When the previous pitch was installed (in the summer of 2013 after the Status Quo concert), the Greenfields MX synthetic turf was one of the first new generation pitches of woven synthetic turf systems to be installed in the United Kingdom.
In the ten years that followed this system has proved to be one of the best and most resilient in the market.
After early concern involving a flare thrown on the pitch during a Scottish Cup tie with Rangers FC in December 2013 the Greenfields MX turf has served the club well and was officially designated ‘end of life’ in May of this year.
Initially, the two most prominent questions from supporters were, can we donate the pitch to Dunipace FC; and can supporters buy a piece of the old pitch as a memento.
Sadly, in both cases the answer was no. The old carpet, given its specification and infill, was identified as special waste by SEPA (the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency). This meant it had to be handled, stored, transported and disposed of using unique SEPA issued codes. Even if the legal constraints could have been overcome the age of the pitch, with a decade of wear and tear around the seams, meant it was not a sustainable option.
Financing the Investment
It was widely reported around the time of our AGM in February that £200,000+ in grants had been secured from the SFA to partially fund the new pitch and floodlights. This award and the FSS Fan Bank investment in May provided the funds required to proceed with the work.
The SFA grant was public money, provided via central government as part of their Levelling Up Fund; this placed an obligation on the club to ensure the process was transparent and adhered to the agreed guidelines.
Compliance with the Grant Obligations
An integral part of meeting these obligations was to appoint a professional services company experienced in the design, procurement and testing of sports facilities and surfaces. The Club selected Sports Labs Ltd, who are based in Livingston and have experience in new turf systems and shock pads.
Sports Labs Ltd are fully accredited and certify hundreds of products globally for FIFA, World Rugby, and the International Hockey Federation each year. This knowledge and experience were perfectly suited to manage the key risks faced by the club in the installation of the new pitch.
Sports Labs Ltd Brief
The work was carried out in five stages and led by Sports Labs Ltd, with review and approval of the club at the conclusion of each stage:-
1. Surveys, site information and risk register
2. Concept design and cost plan
3. Agree procurement strategy
4. Invitation to Tender process
This is an approach followed for any construction project, irrespective of size and scope. Of the questions raised by supporters and interested observers stages 3, 4 and 5 got the most attention. Stage 5 (construction) is best covered by the attached photographs and previous posts, so the emphasis will be a high-level summary of the procurement strategy and the tender process.
Key was to identify the risks that would increase cost, adversely impact completion and uninterrupted use for the life of the pitch.
Many supporters would understandably identify the turf manufacturer as the major risk, however this conclusion would be mistaken. The minimal risk of failure or poor performance was best managed by requiring all bidders to comply with the FIFA Quality Pro certification, secure in the knowledge this tried and tested specification would ensure a consistent performance standard from the selected surface, fit for the purpose intended.
Consultation with turf manufacturers was neither sought, nor deemed necessary, at least until the very last phase of Stage 4 prior to award. Dialogue in advance of this phase would compromise the integrity of the procurement strategy and the tendering process by wrongly implying Falkirk FC were instructing (or favouring) a particular turf solution over another.
The technology has advanced significantly in the ten years since the Greenfields MX was installed and is now unrecognisable from the ‘astro turf’ at Brockville and the all-weather pitch installed by Stirling Albion in 1987, 36 years ago next month. Manufactured in a factory-controlled environment, tested and certified on completion, the FIFA specification details 26 requirements that set out how the carpet is to perform when in use, varying from ball transition and bounce to skin abrasion and specific measurements of the yarn and pile.
That’s not to say that pitches can’t fail, but the evidence overwhelmingly identifies the principal causes of failure as poor workmanship during the installation, incorrect maintenance after completion, or issues with the substructure, e.g. the dynamic stone base and the pre-fabricated shock pads.
Given that we were tendering on re-using the existing and unseen dynamic stone base and shock pads (after ten years of use) this was a major risk to the success of the project. Other key and critical risks identified were SEPA compliance of the special waste and multiple different contractors working in the same areas at the same time.
To manage and mitigate all these risks the correct strategy was to appoint a design and build contractor who would (a.) select the turf supplier, who was in compliance with the FIFA Quality Pro specification; (b.) assume full responsibility for the design, specification and construction of the full installation; and (c.) recycle the end of life surface.
Appointment of the Design and Build Contractor
Tenders were issued in late March 2023. Given the partial funding from the Levelling Up Fund and a commitment from the Club to follow best practice, the tender documents established strict rules around any contact with Falkirk FC (direct or indirect) by the tenderers, primarily around lobbying, canvasing and, or any effort to subvert or influence the tender process.
Bids were received in the second week of April 2023 and following a financial and technical appraisal by Sports Labs Ltd the two lowest bidders were invited to an interview in late April. Sports Labs Ltd arranged and chaired these interviews, but the final decision on any award was the Falkirk FC Board of Directors who were represented at the interviews by our CEO, two board directors and the management team, John McGlynn and Paul Smith.
As the two lowest bids were competitively and comparably priced the following aspects became central in the decision-making process.
Availability of resources and supervision with experience of the contractor specified turf to meet the programme
Health, Safety and Environmental compliance
First hand verification of case studies offered by the Tenderer to support their bids, e.g. the club intended to confirm that the examples of completed projects and satisfied customers were factual and accurate.
Of all these different measures, the successful Tenderer was first or first equal in all of these categories, with the unsuccessful bidder unable to satisfy one of the criteria.
The contract was awarded to Sportex Group on a design and construct basis. Sportex Group are based in Grangemouth and one of the fastest growing sports facility companies in the country, who specialise in the design, specification, construction, refurbishment and maintenance of external sports facilities.
Importantly they also committed to the sustainable recycling the end-of-life turf in their own facility.
The design and specification proposed by Sportex Group and accepted by Falkirk FC was GreenFields MX Elite, the same manufacturer as the original turf, but with an advanced specification and performance.
Work commenced towards the end of May, with completion successfully achieved on 4 July 2023. See FIFA certification below.
To prolong the life of the turf and ensure the best possible playing surface Sportex Group have provided a maintenance plan and deep cleaning programme, in addition to providing at a discounted cost a variety of routine maintenance equipment.
Funding for this equipment was provided by Bairns Business Club and Falkirk FC would like to place on record our appreciation and thanks for this invaluable support.
Falkirk FC would also like to take this opportunity to thank:-
All the bidders who expressed an interest in the project and worked hard to secure the contract;
Sports Labs Ltd for leveraging their market knowledge and technical expertise / ‘know-how’ to support what was, in reality, a fast-track procurement and construction programme;
Greenfields for their proposal for the lines to be inlaid in the turf; and finally
Sportex Group for the diligent, professional and timely manner they delivered their work scope.
To close, if there is any interest, we are happy to provide a similar summary of the new floodlights investment.