Upper Arlington eyeing solutions to drainage issues at Northam Park

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
City of Upper Arlington

The Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Department will employ new tactics for turf maintenance at Northam Park’s athletic fields this year, with an eye on a $1 million project to enhance drainage throughout the park in 2022.

Each spring and into the early part of summer, one of the biggest challenges to providing access to the youth programs in Upper Arlington is the sogginess of fields, according to Clayton Hall, Bear Cub Baseball president.

“There’s just some fields where the drainage is poor,”  Hall said while also acknowledging some of the issues obviously are seasonal. “There are always wet spots in the outfield through spring. Water just kind of flows back into the middle of the park, which is where all our fields are.”

Bear Cub Baseball, which in 2021 will celebrate its 76th season, usually tries to start practices in late March or early April.

But Hall said the combination of drainage issues throughout the spring and summer and the high traffic the park sees throughout the year – from youth sports, to serving as the site of the Upper Arlington Civic Association’s July 4 Party in the Park and the city’s Labor Day Arts Festival – also result in issues in the fall for Upper Arlington Youth Football.

“It’s wet in the spring and grass never has a chance to recover because the park is used nonstop,” Hall said. “The fields during the fall for football are bad.

“By the time you get to fall, the grass is pretty sparse on the fields.”

The issues aren’t new.

Jeff Anderson, Upper Arlington’s parks development and arts superintendent, said drainage problems at Northam have developed over time. He added there are several low-lying areas in the park, particularly around the tennis complex and athletic fields, where drains back up during storms and sometimes causes flooding.

That’s why the department has been working since last year to develop short- and long-term strategies for these issues.

This year, the physical work will include additional seeding, aeration and irrigation practices on the four ball diamonds and two other sports fields.

“We will be improving our seeding with additional applications throughout the season and the use of quality high-traffic tolerant turf species and rounding out the program with improved fertilization, including an increase in necessary applications, applying fertilizers with nutrient ratios specific to soil needs and the use of soil amendments,” Anderson said. “Long term, the city will be looking to complete grading and drainage improvements in the athletic field area. 

“The extent of these improvements will be determined as part of the drainage plan. Athletic fields may be realigned as discussed during the schematic design study last year, but will be in generally the same areas that they are today.”

The parks and rec staff is expected to present an overall drainage plan to City Council this summer. Anderson said it will seek to address the park as a whole and provide a guide for future improvements.      

Although the plan still is being completed, city officials estimate at least initial work, likely to take place in early spring 2022, will cost approximately $1 million.

“We anticipate a focus on resolving some immediate needs of flood reduction and provision of a modular system allowing for future phases,” Anderson said. “The focus of Phase I will likely be on the installation of underground utilities and sewer lines that may not be readily visible to most park-goers, but is necessary for determining what future above-ground improvements should occur.”

While the drainage work is being planned, Anderson said the department also will focus on several operational updates this year, including plans to address several “minor updates and repairs” to the tennis complex before this season. 

Anderson said that work, which will be performed by department staff, will include enhancing the complex’s appearance with landscaping and the addition of trees around the office building, as well as repairs to the exterior of the building.

The city also is planning to replace damaged women’s restroom light covers, power wash the facilities and complete touch-up painting.

“As plans are finalized, we will collaborate with our sports organizations in an effort to minimize any impacts to usage with both the short-term plan and infrastructure upgrades,” Anderson said.

Hall said city officials historically have done a good job of communicating plans for work at the Northam and other parks, and he’s eager to see more details about how they intend to alleviate drainage problems throughout the park.

“We know the park can’t be a baseball complex because it’s still a main park for the city,” Hall said. “If the drainage was fixed, we wouldn’t lose as much field time.

“We’d like to see the park improved. If step one is the drainage, we’ll take what we can get.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate