Let’s talk ovals

Testing the track at a Doncaster primary school

Testing the track at a Doncaster primary school

Last week you would have received a notice about an open forum to discuss the ‘School Oval Redevelopment Master Plan’ on Wednesday 11th June at 7pm, at the school.

The Buildings & Grounds sub-committee (B&G) have investigated a range of options for the management of the school oval and will present research undertaken for the three most relevant options at this stage (ranging from ‘do nothing’ to new synthetic or grass surfaces). B&G are open to other options which may end up warranting a similar level of investigation and all options are being considered in relation to broader school priorities, fundraising and a long-term, holistic plan for the oval

I asked the B&G sub-committee to give us a little more information about some of the options being considered for the oval. This week, Stewart Waters, convener of the B&G sub-committee and dad to Tom in grade three and Freddy in grade two, gives us his thoughts on synthetic surfaces.

What prompted the research on synthetic surfaces?

Last year, after joining the Building and Grounds sub-committee (B&G), I was made aware of the 2011 Master Plan for the development of the school grounds. The B&G committee had made some progress in line with the plan, such as the establishment of the kitchen garden, sandpit relocation, installation of water tanks, and had also carried out detailed research into cooling solutions. The next largest project though was to research options on the oval, which started in July 2013.

What research information is available?

The Victorian State Government and the Western Australia State Government have done vast research into synthetic surfaces for schools and sporting bodies. B&G have leveraged all of this material as part of our research. However, nothing beats getting in the car and doing some good old-fashioned research and driving around to different schools and taking photos. So, together with my boys we have driven from Cranbourne to Doncaster via Blackburn and all the schools in Kew and Balwyn, taking photos and speaking to users of the grounds, even kicking the soccer ball around to see how it feels. My son Tom has run time trials around most of the athletics track we visited!

What are the key considerations when researching synthetic?

There are a number of considerations. One of the key ones is space. But we also need to consider the alternative playground options, student numbers, and maintenance money available (i.e. voluntary fees!). But equally important is the overall aesthetics of the school. We still love the look and feel of grass, so we need to incorporate that into the design. We also have to look at the needs through the eyes of students and staff. How do we meet the physical education curriculum objectives? What is best for the students and teachers? As detailed by Victorian and WA governments, synthetic is a great surface, but it is expensive. The upfront cost is significant but thankfully most of the surfaces will last up to 15 years before needing replacement.

What are the current options that schools have with respect to synthetic?

Over recent times schools have started to look at synthetic as a softer play surface as compared to bitumen. The third generation surfaces are incorporating exciting elements such as colourful ground layouts and line markings for many different sports. When it comes to ovals, the advantages of synthetic are such that both boys and girls have a clean, stable surface to play on all year round. The oval is no longer the boys domain and greater diversity in play is created.

My experience with synthetic surfaces?

Playing hockey most of my life, I have seen the game evolve from grass to synthetic over the years with the earlier surfaces covered in sand to the same surfaces now being either water based synthetic or a close variation. So, I have experienced firsthand how the technology has improved in surfaces.

The variable weather patterns of Australia means that having drought tolerant surfaces means less reliance on water as well. Natural grass is beautiful, however just like home, it requires mowing, watering, fertilising, resting etc. Long periods of resting is necessary, although you need sufficient other space for this to happen.

In summary –

The main message I have when considering any option for the school oval is that it must be right for the school – long term and short-term. The overall layout must be well-balanced and be incorporated into good landscaping design. And as always, my philosophy is to be able to leave this world in a better place than when I found it.

Hopefully I’ll see you all at the community forum to hear your views.

Stewart Waters

Labernum Primary School In Blackburn

Labernum Primary School, Blackburn

Labernum Primary School In Blackburn

Labernum Primary School, Blackburn

1 thought on “Let’s talk ovals

  1. This was incredible informative and well written. Thanks for all your hard work, Stewart. It is exciting to see such valuable contributions being made to our school for the future and for all kids.

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