabilities, both now and into the future. Companies range from management style offerings, whereby the bulk of the work, if not all, would be subcontracted to generic and specialist sports contractors, through to companies that have in-house expertise, labour, plant and machinery.

When selecting a company, my advice would always be to minimise any risk to you as a client and, therefore, there are several things that you should look for, including:

- Financial and insurance stability
- Design and operational experience
- Capacity to execute and manage the works safely
- Appropriate experience and references

Financial issues need to be thought through in terms of the size, type, status of the company, as there are real cash flow pressures on businesses these days, and that does not necessarily imply any negativity in a business. You may need to take separate specialist advice on this.

In terms of site experience and references, it will be important to visit the site to inspect existing work and understand how the contract was executed and managed by the contractor. If possible, speak to members of the project team to ascertain how the project was run and any issues with interactions between the contractor and other parties on the project team. A positive relationship is important between all members.

DavidRhodes IrrigationTank
It is also important to understand who does what and how each individual item of a contract will be executed. Over time, I have tended to work with contractors with in-house expertise, as I believe this has helped manage risk.

Membership of professional bodies can sometimes be a good indication, but it is important to check what this actually means. Sometimes, it can just be a badge for a contractor to display without any substance behind it and, more importantly, the badge is offered when a fee is paid.
As you procure the facility, you will meet individual members of the contracting team at interview and communicate in general via other means to allow you to build up a good picture of how the business is run. The sports construction governing body, SAPCA, have a list of contractors who are members and some of sport's governing bodies have approved contractor lists as well.

If a professional consultant is appointed to assist you, then they should have relevant in depth knowledge of the industry to guide you accordingly.

I have to say, fortunately, I have got myself in a situation where I am able to stipulate the site foreman who runs the job in many instances.

This level of detail is a useful attribute for the smooth running of any contract. The level of understanding of a contractor before appointment is influenced, to an extent, by the size of the contract and scope and technical nature of the works, but an experienced sports contractor with a good understanding of contract works is a decent basis to start from, and a safety pre-requisite.

Here is a recent quote from a client which exemplifies why you should use an independent consultant.

"I have used an excellent consultant who has advised and dealt with all contractors and helped me select a suitable one. He has now supervised and project managed three important projects for us. He is local and great fun to work with; I could not recommend him more strongly. His fees are very reasonable and, almost invariably, he has saved that amount on the deals he has been able to offer. He works nationally and for some very big names but, at the same time, is happy to take on small projects."

Contractor Interviews

I would always recommend that you interview shortlisted contractors for your project. Normally, I would recommend interviewing two contractors, as I find if you interview any more the day gets a bit long winded and can be slightly confusing. It always amazes me how nervous contractors get at interview and, in some instances, this can relate to the lack of preparation for the day and sometimes also lack of understanding of the project in hand.

It is worthwhile finding out who will be attending the interview on behalf of the contractor. You are moving from the phase whereby the estimating office will have dealt with your query and tender work so far, through to the contracting phase to be managed by the contracts manager who will pick up the job and make it happen.

It is very important at interview to verify several key facts, including how the contract will be run, the project contract programme, and the budget costings. Also, site and staff logistics, i.e. who will be running the job, how often they will be on site and how the project will be managed from the contractors' prospective? This could include important items like safety provision and material deliveries to site etc. I would just add here that one of my key strengths is that, very often, not only do I know the contract manager but I know the working site foreman as well and what their capabilities are.

Sometimes, the working site foreman can be excellent at the job in hand, but not quite so good at communication. As I have already alluded to, communication is really important in this context, so a working site foreman with experience and enthusiasm for both aspects of the job is useful.

Additionally, at interview, the contractor will start to meet members of the wider project team and a more objective opinion can be formulated on the capabilities of the contractor. Things to look out for are the utilisation of sub-contractors, and the capabilities of the contractor during specific times of the year, for example holiday periods.

Discussion regarding material use and reference sites etc., is probably best left outside of the interview. I would normally recommend an interview lasting approximately one hour. Any longer and everybody can lose focus, any shorter and there is not enough time for pertinent points to be made and discussed.

I have tried, in the past, to operate a scoring system whereby contractors are given points or marks for each aspect of their presentation and information provided. In reality, I find this very difficult to manage during interview, as you are, very often, trying to do several things at once.

