It's been nearly seven years since we visited Taunton School and, in that period, Head Groundsman, Mark Jolliffe has undertaken a number of projects to further enhance and improve the sports facilities.
In this article, Mark provides an overview of the work undertaken within an already busy groundcare schedule
Mark Jolliffe is Head Groundsman at Taunton School. He and his staff are responsible for looking after fourteen hectares of grass and formal gardens.
Taunton School was founded in 1847 and is an independent co-ed school for around 1100 pupils from ages 2 to 18 years. There are about 400 boarders. It is also an Investors in People establishment.
The school is also a thriving business and caters for conferences, seminars, weddings, parties and a host of other events as well as having a sports club membership.
Originally from Oxfordshire, Mark started out as a volunteer groundsman for his local village club. From there he went full time at Radley College, near Oxford, and worked up to Deputy Head Groundsman in 1998. He attended Sparsholt College in Hampshire where he completed NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Horticulture and Sports Turf Management.
He left Radley in the summer of 2002 to move down to the west country and take up his position as Head Groundsman at Taunton School.
Mark and his team look after not only the senior school, but the prep school, the pre prep school, nursery school and TSI (Taunton School International) - the international study centre at the school for foreign students. He also looks after all the gardens.
In this article, he details the work he has undertaken since our last visit in 2007.
Conversion of a shale hockey pitch to a sand dressed artificial pitch - March to July 2013
The existing shale hockey pitch was converted to a Tiger Turf sand dressed artificial pitch by Bernhard's Sports Surfaces. This £650,000 project was completed two months ahead of schedule thanks to some very favourable weather conditions, and despite few unforeseeable circumstances.
First, an old Victorian culvert running under the shale pitch had to be filled in. When running at full capacity, the shale pitch would flood and tonnes of shale material would be washed away, leaving the stone base exposed. The last such event, in February 2009, after heavy rainfall, combined with snow thaw, required 180 tonnes of shale material to be replaced; the clean up operation was significant. This culvert has now been re-routed around the pitch.
The culvert was excavated in several places and concrete was dropped in to form several 'plugs'. Once set, each section of the culvert had concrete pumped in to effectively fill the entire void. This would ensure that the culvert would not collapse in the future, undermining the new artificial pitch.
The existing shale material and sub base was used as part of the drainage layer for the new pitch. Drainage pipework was installed before more drainage stone was added, graded and consolidated to the right levels. A base layer of tarmac followed, then a top layer of tarmac. A wet pour rubberised shock pad was laid before, finally, the new carpet was laid and dressed with sand.
A new fence was built and a spectator viewing area incorporated in to the design, along with a new eight tower flood lighting system. The pitch accommodates a full length hockey pitch with two pitches cross ways. Nine tennis courts are set up for the summer term.
Golf Green Construction
Construction of 2 golf greens on the site of an old croquet lawn - November 2011 to March 2012
The Old Tauntonian association wanted to fund a small golf facility on the school site for the pupils. This was left to the team to design and construct in house, and was led by Liam Screech, Deputy Head Groundsman, as part of his foundation degree course. The pupils play golf at Taunton Vale Golf Course, about five miles away, but this facility means that they can practise on site.
It consists of a putting green, chipping green and a pair of driving nets. The budget was very small, so a full specification constructed green was not possible, but the site used was an old croquet lawn with installed drainage, which helped.
The putting green is about 400m2 and the chipping green 100m2.
We initially marked out and sprayed off the turf with a total weedkiller, before stripping the turf off two weeks later. After aerating the soil remaining, we installed a drainage system which was connected in to the existing pipe drainage. We imported 60 tonnes of rootzone, which we spread to a depth of 100mm across the area and graded to create a tier on the putting green.
Unfortunately, the weather put a hold on the project for the rest of the winter so we left the overseeding until early spring 2012. We used a Barenbrug 80/20 Fescue/Bent mix. Once overseeding was carried out, we nurtured the new surfaces over the summer, before opening the facility for use in the autumn term.
Jowett extension and relay
Extension to and relaying of new shockpad and carpet on sand filled artificial pitch - August to September 2007
The life of the carpet on this sand-filled artificial carpet had long passed its sell by date! The pitch was originally built in 1987 and the carpet was now twenty years old, but full of deteriorating lines and seams, and with the shockpad tiles separating underneath.
The project enabled the pitch to be lengthened by six metres to meet current run off criteria for hockey. The existing fence was kept, with just a few new panels for the extended section. The old carpet and shockpad were ripped up. Disposal was a headache and would've been very costly but, by ringing around, we managed to give away all of the carpet and shockpad underlay to local golf courses and farmers to use as pathways, etc.
The existing tarmac base was inspected for cleanliness and structure to see if any work was needed to improve it. Only a few small patches were required to reinstate levels, but the surface was, surprisingly, sound in general. A new wet pour shockpad was laid, followed by the carpet, and filled with sand.
Tarmac hard courts resurfacing
Two blocks of tarmac courts resurfaced - July/August 2007 and July/August 2008
Both the school's blocks of tarmac courts were resurfaced with a new layer of tarmac. The Prep school courts, originally just a block of three courts, had a fourth court constructed at the same time.
Tarmac court painting
One block of tarmac courts painted with anti-slip paint - August 2013
The Prep school's block of courts, resurfaced in 2007, were painted in the same colours to match the new Durrant artificial pitch.
The courts had become slippery, due to the high usage, plus consequent wear and tear.
