The way that Marcus Boutilier and his Crew Leader Nick Kohler helped the City of Edmonton avoid spending thousands of dollars for sportsfield snow removal equipment was so simple, it was downright elegant.
Marcus is Neighbourhoods and Parks’ Sports Fields team lead for the northwest area, and every year, near the end of the football season, he is faced with the possibility of having to remove snow from the one artificial turf field in his region to enable football playoffs to occur.
“We were lucky this year because there was no snow before the season ended, but when there is snow, it has to be bladed off the field either with the leading edge of a tractor bucket, or with blades pushed by a small sidewalk-sized tractor,” says Marcus.
Worked into the bottom of artificial grass is a material called crumb – tiny, crumbled pieces of rubber tire. The crumb not only keeps the plastic grass blades standing straight up, but it’s a major factor in absorbing shock when players fall on it.
For the artificial turf to perform according to specifications, there has to be three-quarters of an inch of space between the top of the plastic grass blades and the crumb beneath them.
The tricky thing about artificial turf is that when you use a blade to push snow off the field, it either clips off minute lengths of the plastic ‘grass’ blades, or could tear out some of the blades altogether.
“So, over the years, every time you clear snow, you can reduce the height of the grass fibres, and if you are trying to maintain that three-quarters of an inch spacing between the top of the grass and the crumb, you’ll end up with less crumb from the bottom up.”
“The snow you push also picks up and removes some of the crumb, and the amount it removes increases as the grass is shortened,” says Marcus.
Eventually, when enough crumb has been removed, and it can’t be replaced to original levels because the grass height has been clipped, the field could become too hard for people to play on.
“It costs well into six figures to replace a whole field,” says Marcus, “so if you reduce its lifespan by two or three years, that’s a significant increase in its annual cost.”
Marcus knew that there are specialized tractor buckets, made with rubber leading edges, that are easier on artificial turf, but he also knew they cost thousands of dollars, which is a pretty big dollar considering the fact that they’d only be used four or five times a year.
His elegantly simple solution to the problem?
Marcus simply went to an industrial supplier and bought a length of special cold-weather plastic pipe.
He cut a slit in it so the pipe could be slipped over a tractor blade, and – voila! – the tractor could push snow off the field without clipping the grass blades.
“The pipe cost about $100,” he says, “just a small fraction of what the specialized bucket would have cost…and the added benefit is that the very same bucket, without the pipe, can be used all year round for other types of work.”
And on a larger scale, Marcus points out, the piping will likely add a couple of years to the lifespan of artificial turf fields, saving the City big bucks by delaying the need to replace it.