So, sometimes, best intentions in this regard do not bear fruit and enhance the selection and decision making process.

Appointments and Mobilisation

When you appoint the contractor, typically a letter of intent is issued to confirm, in writing, the client's intention to appoint the contractor on pre-determined terms and agreements. These would normally be stipulated in the letter of intent itself.

This gives the contractor confidence to place orders for materials and to schedule the works within the overall contractor's programme for the year. Sometimes, letters of agreement are used on a more informal basis, or perhaps for works that constitute a fairly small contract value, but in both instances a written confirmation would normally be used.

Mobilisation periods to site vary between contractors, but very often are surprisingly short, typically three to four weeks, even at busy times of year (depending on contractor!). Those with in-house labour can reschedule teams and equipment at fairly short notice. A difficulty in the height of summer, particularly the holiday period, is obtaining materials for site, such as fencing, floodlighting and grass, as the lead in times for these products seem to be longer.

During the mobilisation period, final contracts can be prepared and health and safety matters dealt with, including any pre-commencement planning conditions that need dealing with and pre-start logistics agreed, such as access issues etc.

The industry at large tends not to be over contractual and prefers to work on a more informal basis whereby the client and contractor have a good working relationship. Larger main contractors tend to adopt a more formal stance, and contracts tend to be more meticulous.

It is true to say that, if contracts have to be continually referred to and or quoted, then it is reasonable to question the working relationship you have with the contractor anyway and the methodology used to appoint the contractor. Strained relationships do not make for good contract works, in my experience, and it is always best to start off on the right foot. If you are fair to a good contractor then they will be fair in return and build a sustainable cost effective facility on your behalf.

I would always try to notify contractors when they are unsuccessful for a tender, but try to keep the information brief, as I have been asked on previous occasions for detailed explanations as to why an appointment has been made. Some governing bodies and larger organisations, including quantity surveyors, use more formal feedback systems whereby more detail is provided. Also, headline details of pricing can be made available to all parties. Scoring systems, as already mentioned, can be used to grade and allocate a contract to a contractor and this information can be made public as well.

Local authorities tend to have formal systems in place to follow legislation because they are publically accountable and, as such, a methodology will need to be adopted which is suited to your organisation. Personally, nearly all of my work is in the private sector and, therefore, objectivity and fairness is the stated aim in the context of available resources and client requirements.


It is not unusual within the sports construction industry to use standard building contracts as a formal agreement between contractor and client. Typically, JCT or NBS contracts are used with some element of contractor's design. The client would prepare a tender stage package, including preliminaries and a detailed set of employer's requirements and supporting documentation. This will allow the contractor to fully understand the requirements of the client as set out in the tender documentation that they are asked to price against.

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I believe that this is a useful compromise between setting out what the client wants in detail, and the contractor having the design responsibility, experience and opportunity to impart their own ideas for delivering the completed facility on behalf of the client. Ultimately, the design risk lies with the contractor, but you will find that most contractors are happy with this as it gives them the advantages, as stated already with the surety, that they have the opportunity of building a sound design solution.

Ambiguity in terms of design is best avoided as this can lead to complications and conflicts on site as the project develops. Thereby, a detailed employer's brief is useful and, I would suggest, necessary. The more detail you can give the contractor, the more accurate the price becomes and the greater clarity that is achieved with the agreed design solution leading to fewer delivery issues on site.

The contracts themselves can be prepared by an experienced consultant or quantity surveyor and would normally be signed by hand by both the client and contractors, with copies held by both parties accordingly. Any supporting documentation that becomes part of the contract form would be held with the form of contract itself and prepared by the external consultant or employer's agent, depending upon the exact contract procurement route.

Industry specialists can always give you advice on the best form of contract. This will be dependent upon contract complexity and value, but a formal contract is not unusual in industry. For small scale projects, or if felt necessary, letters of agreement can form a contract between client and main contractor and can work well where the contractor is known to the client or for low value contracts.

Project management - site monitoring

This is, without doubt, one of the most important tasks that a consultant undertakes. Regardless of any documentation in place, what takes place on site on an ongoing basis during the construction works is fundamentally important and should be observed and recorded on a regular basis. I really feel that I earn my money in this department, and it is imperative that we can make a commitment to regular visits to site.

