Start to Finish: The Making of Local Turf Sports Fields

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mineral Ridge and Leetonia high schools will show off new stadium field turf during the fall football season.

The synthetic fields will look spotless to fans in the stands, but they will represent months of complex planning, excavation and installation.

Thomas Madej, president and principal architect for Team 8e Architecture, is the project manager for both fields. His company, based in Canfield, has designed entire stadiums, as well as turf fields, track and tennis court restorations, and ancillary sports components such as concession stands, locker rooms and restrooms. Locally, it has had a hand in projects for Boardman, Poland, Canfield, Struthers and Salem high schools.

Madej has also designed projects at K-12 school buildings, commercial offices, fire stations and emergency medical service buildings. Before joining Team 8e, he was director of architecture for the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., where he was involved in more than 150 projects ranging from $2 million to $38 million.

In planning the Mineral Ridge and Leetonia projects, Madej said the schools shaped the project concepts.

“The more information that is provided early on regarding their vision and expectations, the sooner an approved concept can be reached,” he says. “The most difficult challenge is to arrive at a design concept that meets expectations regarding function, aesthetics and budget. Of these three, function must always be the highest priority, with budget having the most impact on aesthetics.”

Three years ago, a Weathersfield Local Schools custodian became ill and someone needed to tend to the Joe Lane Stadium surface for Mineral Ridge High School sporting events. Damon Dohar, Weathersfield superintendent and former football coach, knew he had to take matters into his own hands by tending to the field.

It soon became an all-day process.

“The worst part is we played that Friday night and it pours down rain, and it’s blown to pieces in a matter of minutes when you get a torrential downpour,” says Dohar, whose Mineral Ridge project cost $715,000. “All that hard work from watering the lawn to cutting the grass to doing all those things takes time, and you’re still at the [mercy] of Mother Nature.

“When I started doing the mathematics, this project would save us actually adding a person to do this [preparation work].”

In tackling a turf replacement, Madej first identifies existing issues, such as past flooding and surface inconsistencies, by performing a subsurface investigation. He’ll discover soil types, bearing capacities, subsurface water levels and other anomalies.

“Most of our geographical area consists of rolling terrain [with trees]. So when you come across an area that is now perfectly flat to facilitate an athletic field, you must always question what material [old buildings, tires, garbage, etc.] may have been used to fill in those valleys, and where did all of the tree stumps go?” he says. “When this process is skipped, the outcome is usually an unpleasant surprise [and a change order] when the first shovel breaks ground.”

Leetonia superintendent Dennis Dunham says Madej is on-site weekly to coordinate the work with the excavating company and the synthetic turf installers. As part of the project, the stadium is getting an underground drainage system, along with perimeter and flat drains throughout the field, to prevent damage during a torrential downpour.

“When that happens, the field isn’t flooded,” says Dunham, whose Leetonia project is estimated to be around $650,000. “It’s able to withstand a significant amount of water with the drainage system that we have. It would take the water away from the field, allowing it to be playable through almost any condition.”

Putting the project together, that’s another story. Weather definitely impacts its progress, including putting the turf down on the field.

Nathan Starcher of AstroTurf is installing the turf at Mineral Ridge and Leetonia. He has done other area football fields, including Canfield High School and Youngstown State University.

“Heavy rain and heavy winds slow us down,” he says.

AstroTurf superintendent Nathan Starcher is rolling out some turf and placing it on the field inside Joe Lane Stadium in Mineral Ridge.

Excavation for the Mineral Ridge field began Nov. 1, and unearthed bricks, tires and decomposing materials, Dohar says. Weather conditions slowed down that process; it took about three weeks to remove all the dirt and level the field.

JJLS Landscape Contractors of Warren, and United Civil Contractors and Developers Inc. of Hubbard were part of the project.

“We try to use as many local companies [as possible],” says Dohar.

The turf should be complete by July.

Less Contracting Inc. of Salem is excavating the Leetonia project. AstroTurf technicians are slated to be there sometime this summer and should finish before the football home opener on Aug. 20 against Sebring McKinley.

Leetonia athletic director Bob Beam said having a local company like Less Contracting is good for the ecosystem of the area.

“Anything that you could do locally to help businesses, you always want to try to do. Because when you need support, that’s who you turn to,” he says.

These fields also have baseball and softball markings to allow team practices for both springtime sports when weather dictates their fields are unplayable. Leetonia and Mineral Ridge each host 30 to 50 events per year, from spring sports to football and marching band events in the fall.

Not only will the new surfaces allow the fields to incorporate more events, they will make it possible to host district high school soccer events. Tim Porter, the school’s athletic director, says he has applied to the Northeast Ohio District Athletic Board for Mineral Ridge to host the event. Now, all he has to do is see if it is approved.

“I think we’re in a great location since we’re right up the street from I-80 and state Route 46,” he says.

Pictured at top: Weathersfield Local Schools Superintendent Damon Dohar and Mineral Ridge High School Athletic Director Tim Porter stand on the new turf being installed at Joe Lane Stadium in Mineral Ridge.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.