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A Model Community Surprise Recreation Campus

Editor, Matthew Doyle






The Surprise Recreation Campus (SRC) in Surprise, Arizona was dedicated in 2001 and serves the spring training needs of two MLB teams and the local community. The 180 acre facility includes 13 baseball fields that can be converted to football, two softball fields, and two soccer fields. Also on-site is a five acre urban fishing lake that doubles as an irrigation reservoir.


In 2001, Surprise, Arizona, dedicated the Surprise Recreation Campus (SRC). The 180 acre facility provides spring training for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers and also serves the recreation needs of the local community.

The site includes 13 convertible baseball and football fields, two softball fields, two soccer fields, a five acre urban fishing and irrigation reservoir, two tennis courts, an aquatic facility, and a playground.






In October, November and April the turf is top dressed with a mulch layer 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Here, the SRC's John Deere 5220 tractor is doing the heavy labor. The unit offers 22 different rotary cutting attachments, six flail mower attachments, four backhoes and 53 horsepower.


The Superintendents

The experienced team of Joe Kennedy III and Joey Brazil was chosen to build and run the SRC. Joe got his start 20 years ago in nearby Peoria building a spring training facility for the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, working there for 13 years. Joey Brazil started his 16-year career at Peoria, also meeting Joe there. Kennedy and Joey were then given the opportunity to build the Surprise campus, Joey having been at Peoria eight years by then. Joey occupied a supervisor position until 2007, when Joe passed him the superintendent torch. It was during this transition that the crew added their 2007 Green Star Honor Award to a 2005 win.

Kennedy holds a turf certificate from the University of Georgia and claims $230 million worth of projects built in his career. He is a PGMS and MTSA member attending Grand Canyon Community College for a business degree. Brazil is parks maintenance operations superintendent for the city of Surprise and Kennedy is parks maintenance operations division manager.






At one point, the SRC staff was required to change 16 baseball fields to football and back within a week. According to Kennedy and Brazil, managing such a demanding schedule requires working smarter, not harder, with techniques like overseeding without shutting down fields.


The Crew

Both superintendents hold their crew in high regard, claiming that they are the basis for the facilities success. The current staff is 16 strong, plus two supervisors and Brazil, all working a full time and above schedule. During spring training, Brazil works 10-14 hours a day seven days a week. In the off-season, he works 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Kennedy goes from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday in the off-season, changing to seven days a week for spring training.

Seasonal labor varies between two and 20 based on work requirements, peaking just before and during spring training. The whole crew averages 870 hours per week.

Turf

Bulls Eye Bermuda is used on 55 acres dedicated to scheduled athletics and 35 acres for unscheduled use. During March and February, mowing is done daily at 7/8” to 1” and every other day April through October to 5/8”. Weed eater passes are performed weekly, with post-emergent herbicides applied as needed. Pre-emergent herbicides are applied to the turf in July, the granite hardscapes in September and the turf again in August for Poa control. The turf is verticut in two directions in July, August, September, May and June and rolled with a five ton roller in December. Aeration is performed in August, May and June with a pull behind slicer. Cores are dragged in if possible in July and April and turf top-dressed in October, November and April. Edging of infields, warning tracks and bullpens is scheduled for July, August, September, October (the Major League field), November (the Minor League field) and May. The minor league fields are shut down on a two week/four field schedule in August for fall prep reconditioning.

Irrigation

The Surprise facility staff partnered with Hunter during construction to handle their irrigation needs, and so far Kennedy and Brazil have nothing but praise. The Genesis smart irrigation installation utilizes 18 VSX controllers, an on site weather station and moisture sensors. The SRC utilizes over 3,659 sprinkler heads and over 450 valves. Water is from a Maricopa County Water District capped canal.






The Surprise campus is the spring training facility for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. To keep the turf at professional sports standards, the staff uses eight utility carts, four bunker rakes, a tractor, seven riding mowers, an aerator, two grounds maintenance vacuums, a broadcast spreader-pull, a dimple seeder, a top dresser, a roller, a walking mower, loader, and two survey lasers.


Vehicles/Equipment

The vehicle list includes eight 295 Club Cars, four Toro Sandpros, a John Deere 5220 Tractor, a John Deere 1435, an Agrimetal Aerator, two Toro grounds maintenance vacuums, a Toro Lelly Broadcast Spreader-Pull, a Toro Z Master Riding Mower, a Gandy Dimple Seeder, a Toro Top Dresser, two Walker Riding Mowers, a Rammex five-ton Roller, a Toro Multi Pro, a Toro 1600, a Toro 3100-D, 2 Toro 6500-Ds, a Bobcat, and survey lasers by Gannon in both 7 ft. and 5 ft models.

The fuel bill associated with this vehicle fleet is a major challenge, and the 2008 budget has already been exceeded. This has been dealt with through increased carpooling among the groundskeeping staff, and the two superintendents were very proud of how well their crew has implemented this change.

To ultimately deal with fuel costs, the SRC will be switching over to alternative fuel vehicles. The replacement plan is attrition based. As a vehicle comes up for replacement, alternative fuel options are evaluated and adopted if possible. However, many alternative fuel vehicle options have a minimal performance history to base the wisdom of the purchase on.

Planting

Overseeding is performed in October and November with winter rye, and scheduling demands preclude field closures. The grass still sprouts, only taking longer to do so. There is also an on-site sod farm that supplies the majority of the turf required.






According to Joe Kennedy III, a key element to the SRC's success has been the support of Surprise Parks and Recreation Department Director Mark Coronado and the city council and management. A great way to encourage similar support at your facility is to become deeply involved in the community, which Kennedy and Brazil have done by visiting local high schools to help with their maintenance issues. In addition, some of the high school games are held at the campus, as shown here.


Challenges

With the facility serving two professional sports teams, the Arizona Fall League, Rookie league, local high school baseball and football teams, and other community athletics, creating and maintaining quality relationships despite constant personal changes is an immense challenge. Brazil and Kennedy overcome the challenge by letting their work speak for itself. Maintaining high standards ensures the athletic staff recognizes the skill and knowledge base of the groundskeeping crew and not just listen to but truly value their opinion.

Another major challenge associated with the facility is the brutal event schedule. At one point, the staff had to switch out 16 baseball fields to football and back again in a week. Kennedy and Brazil claim the key to maintaining high standards in the face of such a schedule is to work smarter, not harder, with procedures like overseeding on open fields.

When asked what major tips they would have for other superintendents, Brazil and Kennedy had several points. For one, they recommend getting the right people in the right places to make the most of their unique knowledge sets. To help ensure you get the right people, hire those with a passion. In their experience, many will try to stick around for the paycheck, only to leave after a few months.

Another great tip is to network with your local community. Kennedy and Brazil assist local high school athletic programs by inviting superintendents to tour the SRC and performing field visits at schools. The common areas of the Surprise campus also provide recreation space for the local citizens, sports organizations and high schools. Funding comes much easier from city government as a result when they see budget dollars going back to their constituents.

Networking also can be achieved through membership in organizations like the Professional Grounds Maintenance Society (PGMS). Your fellow professionals might have already solved the problem you are struggling with, making communication invaluable. In particular, Kennedy and Brazil noted that local university superintendents are great sources of advice for several major reasons. For one, these campuses are often full of fresh ideas from the student population that are hard to find anywhere else. In addition, the particularly tight budgets these facilities tend to face means that procedures adopted are usually effective in both practical and fiscal terms. Finally, the local nature of these schools means they will often be encountering similar problems.



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December 10, 2019, 6:52 pm PDT

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