AIS Training Center Uses Community Stadium Project as Learning Experience
The Grand Ledge, Michigan, community has come together to raise funds to install artificial turf at the 50-year-old Grand Ledge High School stadium and increase access to the athletic field.
"This is something people have talked about wanting to get done for a long time," says Craig Williams, Area Manager for Continental Equipment Co. in Lansing and a member of the Grand Ledge Community Stadium Steering Committee.
Rain soaked the field and left it vulnerable to damage. To protect the turf for Friday night football games, the school made it off limits for anyone else. The marching band had to practice in the parking lot. The football team practiced elsewhere as did the soccer and lacrosse teams. Williams' son plays lacrosse and looks forward to playing on the new synthetic-turf field.
"This will open access to the field to all sports," Williams says. "[The field] was an asset that was being underutilized. By putting artificial turf on it, it can be used by several sports and not just one."
Funding the Field
Over the years, the school district had considered bond referendums and other means of funding the stadium improvements. But in the end, the district did not think people would want their taxes to pay for improvements to the field, even though artificial turf would reduce maintenance expenses, eliminating the need to mow, irrigate or place chemicals. The school district currently spends about $75,000 annually on maintaining the field, according to a report in the Lansing State Journal.
A group of like-minded citizens joined forces in 2016 to tackle the Grand Ledge Community Stadium project. They developed a master plan, established committees, and researched turf and construction options. The committee members met with school officials and coaches. They visited the fields and in August of last year, they received approval from the Board of Education to begin fundraising to collect $650,000 pay for the project. More than 400 people and businesses have contributed. The project team even sold pieces of the old sod to raise money. Grand Ledge Public Schools donated $200,000 toward the project.
The steering committee decided to install synthetic turf that will provide a consistent, year-round surface that does not require recovery time. It's always ready to play on. While the synthetic turf cost more initially, it typically shows a return on investment in three to four years.
Research studies have shown people playing on artificial turf experience fewer muscle strains, ankle sprains, knee ligament injuries, concussions and severe injuries. Chemicals in the synthetic turf are below Environmental Protection Agency limits.
The field will have permanent markings for different sports. The improvements are expected to increase safety, expand opportunities for students and the community, and sustain cost efficiencies. It will be the first public school in the Lansing area with an artificial turf field.
Additionally, many businesses, including Continental Equipment, contributed in-kind donations. Multiple restaurants donated proceeds of their sales to the campaign. A. McLean & Son Trucking provided trucking. McGuirk Sand-Gravel in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, donated products and services, including GPS equipment, and a grader with GPS and a grader operator, Dave Geeck.
"˜Real World Experience'
On June 20, the community held a commencement ceremony. The school's maintenance department employees helped with moving bleachers and interior fences.
"It made our work go smoother," Williams says. "It's been a partnership."
Then work began with excavators provided by Continental Equipment. AIS Training Center in Lansing provided eight students to operate the equipment as part of their learning experience.
"They liked the real world experience on an active project," says Steve Higgins, Corporate Training Director for the AIS Training Center. "They were able to deal with problems that came up and with adversity of a real jobsite, which was valuable."
The students used a Komatsu D61PXi Intelligent Integrated Dozer, which came equipped with intelligent machine control. The project was laid out with GPS with no need for grade stakes or expensive engineering drawings. The operator used a map of the existing grade and went down exactly 4 inches, pushing the dirt into a pile. The team then started cutting to the base grade, using the GPS to accurately make the cut.
"The whole plan is on the dozer," Williams said. "If operators know how to move dirt and pull levers, they can put it to grade."
Continental Equipment also provided a Komatsu WA270 Loader and two Komatsu excavators, a PC120 and a PC30. McGuirk Sand-Gravel provided the Komatsu GD655 Motor Grader with GPS.
A drainage system was installed under the new turf. A limestone base was laid and a concrete curb surrounding the artificial turf poured. ProGrass crews will install the turf itself.
The project was completed in August in time for the school's first home football game. But fundraising continues. Weather created some challenges as did unexpected finds in the dirt.
"It has truly been a partnership between the public and the private," Williams says.
Training Future Operators
AIS Construction Equipment has been serving Michigan for more than 55 years. Larry Behrenwald, whose customer service commitment remains a tenet of AIS, founded the company. Since then, AIS has opened branches throughout the state. Continental Equipment has been serving customers since 1984.
The AIS Training Center opened in 1996 adjacent to the Lansing store. The National Center for Construction Education & Research-accredited center provides personalized courses, including Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards, mine safety and factory-certified machine operation. The heavy equipment operation training covers forklifts, backhoes, wheel loaders, excavators, motor graders and bulldozers. It offers a six-week and a 10-week version of the heavy equipment classes, with the 10-hour course providing the opportunity to learn more equipment.
The center is fully staffed and operates all year, winter as well as summer. The courses appeal to both high school graduates and adults seeking retraining. The school is approved by U.S. Veterans Affairs.