The STRI team, led by operations director Richard Hayden, was appointed to deliver world class playing surfaces in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kiev where extreme climate conditions prevail and they have been working diligently since to deliver pitches fit to grace Europe’s football elite throughout the tournament.
Having already overseen the delivery of pitches at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev as well as the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, STRI was then commissioned in January 2011 by FC Metalist club owner Oleksandr Yaroslavsky to design, project manage and direct a new state of the art natural turf pitch.
The Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, which has a capacity of 38,863 and was fully renovated in 2009, will host all three of the Netherlands group matches in the European Championship finals.
STRI was tasked with designing a pitch to function and live in a stadium environment with all the associated shade and microclimate issues and also survive -25C to +37C air temperatures.
Explaining how STRI was appointed in Kharkiv, Richard Hayden says: “FC Metalist club owner Oleksandr was aware of our solid reputation in the delivery of pitches around the world and the work we had already undertaken in Kiev and Donetsk. He had a vision to re-create Arsenal in the Ukraine.
“FC Metalist had a failing pitch at that time and the extreme climatic conditions in Kharkiv meant they were considering a proposal to move to synthetic turf. Our appointment based on our experience and expertise to build pitches was seen as the last chance for natural grass and to turn the pitch around.”
As part of the technology STRI has developed a system to improve the management of natural turf in extreme environments over the past five years; this new generation of pitch ventilation and vacuum design is called STRI ISASS (In Situ Air Sparging System).
The design of the system, unlike anything else on the market, incorporates a network of cleverly placed drainage pipes linked to a series of main artery pipes. They are all linked to a giant fan which allows air to pressurise the pitch with hot air in ventilation mode and to pull water from the pitch in suction mode.
Combining the system with a customised suspended water table profile, a glycol heated undersoil heating system and high powered 1,000 watt lighting units creates a microclimate at the pitch surface allowing grass to grow and recover in extremely low temperatures.
Faced with significant logistical obstacles to deliver the STRI ISASS within the Ukraine, STRI commenced construction of the pitch in April 2011 which was ready for seeding a month later with the first game played on the new surface in July 2011.
Despite suffering its harshest winter in 40 years with temperatures of -25C recorded in February 2012 necessitating a reseeding of the pitch, the technology installed by STRI ensured no fixture postponements although heavy usage in conditions as low as -20 did take its toll. The model relies on the technology to allow the pitch to recover from such use without losing fixtures.
With the European Championship finals just three months away Richard Hayden summarises: “Having another state of the art pitch in Ukraine will continue to improve the image of natural turf in extreme climates. STRI has demonstrated that by combining ground breaking technology with our knowledge and expertise it is possible to have great natural turf regardless of the location.”
Sports Turf Research Institute