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Russ College tech is key to healthy turf of Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park

Pete Shooner and Megan Reed | Apr 24, 2017
Khoury and Sargand standing in Atlanta Braves' new Sun Trust Park
Photos by Aubry Canales

Russ College tech is key to healthy turf of Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park

Pete Shooner and Megan Reed | Apr 24, 2017

Photos by Aubry Canales

As the Atlanta Braves take to the field of their new home at SunTrust Park this season, fans are delighting in the facility’s countless start-of-the-art amenities – and the gorgeous grass, which is getting an unexpected boost from some covert, cutting-edge technology.

Beneath SunTrust Park’s turf lies a system of sensors and pipes that enable groundskeepers to precisely monitor and control the field’s temperature, oxygen and moisture levels, ensuring healthier, greener grass throughout the year.

The technology, called “AirPAT,” was designed and installed by Cincinnati-based The Motz Group in collaboration with three Ohio University civil engineers, who were enlisted to help develop the system.

“The sensors play a critical role in the collection of real-time data on field conditions. With this data, head groundskeeper Ed Mangan can make more educated, refined management decisions,” said The Motz Group’s Director of Research and New Product Development Mark Heinlein. “AirPAT is a state-of-the-art proprietary system, and the faculty at Ohio University were key partners in its research and development.”

The entire turf is contained within a water-tight barrier, which sends water into an underground cistern for recycling via both traditional overhead sprinklers and a subirrigation system that feeds moisture directly into the turf’s base layer. To help control temperature, geothermally warmed or cooled air can similarly be pumped into the soil.

Russ College of Engineering and Technology Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Sam Khoury, who worked on the project with Russ Professor of Civil Engineering Shad Sargand and Ohio Research Institute for Transportation and the Environment Operations Manager Joshua Jordan, said the system can produce healthier turf in a variety of climates while conserving both resources and money.

“If the grass is in danger of freezing, you can pump warm air underneath and get green grass for the rest of the season,” Khoury said. “And if you’re trying to grow grass in places like Atlanta further south, it really helps, especially if you’re using geothermal systems, where it’s not costing you as much.”

Drainage can also be controlled dynamically. While traditional gravity drainage pipes will handle normal loads of water, in heavy rain events, a vacuum chamber can accelerate the drainage rate. The system is also outfitted with valves that can hold water in the field if needed.

The team developed and tested their design at a test plot in Cincinnati about one-tenth the size of SunTrust Park’s field. The Russ College engineers traveled to Atlanta to help install the sensors in March, and the team will return over the summer to check on how the system is operating.