Franklin School rebuilds after spring storms

Rain bombarded most of the Northeast United States during the spring and early summer of 2006. As city, county and state governmental agencies struggled to cope with the heavy rainfall, decisions were made to control upstream water levels to reduce devastating flooding downstream. One of those decisions was made June 27, when the gates of the East Sidney Dam were closed. Ouleout Creek rose, flooding along the edge of the small town of Franklin, N.Y. The athletic fields of Franklin School were covered by nearly 18 feet of water.

A close view of the baseball field damage looking toward the backstop.

The aftermath

The region, including Franklin and the surrounding community, was declared a disaster area, and FEMA moved in. Requests for assistance worked their way through the FEMA system. Vital businesses and residential areas were the first priorities. The small Franklin School District had little reserve money to work with, so until approval was received from FEMA, there were no funds available to renovate the fields.

The school’s job specifications were brief, but clear: restore the fields to pre-flood conditions; there were no financial resources for improvements.

Site analysis

The whole area is a flood plain. The baseball field, a soccer and softball combo field and a general-purpose field for practices are on the lowest level of school property, bordering the Ouleout Creek.

FEMA’s delay provided time for the fields to dry out enough to pull samples and get testing results. The school had the state department of environmental conservation test for contaminants in the silt. Greener World, a company that provides athletic field reconditiong and maintenance, sent samples of the silt layer and of the athletic fields’ soils to Tournament Turf Labs, Valencia, Pa. Along with a second opinion on contaminants, they wanted to determine if the silt would negatively affect the soil for turf growth.

A broad view of the fields from behind the soccer goal

Amazingly, the results showed no detrimental contaminants within the silt. The soil beneath was not affected. Because the flooding was not caused by raging waters, but by the more gradual overflow from behind the dam and along Ouleout Creek’s banks, the receding water was controlled and there was less surface damage, but a thicker layer, ranging from 4 to 5 inches, of silty deposit.

Developing the game plan

It appeared that the best solution would be stripping off the layer of debris with as little surface disruption as possible. However, determining the best way to accomplish that would take a combination of applied science, ideas gleaned from industry literature and seminars, input from networking resources and personal experience.

Though Greener World didn’t work with FEMA directly, they developed a detailed daily work log and photo diary to supply to the school, which gave them the documentation they needed to prove the work had been done.

The first step

The first step was removing the silt layer and any additional debris. Testing showed that the baseball and general-purpose field had approximately 6 inches of good, loamy, native soil. The soccer field had about 2 inches of similar native soil over a gravel subsurface, remnants of an old riverbed. Workers had to be careful during removal of the silt on that field to avoid digging into the shallow soil layer.

Due to FEMA’s delay, another complication was the inability to start removal during the hot, dry period following the flooding. The first day of on-field work was August 18. The rains started shortly after that, causing frequent delays on the project and extending what should have been a three-week job into mid-October. The rains also made the silt and debris greasy and harder to handle.

Equipment kept the project moving
forward as every crew member
tackled parts of the field cleanup.
The crew used different cleanup
techniques to fit each situation.
The fields begin to emerge. The field restoration is progressing, as shown by this broad view from behind the baseball diamond.

The heat had prevented vegetative growth within the silt layer. Because of the very fine particulates within the silt, workers knew it would be impossible to keep some of it from filtering to the field surface. They planned to alleviate the impact during post-cleanup renovation.

The effectiveness of silt removal was tested with a wide range of equipment. They used a Ryan aerator and Jacobsen slice seeder on the baseball outfield; a Lesco aerator on the baseball infield; and a box blade on a three-point hitch pulled behind a tractor on the soccer field.

The baseball field begins to take shape.

The baseball pitcher’s mound, which had been rebuilt a few years earlier, survived intact. It was used as the base point to reshoot elevation and pitch and define the field dimensions.

One crew member used the box blade to make windrows of silt debris on the soccer field. Another loaded it onto a truck. The third drove the truck back and forth to the dump site.

The multiple-person attack continued, adding field renovation to sections as debris removal was completed there. On the third trip, a tractor, a 12-foot I-beam; a York rake; vertidrain; spike seeder; Ryan aerator; box blade; eight-head, pull-behind brush attachment; chain drag mat; various hand tools; and 500 pounds of a 50-50 mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass were brought in. The aerators and rakes broke up the silt layer in smaller spaces. The box blade did the job in larger open areas. The I-beam, mounted on a three-point hitch, was used to level.

Floodwaters had filled the existing drainage swales with silt and debris. That material, along with the debris from the fields, was removed, for an overall total of 68 3-yard loads. In addition, seven loads of debris from the bank side of the road and 74 loads of rubble from the improvements we made to the drainage swale along the soccer fields were removed.

Site preparation

Private property borders the far end of the soccer field, with an embankment that slopes down to meet the field. The smaller swales at the eastern and southern ends of the field were reworked to better channel that runoff.

An existing drainage swale was located between the baseball and soccer fields, running parallel to and along the length of the soccer field. The depth of the trench was increased to about 5 feet for 250 feet of the distance and 12-inch plastic pipe, embedded in sandy soil, was installed.

The existing turf cover was left in place to reduce erosion. The soil renovation and seeding processes would mix in the silt that had filtered to the soil surface, thus preventing a layering problem. Several applications of lime (3 tons total) and gypsum (4.5 tons total) were made to bring up the calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) levels to counteract the impact of the silt.

The actual renovation began using basic procedures, but more aggressively. Topsoil and compost mix were added, where needed. In many areas, crew members used the Rotodairon followed by hand raking. They used the I-beam for leveling all of the field surfaces, finding the longer length more efficient in finding the high and low spots. During the process, they were able to clear and level space for an additional general-purpose field that will be used primarily for PE classes.

They measured out the baseball and softball fields and brought in sand and 3.5 tons of Klaykon to work into the existing material with the Smithco field rake. Skinned areas were rebuilt to spec dimensions and heights.

This close-up of the cracked silt shows the dead turf underneath.

Seeding

Overall, 100 gallons of Kleen-Up pro mixture were applied to kill vegetation on the skinned surfaces of the baseball and softball fields. On the baseball outfield and the soccer field, a Jacobsen slice seeder was used in two directions, cutting a diamond pattern through the dead turf layer.

The crew hydroseeded in the areas where they didn’t need to do any regrading: on the swales, the baseball field foul territory and diamond and the PE areas, covering approximately 4 acres.

Wrap-up

Thanks to a mild December and early January, the late seeding germinated and had matured to the point that it went into winter pretty well-established. There was a lot of weed growth, which was hit with a spring broadleaf control application. The fields were in great shape by mid-May. 

Joseph Potrikus is vice president of Greener World, Cooperstown, N.Y.