A feast of facilities at Loughborough University
By Laurence Gale
Loughborough University with 3,000 staff and 12,000 students has an impressive 410 acre campus providing a host of quality playing surfaces for students for both research and recreation purposes.
The University has outstanding sports facilities for the enthusiastic amateur as well as for elite performers, and include athletics centres, sports halls, all-weather pitches, a 50m swimming pool, squash, badminton and netball courts, an indoor tennis centre and a state of the art fitness centre. National and regional centres for a number sports are located on the site.
The University's own estate's department internal work force, headed by Mark Freeman, are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all the outside sports facilities plus all the gardens and landscapes areas.
Mark has been at the University for 17 years and has built up a wealth of knowledge and experience from managing and maintaining both natural and artificial surfaces. Mark is currently studying at Cranfield University undertaking an MSC in Sports Surface Technology.
Mark has a number of experienced and trained staff to help him, with most of them certificated in the use of sprayers, chainsaws, vehicles and equipment.
His staff work in teams and have their own areas of responsibility but, when required, will help out in other areas.
- 2 Gardening teams
- Tree team
- 2 Groundstaff teams
- Agency workers
The gardening team consists of two teams of five, which manage and maintain all the garden and landscape areas around the University. The tree team (two men) maintains all mature trees, woodlands and plantations on the site. The groundstaff teams (two teams of three) are responsible for all the outside sports facilities, with one team allocated to cricket (and trained to ECB level three) and the other for field sports, tennis, athletics and corporate work. Mark will often employ additional agency staff to help ease the workloads during the summer months.
The level of sport provision at this site is unprecedented, and widely varied ranging from fun games to amateur and professional standards.
The University provides twelve senior natural grass (seven football and five rugby) pitches at the campus, The pitches are top dressed every year using compatible sand dressings, applying between 60 and 100 tonnes per pitch. Other recent works has seen the installation of a new primary and secondary drainage system installed by Pugh-Lewis on the premier rugby pitch, and similar by Agripower on its premier football pitch, these works being part of a 10 year plan to upgrade drainage on all its pitches.
The end of season renovation works programme, now well underway, includes mowing down the sward, scarifying, aerating (using Vertidrain machines that penetrate to 300mm depth @100mm centres), overseeding in five directions and top dressing. This year over a thousand tonnes of Leighton Buzzard Garside 20W sand will be used to top dress the pitches and the cricket outfields
The University is currently the home of the ECB National Cricket Academy and boasts some of the best cricket practise and playing facilities in the world. Rodney Marsh, the ex international Australian cricket player, is responsible for overseeing the activities and programmes.
The facilities includes:
- 3 natural grass cricket squares and outfields.
- 16 outdoor cricket natural grass net areas (on Ongar clay).
- 11 artificial wickets (5 outdoor and 6 indoor).
- Complete full size indoor net areas with full bowlers run up and wicket keeper area.
The new natural grass practice nets will be used for research. Mark is conducting a number of experiments to measure the soil water tension and moisture content of the Ongar clay material and its response to preparation and, in particular, rolling within the turf surface. Mark has installed a number of electronic devices that will measure and record the moisture and soil water tension of the soil profile enabling a constant stream of data information being relayed to a computer for analysis.
The aim of the project is to monitor and obtain test results to establish the optimum conditions for cricket pitch preparation.
Again, the University boasts some of the best indoor and outdoor athletic facilities in the country. This year has seen the completion of the new indoor High Performance Athletic Centre( HIPAC) facility enabling athletes the chance to train and perform in the best environment available.
The outdoor facility is currently being refurbished with new long jump and triple jump pits. The running track was replaced in 2003. Marks main maintenance tasks are to keep the grass areas cut and marked, along with regular sweeping of the track surface, usually a weekly operation or as and when required prior to use.
There are 14 artificial surface tennis courts:
- Three Overhead Irrigated American Fast Dry clay courts (outdoor).
- Three Acrylic Courts (outdoor).
- Four Acrylic courts (indoor).
- Four Plexipave acrylic courts (indoor).
In the spring, new surface material is applied and top dressed using about 1.5 tonne per court to restore levels. During the season, material is applied using a walkover hand spreader and then brushing in using a drag brush.
The University has three full size artificial pitches on campus, all having different playing characteristics, and maintains a fourth for a local college:
- 2 Third generation long pile carpet systems.
- 1 Sandfilled system.
- 1 Non sand water based system.
A recent acquisition for the University has been the newly installed third generation McArdle Sport long pile (55mm) artificial grass carpet system, in-filled with sand and rubber infill materials (sand 10%, rubber 90%). This facility is widely used by the students but is also rented out to the public. Malcolm Shotton, the University Director of Football, is very pleased with the performance of this facility as it can offer well over 60 hours use a week, and providing a suitable surface for all levels of play.
Sand Filled Carpet system: An older system still being used extensively by the students is a Charles Lawrence 23 mm pile sand filled artificial carpet.
Specifically for hockey, this 10mm pile carpet water system is currently being used by the national hockey teams for practices and matches. These systems require watering prior to any play to reduce friction burns and to reduce traction. The irrigation system is employed to deliver 18,000 litres of water to the pitch in 7 minutes using Rainbird guns and pop up sprinklers. During the summer there may be a need to water these facilities 6-7 times a day, costing about £25 per occasion.
As with any artificial system they all require regular maintenance, contrary to previous statements that they are maintenance free. Keeping the surfaces clean and free of debris is the first priority followed by regular brushing particularly on sand /rubber crumb infill systems to keep the pile upright and to agitate sand levels. Most sand filled/ rubber crumb systems will require brushing after play to restore sand levels, coupled with periodic cleaning of the sand using specialist machines that can be hire or purchased.
Not carrying out regular cleaning operations will eventually see deterioration in the carpet and often reducing its life span. The staff at Loughborough spend a considerable amount of time on cleaning and servicing these surfaces. Mark's maintenance budget for these three surface exceeds over £15,000 per year, however the benefits are tremendous in that they provide and offer a wide range of playing surfaces for the students and athletes.
Formal gardens and landscape areas:
The University has a vast array of landscaped areas and informal grassed areas around buildings and communal accommodation areas. Regular weekly maintenance operations keep the ten gardeners busy grass cutting and maintaining shrub beds.
It is the diversity and range of sporting facilities that ensure Mark and his staff are never bored or have time to dwell on the negatives of the industry. The challenges are always there with constant deadlines to meet coupled with the high expectations of the users of such a high level institution.
Even during the closed season (winter time), there's often no respite for the staff who are likely to be busy working on new developments or winter sport maintenance programmes.
Mark enjoys the challenges and sees each year as a new challenge, an a opportunity to try out new ideas and test new products and machinery with the hope of making the job easier and more efficient.