Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School – Multi-Purpose Field

The Greatest Show Under Turf

When the athletes at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler High School in Syracuse, NY played their last outdoor home game in fall 2009, no one could predict the challenges that would need to be addressed in order for an athletic facility of this scale to return to the site. The athletic field was torn up to construct a building addition. The boys and girls soccer teams started to host their home games up the street at Burnett Park, and the track and field, lacrosse, and football games were played at other area schools. For the students at Fowler High School, the feeling of the home game was forgotten.

LaBella Associates was hired to design a facility that would provide a long-lasting physical education space, as well as a venue that could support their many sports teams. The scope of work was to design a standard eight-lane track and associated synthetic turf field inside the lanes, with shotput and discus event facilities adjacent to the fenced-in facility. Additional features include home and away grandstands separated by stairs, a press box, and a concession building.

However, the most impressive part of this track and field facility lies underneath the turf and track. Informally dubbed “the greatest show under turf”, this facility utilized unique design and construction techniques that have made it like no other facility built. The varying soil strata outlined by hundreds of test borings led to an engineering strategy that would support the entire facility on a concrete structural slab supported by more than 1,350 driven timber piles.

Site Constraints and Soil Challenges

There were many hurdles to clear to make the opening of the facility in March 2021 a reality. On the surface, the site is in a floodplain, discharges to an impaired watershed, and is landlocked in an urban area between an existing development and city streets. The limited footprint in which to develop a track and field facility along with tennis courts, practice fields, and associated amenities presented a significant challenge. The track – with a competition-sized soccer field inside – only fits in one location within the District’s property limits.

The on-site soil conditions provided another major challenge. The facility was constructed on a brownfield site that was previously the Franklin Auto Plant and later the Carrier Corporation. In 1975, the plant was demolished, leaving some or all of the foundations of the old buildings. Additionally, peat was encountered throughout the site at thicknesses varying from zero to seventeen inches. The maximum peat thickness was encountered along the midfield, and the probability of differential settlement due to varying soil profiles was a concern.

Construction Solutions

To keep the track in tolerance over a design life of 15 years, several options were explored. Ultimately, this site was designed with deep timber pile foundations that would bear the load on stable native soil below the peat. A concrete “floor slab” was constructed over the piles to support both the track and the field.

Specifically, this unique facility was constructed on more than 1,350 timber piles. Using dual pile hammers, the piles were driven into the existing strata to create enough support for the installation of a structural slab.

Once the piles were in place, rebar was placed, and the slab was poured in sections due to the large scale of slab. To maintain the project schedule, construction progressed during the winter months and adequate cure times and temperatures were regulated by blanketing the structural slab sections as they were poured.

The track trench drain had to be recessed in the structural slab in order to meet the final grades. The slab was cast with a haunch in locations of the track drain catch basins and the trench drain was depressed into the concrete and doweled to the structural slab.

An Award-Winning Project

In December 2022, the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) recognized the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler as a winner in the Single Field category for its new athletic facility.

Held in Palm Springs, California in early December, the annual awards program supports the ASBA’s goal of promoting excellence in sports facility construction and design. Awards are given to the facility with recognition of participating ASBA members.

Home Field Advantage at Fowler High School

Check out the Fall 2021 issue of In Session, our semi-annual publication featuring lessons in design for K-12, for a more in depth story on how Fowler High School in Syracuse, NY overcame significant construction challenges to create their “field of dreams”.


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Video Case Study: Fowler High School’s “Field of Dreams”

Hear directly from Fowler’s Administration, Coaches, Student Athletes, and Owner’s Engineer.