Campus Life

Sports Stadium proves a challenge

There is no denying that construction of the University of Lethbridge's new Regional Sports Stadium and Field Complex has been trying. Weather conditions have played havoc with the various phases of the project, delaying work crews and subsequently pushing back completion dates.

So, it is hardly surprising to learn that the highest profile phase of the entire project, the installation of the artificial turf field, has been deemed epically difficult by the installer himself.

"We've installed fields worldwide for the last 20 years and this would be the third most difficult, one of the toughest I've been through because of the winds," says Ivan Couto of Ontario-based IC Improvements.

"Normally, we won't install a field at this time of year because of wind but with all the delays we've had, this was our only opportunity."

Laying the roughly 120,000 square foot turf field is essentially like putting down a massive carpet. The rolls are obviously much bigger but the basic concept is the same as any house installation. What complicates matters is wind getting underneath the panels and shifting them after they've been laid, throwing off exacting measurements. Couto and his crew dealt with such problems on a daily basis.

Once the panels are down and stitched together, weather again plays a role. The crew needs a stretch of days without precipitation to apply the unique U of L logos. Again, rain delayed this stage and added more time to the project.

The next stage in the process is giving the field its bounce. As it is, the field is rock hard because it simply rests on a base of hard-packed gravel. The sponginess comes from nearly 400,000 pounds of cryogenically frozen rubber pellets that are worked into the polyethelene turf fibres.

Couto describes a process that uses recycled tires flushed through a nitrogen tank then frozen to -180 C. They are then processed through a cracker mill, shattering the tires to pellet size, after which all metal and extra fibres are extracted, leaving pure rubber.

"The nitrogen changes the density of the rubber so it becomes heavier," Couto explains. "Our fields, when it rains or players are running, don't give you that splash of pellets because of their density."

The fracturing of the rubber also creates uneven edges on the pellets so that when they are installed (to a depth of an inch and ¾) they lock onto each other and remain in place.

"That also makes the whole field consistent, there are no soft or hard spots," he says. "The advantage with the cryogenic process is that in our winters, the pellets don't freeze. It can be -50 C outside and if you play on it, it'll still be soft."


• The installation process of the turf field averages 10 to 14 days, but the U of L installation topped three weeks

• The field is not glued or fastened down in any manner, relying on the nearly 400,000 pounds of rubber infill to keep it in place

• Maintenance of the field includes a yearly visit by IC Improvements where they brush and wash the turf. The University will regularly groom the field with a sweeper that fluffs up the fibres and removes any debris

• The lifespan of the turf field is 15 to 20 years