By Steve E. Peeler, CSFM

Three years ago, at the back entrance to Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC), two athletic fields and a campus golf hole were thought to be history when expansion took place. The Work Force Solutions Center was designed and constructed in the heart of the horticulture and turfgrass management technology grounds. A premier baseball field and soccer field were used to host workouts, games and physical fitness activities. However, once the expansion began, things looked gloomy for the fields. A new access road was going to be constructed through the middle of the soccer field, and the baseball field was to be used as a staging areas for construction materials, which also required the backstop and dugouts to be demolished. The par-5 golf hole was thought to be totally lost, as it once stood out of sight and mind of the general public.

Where there is progress, there is opportunity! Before the Workforce Solutions Center was completed, a vision came to mind for the abandoned areas that were once functional sports fields. Why not convert the remaining areas into a horticulture and turfgrass management training center? A new parking lot was going to be constructed, the irrigation system was still in place, and everything on the baseball field remained in place. Additionally, the size of the area could be increased to include turf plots, landscaping, and herbal/crop gardens.

A plan was put in place to revive the overall area into the new CVCC Turf Manager Training Center, (TMTC). The complex would have a regulation baseball infield, one regulation softball infield, a partial soccer field, and the Harry Dubose par-4 golf hole. Since the construction of the Workforce Solutions Center required a large area, many trees and wooded areas had to be removed, graded, and retaining ponds also needed to be built to handle all the runoff of storm water from the impervious surface of asphalt. Also, the golf hole could now be seen by everyone on campus.

What once was thought to be an unusable area had now become more important than ever before. CVCC now has both golf and sports turf outdoor training areas where students can gain much-needed experience in one sector of the industry or both. Students are able to lay out, construct, maintain and manage the facility while also having the opportunity to learn from their mistakes prior to getting an actual job.

The CVCC TMTC would not exist without work to perfect the facility. This presented even more opportunities for the students. The entire irrigation system will need to be modified, drainage will need to be installed, grading is still required in some areas, erosion control methods will need to be designed, and training on all types of equipment could be conducted. Most importantly, the TMTC offers a facility that has continuous growth and technical education with all types of surfaces. There will be a section that will be designated for synthetic turf, which will allow students the opportunity to construct, install and maintain a synthetic playing surface.  

Probably one of the greatest attributes to the CVCC TMTC is that the facility will serve as headquarters for the college’s baseball and softball programs, as well as a high school baseball and softball program as a workout complex. The Harry Dubose golf hole will also serve as a practice hole for the newly formed golf team at CVCC.

Student activities performed at the TMTC

The first and foremost activity that will be performed by the students is design and layout of different stages of construction phases. Each class taught at CVCC will be connected by class lessons and class labs. For example, TRF 120 (Turf Irrigation Design) will actually design and install a fully modified and functional irrigation system that uses the latest technology on the market. HOR 166 (Soils & Fertilizers) will perform lessons in class lectures, and use the knowledge to design and install proper soil modifications, proper soil nutrients, and optimum infiltration rates for the soils. Each section will have different variations so research data can be compiled and stored for future reference.

Learning midfield logo painting.

TRF 110 will utilize the turf plots for turfgrass identification (for freshmen students) for warm-season and cool-season cultivars, with the ability to remove and closely examine in full detail everything from top of the turf canopy to the bottom of the drainage system. There will be a special section that will contain seeded hybrid bermudagrass such as Princess 77, Arden 15, Yukon, plus non-seeded hybrids such as Tiway 419, Tifsport, Tiftuff, and Tifgrand.

The fields are not without their faults, as this is intentional. There will also be a section that will be weed identification where pre-emergent herbicides were not applied next to a boom width of 15 feet so the impact and weed control can actually be seen. This is something that the students never had an actual location on campus to perform. Observing the results visually, and being able to actually apply herbicides in both pre-emergent and post emergent control in the same location each year, will also be an added feature for the horticulture and turfgrass programs at CVCC.

Training with the latest technology is key to the students’ success once they have completed all the requirements for graduation. STI (Smith Turf & Irrigation) from Charlotte has expressed interest in partnering with CVCC as a home base for Toro technician training (in exchange for supplying a certain amount of Toro equipment and giving veteran technicians, as well as students who are interested in the mechanical side of the industry, a real-world equipment experience that is being used on the TMTC).

HOR 166 Soils & Fertilizers learning to use Laser Guided Instrument to record elevation on baseball field so a grading plan can be determined.

