Jan. 23, 2008
by Simit Shah
Leave it to an engineering school to turn a problem that threatened the structure of their stadium into a solution that saved their playing surface.
That’s what transpired this fall at Bobby Dodd Stadium, as north Georgia’s severe drought conditions forced local governments to enact a total outdoor watering ban. That left facilities director Shawn Teske searching for ideas on how to preserve the condition of the stadium’s natural grass.
“As a rule of thumb, the football field needs about an inch of water per week,” he said, estimating that can be upwards of 30,000 gallons of water. “When you get into the summer when it’s hot, it needs more. In the wintertime, it needs less.”
Teske and the school’s engineers literally found the solution beneath them. For years, the school had been pumping away excess water that collected underneath the southeast corner of the stadium. That aggravation would end up being the answer to their problems.
“We were kind of scratching our heads when we realized we couldn’t water the field with the city’s water,” Teske said. “We knew that we had water that we had to dispose, because of what it was doing. We had water coming in on the foundation of the stadium. We had to pump it out into the sewer, because it was going to cause problems with the foundation.”
The source of the water is actually a spring across the street underneath the North Avenue dorms (formerly occupied by Georgia State). That water flows into an abandoned sewer line, which empties out under the southeast corner of the stadium.
After realizing that water was seeping through cracks and expansion joints in the concrete several years ago, Georgia Tech officials approached the city water department about the issue. Since both the beginning and end of the problem were on Board of Regents’ property, the school was left to resolve the issue by installing the pump that dumped the water into the city’s sewer system.
Once the drought forced Tech to stop watering the field, a plan was hatched to reroute the excess water from to sewer to the field.
“The institute started measuring how much water we were pumping out a day, and it was enough that if we diverted it, we could water the field with it,” said Teske. “We ran some water tests to make sure it was safe for the grass, and everything checked out.”
The athletic association engaged Ragan Enterprises, an engineering firm, to design and implement a system to fill seven 1,500-gallon tanks beneath the east stands. The spring provides about 7,000 gallons per day.
“We pump the water out of the culvert, and then we go overhead and back down to those seven tanks,” explained Ragan’s mechanical engineer Bryan Nix, a 1993 Tech graduate. “If the culvert is full, we can fill those tanks in about six hours or so. Those tanks are tied into a pump that’s connected to the field irrigation system.”
The system took about two weeks and upwards of $20,000 to build. After going nearly four weeks without watering, the grounds crew was able to rehabilitate the field for the final two home games of the season.
“We did paint the field, and we ran into some issues with that, so we were fortunate to get this solution in place as quickly as we did,” noted Teske. “In the long run, we’ll save money. As long as this water will come in, we’ll continue to use.”
“I am extremely proud that our Georgia Tech folks brought forward the technical ingenuity to make this watering system a reality,” added athletics director Dan Radakovich. “The beauty of this set-up is that it will serve us on into the future as we make more use of the natural spring water long after the drought conditions subside. We think this is a way to maintain and enhance our playing fields and yet be good citizens in a time of concern over water issues in north Georgia.”
The next challenge is to build a mechanism to transport the water to Russ Chandler Stadium, which has not been fully watered in several months.