Feature Article - October 2014
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Made in the Shade

Shelters & Shade Structures to Set Your Site Apart

By Rick Dandes


Have a Plan

What kind of facility do you have? An aquatic center? A park? A sports facility? All could require slightly different shade structures. Graves and Fritz offered the following suggestions for specific facility types.

Fabric shade looks great in an aquatic environment. Brightly colored sails have a playful and whimsical look, perfect for covering pool areas and splashpads during those warm summer months. They can take on many shapes and sizes, making them ideal for waterparks where you need to get shade over slides and other play areas without obstructing views and blending perfectly into the design. They have a light and airy feel allowing the perfect balance of sun and shade. Fabric cantilevers will also assist with maximum shade cover with minimal ground obstructions.

When deciding on a design that best fits your site, look for a shade company that can take your ideas and combine them with their experience to create the perfect fit.

A variety of shade structures are available for sports parks, where people spend a good amount of time sitting in the afternoon sun. Dugouts are designed to not only shade a team, but to also integrate with the ballpark fencing that protects players when off the field. Cantilevered shelters can be used over bleachers to make the viewing experience more enjoyable for guests, as well as to protect them from inclement weather, or from burns associated with long periods of sitting in the sun. Concession stand covers and picnic areas are also valuable to sports parks. Food is a staple at these areas and protecting it from rain is a necessity.

Guests of amusement parks can have a much more enjoyable experience if there is shade over the waiting lines. Some parks have long ride wait times, and guests are more likely to wait if they are comfortable and protected from the elements. Concession stand and picnic pavilions are also a way for parks to provide shelter from the sun or rain. Attractions also benefit from shade. Carousel houses require a covering to protect and preserve the often delicate pieces of the ride.

Start with a plan for the shade structure. Location is obviously key. What else is around? How are the space and its surroundings currently used? Are there any planned local developments that might influence this space in the near future? Is there a certain demographic you are trying to draw into this area? Then work on the amount of square footage you are willing to give up. Are trees or other landscaping important to keep or add?

Next, decide the objective of the space. Do you want to create something large where a crowd could gather, or something small like a resting place along a pathway? Do you want the structure to draw attention and stand out, or blend in with its surroundings? What type of environment will this shelter be in? Will it be used year round? What budget do you need to stay within? How quickly do you need this shelter available for use?

When deciding on a design that best fits your site, look for a shade company that can take your ideas and combine them with their experience to create the perfect fit.

Choice of Materials

Cost, of course, is always a major factor in your choice of shade structures. Typically, fabric shading is more cost-effective than metal, harder structures, said Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based shade manufacturer. "Another consideration is the aesthetics. You can do a lot more interesting designs with fabrics. You can get multiple canopies in varying colors, all at interesting different angles and heights. You can create very imaginative designs, such as multi-level sails, and all that gets balanced against the cost because the more interesting it gets, typically the more expensive it gets."

There are several installation considerations. Different designs allow for more flexibility in where support columns can be located. If you are a park manager looking to outfit an existing site, you might be more limited in what you can do. Whatever it is you are trying to shade, you also have walkways, landscaping and lighting poles. You need to think about where the support columns for the shade structure are going to go, bearing in mind that these types of structures typically get concrete foundations. Keep in mind that there are ways to engineer it so that the columns go out of the way and don't disturb the existing infrastructure.

Weather also has to be factored into your buying decision, noted Patti Abrecht, vice president, architectural division, of a Dallas, Texas-based shade and fabric structure manufacturer. "For parts of the country where outdoor activity is impacted by sun and warm temperatures," she advised, "fabric shade structures provide a cost-effective, functional as well as aesthetically pleasing solution."

The breathability of a "mesh" high-density polyethylene, UV stabilized membrane provides for not only the reduction of temperature, but also the important protection of children and equipment. The "mesh" can also block out up to 96 percent of UV rays. While solid metal or other materials offer protection from UV, they also can hold and trap heat; the openness of a mesh fabric product allows air to pass through and instead, provides a release of heat and, thus, cooler temperatures and comfort.

"Weather is critical for us," agreed Tom White, landscape architect, city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Parks and Rec department. "We have exercise equipment and a combination of tents and sails. Our structures are mostly comprised of fabrics. Maintenance is a big factor. The ease of taking it down and putting it back up, especially in hurricane season. We look to get annual contacts to deal with that and board up facilities when a hurricane approaches. We need a decent sized crew on hand to do that."