Every spring in TRF 250 Golf Course & Sports Field Design & Construction, the students actually go through a real-world exercise where they have to construct an 18-hole golf course and a four-field sports complex from square one. Each student selects a folded/closed piece of paper from the front of the class on the first day.  When the folded piece of paper is opened, it gives the name of the position and what capacity they will serve during the construction process of the golf course and sports field complex. Job descriptions are given for each position and what they are responsible for on the project. There is a sports field and golf course architect, general contractor, construction superintendent, assistant superintendent, sports field manager, and subcontractors such as clear and grub, mass grading, drainage, irrigation, fine grading, and even a construction inspector in the event the project is not within code regulations. The instructor of the class serves as the owner.  Specifications are given for the construction of the projects, and all material samples must be submitted the proper way with testing data and supplier information to the architects of record.  A budget is formulated, submitted to the owner, which he then places certain restrictions on the project of how to cut the budget down to a certain percentage.

A weekly construction meeting is held with all students present and discussing weekly progress, planned progress, and if the project is on schedule. Weather is used to place possible delays, so the students have a challenge to see how to get back within budget and stay on schedule.  The combined project takes the entire semester, and is required before being eligible to graduate. There was only a small issue in the past with this class and the lab work – it all had to be to a much smaller scale to fit in our CVCC greenhouse. Now that the TMTC is available, the class will add the outdoor version to the class project while continually improving the facility.

Sports turf training

Given that there are three fields on the complex of a modified version, students will get hands-on training on how to lay out specific sports fields, construct pitching mounds and maintain infield skins after real play has taken place, as well as stencil layout, field painting, center and end zone logo painting for all sports and golf course markings. Although different students want to focus on a certain sector of the turf industry, we encourage each individual student to be versatile and double major in Horticulture and Turfgrass Management. For many sports facilities that are multiple fields, horticulture and landscaping knowledge is becoming an advantage. and makes the sports turf manager more valuable to an organization.

There are future ideas for the CVCC TMTC. Square footage is available to add a full-size baseball field, a full-size softball field, and an outdoor plyometric course.  Presently, the CVCC baseball program plays all its home games at Hinkle Alley Field, which is located 1.5 miles off campus. The idea to construct a baseball stadium on campus has always been the goal. The baseball program has been very successful and has made two appearances in the JUCO World Series in the 10 years of existence. Plus, CVCC added a women’s college softball team this fall. The TMTC could house both stadiums, if so desired, in the future. Should this idea come to fruition, the Horticulture and Turfgrass Management Technology program would play an important role in the overall design, layout, and construction of both fields, which would be a unique opportunity for each student in the program.

Turf manager on site management program

Hands-on experience is key to gaining knowledge and experience in the industry. As an overall program, we want each and every student to be very valuable to the organizations in which they start their career. Having the ability to manage, and management experience, advances the students’ knowledge even more. Therefore, each individual student researches, develops, manages and maintains certain sections of the TMTC. Each plan must present an equipment list and budget, hiring of personnel, designing fertilization programs based on soil test results, create an irrigation plan based on environment and infiltration rates, and design and develop an herbicide, insecticide and fungicide program based on the turf type, seasonal stresses and location.

Sports community involvement

When the idea of the CVCC TMTC started, one of the most important items to be created was local sports field training for regional coaches, athletic directors, and parents who volunteer to maintain fields. Safety was a big concern on most of the local high school athletic fields. Therefore, each year, a special training clinic and seminar will be conducted to host all coaches and athletic directors at the high school level to come to the facility and perform tasks in the proper fashion, see and learn how to maintain fields for safety, how to select the right materials for their actual playing surface, mowing practices, cultural practices, steps to renovation and construction, and the opportunity to enroll in our Turfgrass Certification program.

Educating high school personnel within the region so that they can maintain better playing surfaces and safe fields would pay off in the long run.

The opportunity

What started out as just a vision has turned into a reality, with much more to come in the future. None of this would even be possible with the support of Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, president of CVCC; Dr. Keith Mackie, vice president of CVCC; Dean Gary Muller, Business, Industry, Technology and Fine Arts; Brandon Hensley, CVCC special project manager; David Clanton, sr. professor, CVCC Horticulture & Turfgrass; Jordan Phillips, turfgrass management instructor; Mollie Townsend, CVCC Horticulture & Turfgrass Management; and the many dedicated students in our program who strive each day to be the best. Special thanks to each one for his or her dedication and support.

Steve E. Peeler, CSFM, is director of horticulture and turfgrass management technologies, Catawba Valley Community College Environmental Life Science.

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