Aside from all the logistics and organisation that needs to be undertaken as part of formal contract meetings, regular site visits allow you to understand the works that have taken place. It also allows you to partake in ongoing dialogue with the contactor as to who is on site and what works are scheduled, and to record them formally in the form of site notes which are issued to the client after every visit. I recommend weekly project site meetings in the initial and final phases of a project, which may well taper out to fortnightly as the project settles down and develops. It does, however, depend on the contract programme.

These meetings are formal and should be minuted, recorded and chaired by the project manager. Key site and project personnel are invited to the meetings so that any issues can be discussed and ironed out. The project is monitored against the programme and in context of prevailing weather conditions etc.

We would normally issue site notes dictated from site, with accompanying photographs prepared and issued, within twenty-four hours, to the project team. Regular site visits are also important to substantiate any valuations made by the contractor, so that the contractor is paid the correct amount for the works done on site and or materials delivered to site. It is not unusual for contractors to claim a proportion of the cost of an item when it is on site, even if it has not been installed, such as synthetic grass or fencing materials.

A project management file is held in the office and is kept up to date with all the site notes, minutes and ongoing documents required, so that these can be referred to on site in a practical manner. Electronic copies are also held to back up the paper file. I employ a secretary to do this work for me, as it is imperative that, if you are running five or six contracts in the summer months, the documentation is kept up to date.

Photographs are always useful to record progress and for prosperity. Sometimes, video technology is used to record the project throughout its full duration for marketing purposes. This again is a useful record of works taking place.

Contractors should also manage documentation on their own behalf, and this can be inspected at any time regarding deliveries of specific materials to site by the project manager. Normally, the site foreman would hold these in site welfare facilities for inspection. Any other formal documentation required, such as monitoring, engineers instructions and key stage testing, would be held by the project manager in the project file.

In most instances, a formal written record is a necessary requirement to validate and back up any decisions made during the contract works. This is normally issued in the form of an engineer's/architect's instruction and/or variation certificate.

Health and Safety

The client must always make sure that appropriate Health and Safety provision is made. On large scale projects, I would recommend taking specialist advice. Many of you will no doubt be aware of the applicable legislation in this area and I cannot emphasise enough the importance for a safe contract which aligns well with one that is designed and built.

Key Testing and Certification

Quality monitoring on site is an important aspect of any project manager's work. Both formal and informal testing should take place to ensure appropriate materials and build methodologies are utilised. Materials testing can be done in conjunction with the contractor, or by the contractor, with the results shared with the project team. Conscientious contractors will have their own testing regime in place and will only use materials from a reputable supplier with associated certifications etc. This is particularly important when using construction materials such as stone.

As recycled materials become more popular, it will be important to verify the quality of such materials, avoiding anything that is contaminated. On occasions, a formal key stage testing programme can be agreed as part of the contract so that an independent test house visits the site at key stages to verify the design solution achieved.

Percolation testing of sub-base materials, for example, is not unusual to substantiate drainage designs. Other materials, such as shock pads and synthetic grasses, can also be tested in situ to ensure that they are of the requisite quality to be used in your application.

Ideally, a small sum should be budgeted for key stage testing, with the exact test schedule agreed beforehand, depending upon the project scope. This is also important for refurbishment work where existing materials are utilised as part of the refurbishment process and design.

Key stage information can also be used to verify formal certification of a facility post construction. Very often, an objectively substantiated design solution is achieved by formal testing during the defects period. I would recommend allowing the facility to settle down for a while, and sometimes to over winter, before formal testing takes place; many of the recognised governing bodies of sport have test criteria that need to be met in order for a pitch or facility to be certified to a given level. This is very common in the football arena and in other sports, such as athletics and hockey.

I think formal testing is a useful measure of quality, and can also assist with promoting the facility after construction because a pre-determined standard and design solution has been achieved and verified by an independent test facility. In context of the contract value, formal testing is a relatively small investment. If one is not careful, costs for testing can run away with themselves a little, so a schedule of key tests would normally be agreed beforehand.

As some readers will know, quality, over time, is impacted by maintenance, but initial build quality and performance outcomes should be measured from the onset so that benchmarking can take place as well throughout the lifespan of the facility.

Next, construction techniques.

For a more detailed overview of David's career to date, please see issue 59 of Pitchcare magazine.
David Rhodes T: 07711 846722

Stop Press - we advise you to look into the proposed CDM 15 changes as this may impact on any projects that you are planning in the future.