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The University of North Carolina-Wilmington determined in 2013 that it needed to upgrade its recreational facilities. The university had already invested heavily in its buildings, primarily to save money through better energy efficiency. The university’s $45 million facilities enhancement plan included $7.5 million to improve four athletic fields used primarily by its intramural and club sports teams.

Two of the fields were synthetic turf, and the others were natural grass. The budget included $500,000 for stormwater improvements, $2.5 million for artificial turf fields, $750,000 for natural fields, and $1.5 million for buildings and infrastructure.

When the university celebrated the grand opening of the new athletic fields in August 2017, Chancellor Jose Sartarelli grabbed a soccer ball and demonstrated the athletic aptitude he developed as a boy in his native Brazil. Students, administrators, and staff celebrated completion of the project, which began even prior to Sartarelli’s arrival in 2015.

Work contractors, especially those who designed the stormwater management solution, had also earned the right to celebrate. The project presented several challenges, including a large site disturbance, strict drainage requirements, and high-water tables. Stormwater engineers designed two systems using entirely different CULTEC chambers.

“The high water table was a problem as it provided very little room for stormwater to infiltrate back into the ground,” said Jon Shell, CULTEC’s regional sales manager. “In addition, the detention systems needed to be able to withstand light to moderate traffic loads.”

The sports fields where the systems were installed were not adjacent, so the project required two systems. One system used 414 Contactor Field Drain C-4HD chambers, which stand just 8.5 inches tall and are the lowest profile chambers on the U.S. construction market. They were covered by 6 inches of No. 57 stone, 2 inches of No. 8 stone, and 1.75 inches of artificial turf. The total storage area is slightly less than 16,300 square feet and provides a storage capacity of 11,243 cubic feet in a horizon of only 18.5 inches from bottom elevation to final grade.

“The engineer selected the C-4 chamber because of its shallow profile,” said Shane Harkey of Sports Construction Management. “I thought it was a good design. It met our specs and the low-profile chambers were hard to find. Their chambers were exactly what we needed for this project.”

The second system required the 12.5-inch-high Contactor 100 HD chambers. The system included 396 chambers, 6 inches of No. 57 stone, 2 inches of No. 8 stone, and 1.75 inches of artificial turf for an overall depth of 22.25 inches. The system provides 10,225 cubic feet of water storage within an area of 11,189 square feet.

McAdams, based in Durham, N.C., designed the stormwater management systems. East Coast Contracting of Wilmington, N.C., and Sports Construction Management of Lexington, N.C., placed the chambers and constructed the chamber beds.

Stockpiling pallets of chambers made the best use of the available space at the jobsite and optimized material handling. Photo: courtesy of CULTEC

Site contractor Joby Hawn, of East Coast Contracting, said it was essential to stockpile the pallets of chambers to make best use of the available space at the jobsite and optimize material handling. “I wanted to keep the chambers out of the way, which was important because this was a pretty tight jobsite,’’ Hawn said. “We were able to install about 50 chambers per hour with only two installers.”

One of the concerns was the amount of weight that could be put on top of the field, especially on the first system with the lower-profile chambers. “They wanted to make sure that these chambers were rated for traffic,” Hawn said. “Even though it’s a turf field, you’re better safe than sorry. It’s nice to have a traffic-rated chamber underneath an athletic field.”

The low-profile stormwater systems were completed in spring, and contractors completed construction of the fields during the summer, when students were off campus. When they returned in August, the fields were complete with pre-drawn lines for sports such as intramural football and soccer, and a nearby building was constructed to store sports equipment and provide security measures.

The new building also includes restrooms to accommodate players and spectators. Thanks to the new stormwater management system, the fields will be playable even if there are weather-related issues. In the past, games would be canceled due to rain because of safety and flooding concerns.

Other improvements at UNC-Wilmington included installation of artificial turf on the softball field along with a new video board and scoreboard, dugout replacement, increased seating capacity, and new press box. The university also built a new tennis stadium.

In the increasingly difficult competition to attract students, UNC-Wilmington has distinguished itself within the state and nation. Since Sartarelli came to the campus in 2015, the university has added 2,000 students. It has also boosted its SAT score average above 1,200 (the third best figure in the UNC system) and has the system’s highest number of undergraduate degrees conferred per 1,000 students. It also has developed partnerships with U.S. and international universities, and more than 40 small companies are incubating on campus, including eight companies that are exploring marine science.

More improvements are on the horizon for UNC-Wilmington, which sits just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean. During the next five years, the school is seeking to invest nearly $200 million into campus improvements, including a $54 million, 105,000-square-foot science building and a $51 million expansion to Randall Library, which was last renovated in 1987.

For now, the school is still celebrating its outdoor improvements. At the opening ceremonies in August, student Katie Solinski told the student newspaper, The Seahawk, “My whole team was beyond excited about these new fields. (Field) hockey can now be played on grass or turf, but it’s a whole different level of play on a turf field. Before we had to travel to schools like Duke to play on a turf field, but now we have one in our own backyard.”

Gina Carolan is the chief operating officer and director of marketing for CULTEC (www.cultec.com).