Turf & Rec

Features Municipal Sports turf
Sports field maintenance in a smaller centre – focus on Norfolk County, Ont.

A look at the ways a small-to-mid-sized Ontario municipality tends to its sports fields

June 10, 2024  By  Mike Jiggens

Delhi, Ont.’s premier twin soccer fields are mowed regularly, giving the community’s large user group the best possible playing conditions. PhotoS: MIKE JIGGENS

Management of sports fields and other significant green spaces varies from municipality to municipality. Larger cities, towns and counties generally have bigger budgets than smaller municipalities. Communities of similar size may not have the same number of fields to care for, nor the same number of maintenance staff.

Geography, soil types, climate and availability of land are other factors that can differentiate sports field management from one municipality to another. Some communities have multicultural populations that have precipitated the need for additional soccer fields or cricket pitches.

Turf & Rec, a publication of Annex Business Media, based in Simcoe, Ont., has profiled the parks operations of Norfolk County, of which Simcoe is its largest urban centre. Norfolk County, whose 2021 population was just shy of 68,000, is ranked 87th in size among Canada’s municipalities, according to Wikipedia.

Following is a look at sports field and parks management operations of a small-to-mid-sized Canadian municipality..


How many sports fields (and other significant green spaces) are regularly maintained in Norfolk? And how many of these fields are categorized as Class A facilities?
There are 35 sports fields and significant green spaces with 10 Class A facilities.

What specific maintenance practices do you employ to ensure the quality and safety of sports fields in Norfolk County?
Rolling, aeration, dethatching, topdressing, and overseeding annually. Fertilizing is done two to three times annually along with irrigation and maintenance of irrigation systems. Also, Infield grooming is done daily, infield dust control is done as needed, as well as pitching mound and batter’s box repairs. Fence, bench, bleacher repairs and other various maintenance are done as well. This is a combined effort from county staff, contractors, and user group volunteers.


How do you prioritize maintenance tasks across different sports fields, considering factors like usage frequency and upcoming events?
The majority of the grounds work is completed pre- and post-season. For anything required during the season, we rely on communication and co-ordination with user groups regarding any service disruptions or shutdowns. For irrigation of our largest sports parks, we co-ordinate cycles with the booking schedule. Infields are groomed daily whenever the facility is booked.

Can you describe the process of turf management, including aeration, fertilization, and pest control, for maintaining sports fields?
The majority is completed pre- or post-season, depending on location and equipment availability. Any mid-season maintenance is scheduled around usage and clearly communicated with user groups. Fertilizer is irrigated in as required or scheduled based on weather for our non-irrigated facilities.

What strategies do you use to conserve water while still keeping sports fields lush and playable?
All irrigation systems are fitted with rain sensors. Whenever possible, irrigation is scheduled for overnight and early mornings when wind and evaporation are typically low. All systems are regularly monitored and routinely inspected for proper operation. 

How do you address issues such as drainage problems or uneven surfaces on sports fields?
Infield drainage issues are addressed by invasive, off-season turnover of screenings to break through hard-pan layer. Grading infields, regular maintenance of the infield lip, and topdressing assists with both drainage and uneven surfaces. Rolling, routine inspection and manual work on problem areas help maintain level sports fields. Drainage and grading are always taken into consideration during any facility upgrades.

Are there any ongoing or upcoming projects related to improving sports field infrastructure or amenities in your municipality?
Currently in our 10-year capital plan, we are continuing our sports field lighting replacement program, our fieldhouse refurbishment program, and other various amenity replacements and upgrades. We also have a condition assessment planned for all sports fields which will provide insight and recommendations for future capital improvements. 

What measures are in place to monitor and maintain the safety of sports fields, including equipment inspections and surface testing?
We are members of ORFA (Ontario Recreation Facilities Association) and PRO (Parks and Recreation Ontario) where we continually review and adopt industry best practices. Staff complete weekly inspections and maintenance, and we have regular communication with user groups on conditions and maintenance needs.

How do you collaborate with local sports organizations or leagues to ensure that their needs are met regarding field maintenance and scheduling?
All scheduling is handled by the recreation department. Collaboration with organizations and leagues takes place at our annual, pre-season user group meetings. We also keep open communication at both the management and operational levels with main points of contact within the user groups.

In what ways do you involve the community or volunteers to help with sports field maintenance tasks?
We rely heavily on user group volunteers and continue to maintain great working relationships with them. They regularly assist with basic maintenance functions such as mound repairs, line chalking and painting, and field set-ups. We meet annually with minor sports associations to discuss needs and future capital or operational projects. These volunteers are vital to providing quality facilities, and their assistance is always appreciated. 

Certain aspects of field maintenance, such as line painting, are done by volunteers who play an important role toward contributing to the playability of fields.

Can you discuss any challenges or obstacles you face in maintaining sports fields and how you address them to ensure optimal playing conditions?
Some challenges include: 

Recreational usage during maintenance windows. This is typically dealt with through quality customer service from frontline staff; communicating alternative locations, negotiating maintenance time, adjusting work schedules to accommodate.

Misuse of baseball diamonds as dog parks. This is addressed through communication with owners, improved signage, creation of actual dog parks and bylaw enforcement, if required.

Demand for early spring and late fall usage. Transitional seasons are always a challenge as our parks operations staff maintain both our arenas and our sports fields and parks. Once staff are on their arena operations shift schedule, time allotment for sports fields and parks maintenance is substantially impacted. This is addressed through limiting weekday programmable hours in the arenas, creative and prioritized work plans, and increased usage of contractors.    

Is there a particular user group that is growing and requesting additional fields to accommodate its growth?
Like all sports, membership numbers ebb and flow. Currently, the busiest organizations are good at getting creative with their time and work well with other groups to utilize other local facilities as much as possible. 

Has there been any feedback from user groups about a shortage of baseball or soccer fields in Norfolk?
Not that we’re aware of.

Has Norfolk ever been approached about installing an artificial turf field somewhere in the county?
Not that we’re aware of.

How many seasonal workers are hired each year to tend to the county’s fields/green spaces, and are you facing any challenges related to labour shortages?
Our many sports fields, parklands and facilities are maintained by 17 permanent, full-time staff. They are complemented with 13 seasonal, full-time, student hires, from May to August. Our biggest challenge is attracting qualified candidates. The recruitment process takes months and can include multiple position reposts and advertising.

Are there any projects coming up that might include significant renovations to existing fields?
The only significant project we have in the 10-year capital plan is infield resizing at the Delhi baseball diamond. This will include shrinking the infield, installing drainage, and grading. Other various projects include fence replacements, irrigation installation, sports park lighting upgrades, and fieldhouse refurbishments. 

We thank Adam Kannawin and Mark Bouw, respectively, the supervisors of parks operations, west and east, Norfolk County, for their assistance into this profile.

This article is part of the Municipalities Week.

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