Supplement Feature - April 2012
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Site Spectacular

Finding the Right Park Furnishings

By Rick Dandes


Maintenance Issues

A critical part of any park project is not only what kinds of furnishings are appropriate and affordable, but also how to maintain them once they are set in place.

"I've been involved in two park projects," Hagstette said. "In both, we had to come to terms with the maintenance budget and the maintenance plan before our private donors were willing to sign on to provide the private funding. So, I think it's best to have that figured out early on and that you know the scenario you are dealing with as you make decisions about benches, fountains, trash receptacles and just about anything else. Because if you are not going to have the money to maintain things, that should be a huge factor in your decision-making."

Maintenance costs are determined largely by the quality and features of the material initially installed, explained Mike Elmore, product manager of a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based fence manufacturer. Cost of installation, amortized over the expected life cycle (how long is the product expected to last) should be looked at, he said. "Choosing proven products that are currently installed in other locations for extended periods of time and that have documented performance, should be number one on the list of parameters for product selection. Choosing products that are suitable for the intended purpose is equally critical."

Once installed, a simple, regular maintenance program is a smart way to protect your investment, Saner explained. "Cleaning and inspecting should start at the time that the products are installed, ensuring that construction materials such as concrete, paint and any other foreign materials are removed."

The best method of cleaning is by regularly washing off your furnishings with a solution of warm water and a non-abrasive, pH-neutral detergent solution. Also, any scratched areas should be touched up immediately. Wood slats over time will weather to a rustic grey and can be very attractive, however if this is not the appearance that you are looking for you will need to regularly apply a clear wood preservative to maintain the new wood appearance.

"This would be the same method used to maintain a wood deck," Saner said. "Maintenance schedules will vary anywhere from once a month to every six months depending on your environment."

Madden, of the Project for Public Spaces, has altogether another perspective on maintenance. She suggested working to establish a sense of ownership by the users—both from the outside and staff.

If you've broken the larger site into sub-sites, Madden said, ask the "stakeholders" around each place to evaluate it, come up with recommendations for how each would be used (the activities that would take place within each place), and ideally state how they could be involved.

"This develops a sense of ownership, and because of that, furnishings are maintained," she said. "An example of such a stakeholder is a chess club, who could take responsibility for the area where people play chess; they could do the programming for that area and would also make sure that it was well used and maintained. Clearly, they would have a vested interest in doing this well."