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Heating system gives Chiefs firm handle on field conditions

The national spotlight and attention of the sports world will definitely fall Sunday upon Arrowhead Stadium, site of the AFC Championship Game.

Then again, plenty of attention has been directed toward the stadium — specifically, its field — for more than a week.

Last weekend’s snowstorm, followed by a forecast “arctic blast” that was predicted to drive game-time temperatures well below freezing — combined with a re-sodded grass playing surface — made Arrowhead a hot topic ahead of the Chiefs-Patriots championship clash.

Forecast temperatures for game time have increased to the 20s and 30s over the course of the week. The field re-sodding was completed on Thursday, and the tarp was covering the playing surface on Friday.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid lauded the grounds crew following last week’s game, and on Friday he expressed little concern about the field conditions this weekend.

“I think it is tight — I think they have done a nice job,” Reid said before quipping, “I just told them to loosen up the side the Patriots are on and we will be OK.”

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Part of the reason the field isn’t a primary concern for Reid and he feels comfortable enough to joke about it can be attributed to a heating system designed by a company in the heart of Patriots territory.

Watts Water Technologies, Inc., based in North Andover, Mass., owns the technology that heats the field surface at — the high-efficiency condensing boiler.

Before anyone theorizes about Patriots coach Bill Belichick manipulating field conditions, a KC company handled the installation of the heating system.

Eric Woster is the Kansas City Branch Manager for Blackmore & Glunt, the local Watts Aerco boiler plant representatives, and he was involved in the project from inception in December 2013 to completion in 2016. And he’s also a lifelong Chiefs fan who grew up in Shawnee, Kan.

Deep breath!

“When I first get the call that the Kansas City Chiefs are thinking about a turf warming system, let’s go talk to them, the first thing you always think is this sounds a little like pie in the sky,” Woster said reflectively. “But it was around the football game, so yeah let’s go talk to them. They just stuck with us through the whole thing from start to finish. I’m glad that they did and I’m glad that everything works.”

Numerous meetings and the addition of multiple partners in the form of construction crews and contractors were in place by the time the system was actually sold in April 2015.

The field installation portion of the project, usually a three-month process, got done in roughly one month due to Arrowhead’s summer concert and events schedule in 2015 and the need to complete the installation before the Chiefs began their preseason schedule. More than 20 miles of 3/4-inch tubes went underground and a new field surface went down over the top of it.

Building a boiler room at the stadium, installing a hydronic heating system and running pipes from the system to the field all happened between September 2015 and May 2016. Blackmore and Glunt started up the system and calibrated the boilers on June 3, 2016. Natural gas heats the water.

“There are large manifolds that are on either side of the field and the tubing runs from one side of the field short-ways over to the other,” Woster said. “Of course, those manifolds are all underground. One’s a supply manifold and the other is a return manifold, so the pumps that are in the mechanical room pump the water around in a circle.”

The field includes approximately a dozen temperature sensors that allow the grounds crew to monitor the temperature, and they have the ability to adjust the water coming through the tubes from 50 degrees to 150 degrees in order to regulate field conditions.

Head groundskeeper Travis Hogan, a member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, oversees a crew of four full-time and three part-time workers who oversee the Arrowhead field as well as two outdoor practice fields: and indoor practice field and the team’s training camp field in Saint Joseph.

In other words, it’s all safe from Belichick’s clutches.

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