The paint used was called Sports-Cote Excel - a water based polyurethane coating with the necessary player/surface interaction characteristics to meet the current standards, which is 75% slip resistance when damp for netball.
After pressure washing and scrubbing the tarmac, the paint was applied in two coats over two days, with each coat at 90 degrees to the other. Finally, the four netball courts and four tennis courts were remarked.
This work was carried out by H C Courts and the whole job took just a week to complete. The results have been fantastic and well received by all sports staff and sports club members alike.
School acquires 2.5 acre property off site for TSIMS - January 2012
The school acquired a large property three miles off-site in the small village of Kingston St Mary. Called The Grange, it was formerly a private residential property for the elderly. It consists of the main building and a pair of two storey annexes, so was ideal for the creation of an International Middle School to compliment the current International School on site at the main school campus.
Work started in January 2012 to renovate and update the campus and it opened in May 2012.
The Grange can accommodate up to sixty pupils for boarding - it currently has forty-eight, within less than two years of opening. The site comes with 2.5 acres of gardens which the team have to look after. The garden is a mature country residential garden with large shrubs and an expansive lawn.
The team took the garden on in a fairly neglected state, and have worked hard to reduce and replace many of these shrubs and to improve the lawn itself through cultural practices over the last two years. The acquisition of a van and trailer has made all the difference when maintaining The Grange - we struggled for the first seven months using a school minibus and a hired trailer which proved a logistical nightmare. We finally convinced the Bursar to purchase our own!
1st XI cricket square
Two tracks relaid - July 2011
Two adjacent tracks were relaid by the team at the end of the 2011 summer term. This was to address the issue of undesirable levels on this part of the square.
After stripping off the remaining turf and excavating the bowling ends of the grass nets, we stripped off the existing turf from the two tracks to be relaid. We then excavated the soil to 100mm, using a contractor with excavator, and used this soil to relevel the bowling ends of the grass nets.
After consolidating the soil, we laid the turf from the square on the bowling ends, fertilised and irrigated thoroughly. We then verti-drained the sub base to a depth of 150mm using a hired Charterhouse Verti-Drain and installed road formers to the desired finished levels.
We used Surrey Loam's GOSTD 125, which we had delivered in twenty IBC bags. These were introduced one at a time into each of the tracks, raked to distribute the loam and then consolidated thoroughly using a utility vehicle. After raking the surface to form a key, we introduced the next bag into each track and repeated the process until we reached the top of the road formers.
Once we were happy that the consolidated levels were accurate to the road formers, we removed them, back filled the voids with loam, consolidating thoroughly, and then raked over the surface to form a tilth. We then over seeded using Limagrain MM50 - a pure rye mix of grass seed at 60g/m2 - using a Sisis Variseeder and fertilised with a pre-seed fertiliser.
One of these tracks came in to play last season and we were very happy with the results.
Construction of new Gardener's compound and polytunnel - Winter of 2011/12
Due to the current location of the gardener's compound being earmarked for development, the decision was taken to move the operation to another location adjacent to our main storage sheds.
This involved the re-alignment of a security fence, removal of several small trees, levelling of the ground and construction of a new poly tunnel with overhead irrigation system and sliding benches, fence, shed and nursery bed along with water and electricity supplies being installed.
Conditions were generally difficult to work in, but time was of the essence to allow for the poly tunnel to be ready for starting off the summer bedding. The project took the team nearly three months to complete, but has made a tremendous difference to the whole operation of the gardening side of things.
Spring Renovations 2014
This year, after a second consecutive and exceptionally wet winter, we propose to spend more money than ever on the pitches renovations to aid their recovery and restore levels.
We have fourteen winter sports pitches and we plan to fertilise and overseed all of them, and topdress the two pitches that have suffered the most, namely the 1st XV rugby pitch and training grid area and the 1st XI football pitch.
We are going to apply eighty bags of Barenbrug BAR 7 RPR at 25g/m2, 120 bags of Vitax Enhance R outfield fertiliser at 35g/m2 and 145 tonnes of PM35 sand topdressing to the two pitches - 50 tonnes on the football pitch, 60 tonnes on the rugby pitch and 15 tonnes on the training area. The rest will be used on worn goalmouths and other worn areas.
We will use our Amazone Groundkeeper to cut down and lightly scarify all the pitches, then follow up by aerating to a depth of 200mm using ¾" solid tines at 150mm spacings using the Wiedenmann Terraspike. We have hired in a Vredo seeder to apply the seed, followed by the application of fertiliser. We have also hired in a Charterhouse 1005 topdresser to apply the sand topdressing.
Future project - winter sports pitches re-levelling and drainage
Due to the increasingly wet winters (and summers!) we are experiencing, we are now looking at the feasibility of re-levelling and installing of drainage in our winter sports pitches.
At present, all the pitches consist of natural soil with no installed drainage systems. The soil consists of a reasonable loamy topsoil, but this varies in depth across the site and the subsoil is a make up of medium to heavy clay. Many pitches have become more and more uneven on the surface and need attention.
So, I shall look at each pitch on an individual basis and carry out some trial digs to ascertain the depth of topsoil and measure the variables of surface levels, with a view to spraying off the vegetation, stripping the topsoil, regrading the sub soil, installing pipe drainage, replacing the topsoil and re-seeding.
After installing secondary drainage, I shall instigate a programme of maintenance to the secondary drainage on an annual basis to ensure that it remains effective.