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Track Construction: Track Touch-Ups

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05/11/2009 - 22:33

by Mary Helen Sprecher

Seasons change. Students become seniors and graduate. Admin-istrators and coaches retire.

Given the natural cycle of things, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that track and field facilities go through their own aging process. But if you’re not a track construction expert, the signs of wear and tear might go unnoticed until they reach crisis proportions. So what are some warning signs that an athletic facility might be in need of repair, aging, or even nearing the end of its useful life?

“The best indicators are generally visual,” says Bob Zerull of Athletic Field Services, Inc. in Genessee Depot, WI. “These will point to obvious problems.”

In general, what an owner should look for depend on the type of a track a facility has, says Devin Conway of Verde Design in Santa Clara, CA. “For a latex or polyurethane track, any cracking or surface delamination should be addressed immediately. We would suggest the owner contact the design professional and track surfacer who completed the initial construction for a review of the condition. Typically, years of usage results in the track surface being worn down to the base course layers, at which point a resurfacing or replacement of the entire track surface may be necessary. Other owners have used the track striping as a benchmark to review the entire track surface. As the track striping fades, it’s a good rule of thumb to review the quality of the track surface, especially in high-wear areas, for example, inside lanes, sprint starts, common finish, et cetera.”

Some other visual cues, Zerull adds, are particularly striking. “How do the inside three lanes look compared to the outer three lanes? Since the inside lanes are used more often, this is where most of the damage and wearing of the surface will occur.”

Other questions to ask, he says, include, “Are there puddles on the track after a rain, which do not drain properly? Do the track lines appear uneven, or wavy, when viewed from the side? Are the lane lines right at the edge, or even off the pavement? Are there visual cracks? Is the surrounding grass higher than the track, high jump pad or event runways?”

If any of the above conditions are present, adds Zerull, “simply resurfacing will probably not take care of the problem.” If the track surface is uneven, he notes, asphalt repair to the track base is necessary. If the problems are minor, a track professional may recommend simply filling the depressed areas with additional asphalt mix, or else a leveling compound. Situations in which there are numerous depressions but the base is sound with no structural cracks, may require filling the low areas, followed by an overlay with new asphalt.

According to Zerull, a facility in which the track lines give the appearance of not fitting on a track surface may be symptomatic of a surface that has deteriorated with age (something all facilities do, if not repaired and updated periodically), of problems with the original track base installation, or even of lines and markings that have been painted incorrectly. A track builder will be able to evaluate the facility and make recommendations on a course of action.

“Structural cracks in the track base that reflect (or travel) up through the resilient surface may be a symptom of poor subsurface drainage,” adds Zerull. Depending on the amount and extent of cracking, repair may be possible, or not feasible, with a total reconstruction recommended. Again, professional assistance may be required to determine the best remedy, based on a facility’s age and condition.

Unfortunately, says Art Tucker of Andover, MA–based Plexipave System, Div. of California Products Corp., it happens all too often that administrators overlook the fact that every facility all eventually wear out and require updates. Even the newest, most high-tech, state-of-the-art facility doesn’t remain new indefinitely.

“It is my opinion that one of the best things an owner could do for both tracks and tennis facilities is acknowledge the age of the structure,” says Tucker. “We have generally neglected the basic structure of many facilities. Asphalt has a life expectancy of about 20 years. Many owners ask contractors to resurrect a facility that is over 30 years old. They want cracks to disappear and planarity to be perfect. It is not possible. That level of expectation can never be met.”

Tucker says he has discussed the issue with colleague Bill Seymour of Gale Associates (Weymouth, MA), and the two have concluded that administrators “need to budget properly at the front end of the process.

In these times, we see money available for infrastructure reconstruction. If we offer Band-Aids when major surgery is needed, we have failed in our duty to customers.”

In short, notes Zerull, all track surfaces require some level of maintenance, and facility managers should have an awareness of how often the facility should be inspected for possible signs that resurfacing is necessary. “In our part of the country, the midwest, average resurfacing interval is once every seven to eight years for any track surface type that is built on site. If you use your track regularly, hold a lot of meets and have an average maintenance department, you may have to resurface more often. If you have a very good maintenance department and your track does not get a lot of heavy use from track meets, etc., resurfacing as often may not be necessary.”

In all respects, say the experts, it’s imperative for athletic directors, facility managers or coaches—whichever is responsible for the facility (and someone should be named the primary caregiver, as it were)—to have a professional contact they can call for advice on everything from minor dents and dings in the track surface, to serious concerns. Stay in touch with a representative of the company that originally installed the facility, or else call a colleague and find out whom they recommend. In all cases, keep the lines of communication open. A regular walk-through of your facility now—and a call to a professional now and then—can pay dividends down the line.

Note: The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including running tracks. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. Info: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or