Building an indoor sand court can be challenging for many. We decided to build a sand court side by side with regular indoor courts which was even more challenging. After researching other facilities and experimenting on our own, here is how the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association in Sterling VA did it:
We were asked many questions about how we would make the sand court. “How are you going to prevent sand from getting everywhere in the facility?” “How is your courtside shower going to work?” “How did you get the sand in the court?” One of our biggest concerns was making sure our other courts didn’t become a mess. The sand box was built with plywood, literally creating a sand box (see picture 1). We tried not to forget that a VERY large amount of sand was going to be placed inside the box so a solid structure was essential. To make sure the sand didn’t slip through the wood cracks, we initially tried silicon, which worked for a little bit but with the natural movement of the wood, sand started to seep through the cracks. To solve the problem, we combined two methods by adding small pieces of plywood on the outside and duct tape or glue on the inside. The structure needs to be very firm, therefore brackets are needed to hold the structure together from the outside.
We wanted to maximize the space of our court so we decided to add more short brackets rather than longer ones, which worked out very well. Adding the brackets created a problem on the outside of the sand court however, safety. The brackets were exposed and became a risk for an ankle injury. We solved that problem by adding thin pieces of wood on the outside of the court. Remember that once you build the sand court, the court will be higher than the other courts (if you build by indoor courts) and you will need rails. Make sure your rails are firm and well-built so they can sustain the weight of a player hitting it (see picture 2).
We also decided to build a deck, which at first I thought to be a luxury but after building it we learned it was a necessity (see picture 3). The deck serves two purposes: to allow others to watch or wait to play, and in our case, allow us to build a ramp for handicap access or any other type of heavy machinery access (something to change an overhead light for example). Don’t forget that wood becomes quite slippery with sand so it is essential to finish the wood completely and to buy the black anti-slip tape in order to make it as safe as possible (see picture 4). The safety precautions included having to pad the deck (see picture 5 & see picture 6). Because our sand court is relatively small, we wanted to make sure there was a low chance of injury for our athletes. We conducted a lot of research to find out the most cost effective way to pad our deck. We obtained quotes for personalized pool pads but the cost was very prohibitive. Our solution was to buy ceiling isolation pads. These pads are not cheap but cheaper than the personalized pool pads. They are also much more sustainable and firmer than regular foam.
Thankfully, due to extensive research, we purchased the correct type of sand for our court on the first try (see picture 7). Our sand court has white sand, which we much prefer over river sand. River sand has a tendency to spread and coat other areas in the facility, as we saw when we visited other indoor sand courts. The 150 tons of white sand we purchased stands 14-16 inches deep, and for the most part, stays in the sand court and creates little to no maintenance for the indoor courts around it. The only time we had sand dust on the indoor courts was during the stage of construction when we transported the sand into the box.
We found that the most efficient way to transfer the sand into the box was with heavy machinery (see picture 8). You will need either a bobcat or a company that has trucks that can dump the sand inside your facility (we learned that is not easy to find). We used a few bobcats, one outside to bring the sand in and two inside, remember to leave an area in your sandbox for the bobcat to go in and out. Be aware that this is a lot of work and you CAN NOT do it without heavy machinery. If you need to save money, this is not an area to skimp; it is better to pay the extra money and get it done right the first time. Prepare yourselves for a very dusty facility at this time.
Once the sand has settled into the box, watering the court frequently is crucial to keeping the sand down. We purchased the best quality sand we could find. Even then, dealing with dust is inevitable. When you first start playing in the sand the dust will noticeably rise; to keep it down, you will need to water the sand once or twice a week depending on the time of the year, how much use the sand court is getting, and how much ventilation you are applying to the top of the sand. We purchased an irrigation system from Home Depot which made it much easier to water the court (see picture 9). The most efficient way to water the court is by turning on the system for about 15 minutes per side. By pre-determining how much pressure is enough to irrigate the court, you can make sure that the water will not spread beyond the sandbox and get the surrounding areas wet. Also, keep in mind that the net should not get too wet, for it will retain water which later drains to a single location on the sand. This will result in having an excess amount of water in one location.
A question you may be asking yourself is: where does the water go? The answer is that the water simply evaporates. If you have a fan running, the water will evaporate at an even faster rate (see picture 10). With all this water cycling through the area, ventilation is most definitely needed to prevent mold. As mentioned before, the sand needs to be watered frequently. When the water evaporates, the excess moisture can settle in the corners and crevices of your facility. It is important to have a good ventilation system in order to prevent your facility from obtaining mold. Our facility is a 40,000 square foot facility with air conditioning in it. We learned that the moisture coming from one sand court will not be an issue in a facility of our size with AC. Although in a smaller space, too much moisture will likely cause problems. Also, if your facility has metal frames, the moisture accumulates faster on metal, so make sure you have the proactive resources for excess moisture. If your facility has AC, sand dust can get in the filter and create an issue. If there is a plan to increase the amount of sand courts in your facility, you should be aware that there is greater risk of mold and air filter damage. The safest strategy would be to add an exhaust fan to the facility to decrease chances for both scenarios.
We were fortunate enough to be able to install a shower system on the deck of our sand court (see picture 11). This project took a good amount of time because of the endless list of questions we had before even constructing it. We quickly learned that an inside shower system would be cost prohibitive and time consuming. It was hard to imagine a sand court without a shower though. Our goal was to create a shower system without having to break through the concrete or having to build a gas heating system. To do so, we connected pipes from the closest bathroom all the way to the ceiling of the building, ultimately connecting with the sand court (see picture 12). One pipe was for the water feed and the other one for disposing water. To keep the water warm during the winter, we first tried a small electric water heater which would work for small usage but when we got busy it couldn’t keep up with the demand. We then purchased a larger, electric heating system that kept water in it. The system worked well but if showers were too long, we would run out of water. The final and best solution was to buy a water mixing valve (see picture 13). We turned the heating system up to hot and the mixing valve down to almost cold. The water was being mixed while only using a small fraction from the heating system, making the warm water last much longer.
To dispose of the water we made a few changes along the way. The most important thing is to not get sand in your pipes. To solve that problem, we placed a large bucket under the shower to accumulate water before it was disposed. The sand stays at the bottom and only needs to be cleaned every once in awhile. We then purchased a powerful automatic water pump to make the water go up the pipe to the ceiling and dispose in the bathroom. The pump comes with a float, and once the rising water pushes the float, the pump is activated (see picture 14). A drainage system is not necessary, but is highly recommended because of the low maintenance once it is finally installed.
So far we have been extremely pleased with our results. We thought the sand court would be a resource that we would only use during the winter and cold days. Sometimes even on sunny days we decide to practice inside because of the quality of the court. If you have the resources, we highly recommend the construction of an indoor sand court. Make sure you do your homework before you begin the process. We hope this article helps and we are looking forward to seeing the growth of beach volleyball in the USA.
Northern Virginia Volleyball Association President/CEO
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