Pay Attention to Quality, Environment When Furnishing Your Site
Site furnishings bring character and balance to a park's open space, with benches, water fountains and picnic tables being just a few of the common accessories you can find.
But furnishing your park site requires careful planning, too, with one of the best ways being to understand or determine the common or intended use for your specific areas.
"Is it a space for people to congregate and relax? Or is it more activity-focused (playground, ball field, hiking or walking trails)?" said Austin Bell, product data manager for a North Aurora, Ill.-based manufacturer of commercial outdoor furniture. "Understand the environment type. Is it a wild/natural space or more of a landscaped/maintained area? Consider maintenance necessity and availability of the chosen furnishings."
When planning for specific areas of your site, another factor you have to consider is size. That is, the overall footprint of the site and, when it comes to picnic tables and benches, tabletop design, seating capacity, shape, style and length, noted Alan Robbins, president of an Akron, Ohio-based company that manufactures plastic outdoor furniture.
Victoria McCallum, marketing coordinator for a company that manufactures wood, metal and recycled benches, receptacles, ash urns, planters, picnic tables, bike racks, grills, tree guards and paver-grates., agreed, saying that the biggest consideration is size, for example, length of benches and accessibility.
"Our products typically [are] used as accessories to facilitate a particular purpose, i.e., picnic tables for a picnic area. As far as which items are the best choice, this will depend on use, aesthetics, budget and other factors," McCallum said.
In addition, keep in mind wheelchair accessibility when planning; as well as mounting options, whether the furnishings are above ground, in ground or portable; the surface: grass, stone or concrete; and location, whether it's a park, pool, streetscape or plaza, Robbins noted.
When it comes to knowing which particular site furnishings are the best ones to choose, "You'll have to do your homework and due diligence to understand what commercial products are best for your opportunity," Robbins said.
"Do not be trapped in to purchasing lower quality or residential quality materials and designs and think that they will hold up to the rigors or a commercial park. It just won't work," he said, adding that products that are needed to plan for your site include picnic tables, park benches, waste receptacles, entrance and wayfinding signage, new walkways, picnic pavilions and parking areas.
As far as materials go, recycled plastics for low maintenance are important, as well as steel, aluminum, combination materials, wood, powder-coated or plastic-coated metals and concrete, he said, noting that you should also keep in mind the types of fasteners: stainless-steel hardware vs. zinc-plated, and if there's a warranty offered.
In addition, "Be sure you know what you are paying for: fully assembled, partially assembled [or] completely unassembled," added Dave Robbins, sales and marketing director for the Akron, Ohio-based company.
The Biggest Benefits
Getting the most value out of your site furnishings starts with buying a quality product.
"Many retail stores sell outdoor furniture, but it's built down to a price point and designed for consumer or backyard use. Parks and campgrounds need to invest in equipment that is designed and fabricated for public use and exposure," said Bob Simonsen, marketing manager for a Cherokee, Iowa-based company that manufactures park, street and camp site products.
"This 'commercial quality' equipment may cost more to buy, but will last longer, with fewer repair needs, and won't have to be replaced as frequently. It may be an old cliché, but you do get what you pay for," he said.
"There is no shortage of good companies in the U.S. that make these commercial furnishings. The parks and campgrounds have many choices available to them," he said.
Bell added that you can have the most value out of your furnishings with usability and durability.
"What's the point of having the furnishings if they are uncomfortable or difficult to use?" Bell asked. "Items that break or wear out become a money sink."
And, Alan Robbins suggested sourcing out products that have reduced maintenance costs: no painting, no splinters, no rot, stainless steel fasteners, ease of assembly and installation.
"Buy products that have a long life expectancy. Select a product that does not need to be removed during winter periods," he said. "[And], buy eco-friendly, recycled content products."
You can get the most value through frequent inspection and giving prompt attention to any maintenance issues, McCallum noted.
"As products are used they will be scratched and scuffed. These need to be touched up. Semi-annual or annual inspections and cleanings are recommended," she said.
Regular maintenance is one of those things everybody knows they should be doing. But it often doesn't get done due to constraints of time, money and available staff.
"For charcoal grills, we'd recommend that at least the fireboxes get cleaned out by removing the leftover charcoals and ash on the bottom," Simonsen said.
"All steel exposed to air and moisture will eventually rust. The rusting process is accelerated where the used coals and ash are left sitting on the bottom of the firebox," he said. "A little rain or water from a lawn sprinkler, added to these ashes will create an alkaline mixture that is highly corrosive to steel. The solution is to regularly clean out the used coals and ash from the grills."
Similarly, campfire rings should be cleaned out of the leftover wood, coals and ashes. Most fire rings have anchors that allow the ring to tip up so scooping up these ashes is easier.
"For picnic tables and benches that include lumber components, we'd suggest that the wood be water sealed or painted annually," he said. "This is, however, a time-consuming and expensive project if you have many tables. If this program can't be a regular part of the customer's budget, then we recommend at least using treated lumber that will resist the natural elements of weather, insects and decay."
Bell noted that typical maintenance issues include waste management and furnishing repair; while Dave Robbins suggested that "Based upon what you buy, the idea would be to buy something that does not need to be maintained."
Furthermore, "Maintenance costs would include fully burdened manpower wages, transportation and vehicle costs to location, painting, metal repair, supervisory costs, tool rental and replacement material and supplies costs," Alan Robbins said.
McCallum said she would "refer them to our maintenance statement on our website. Costs involved will vary, but are minor compared to no maintenance being done at all. We typically provide touch-up paint at no charge."
To protect against vandalism and graffiti, experts say it's important to consider proper location, lighting and surveillance as being the greatest deterrents.
"From a product standpoint, recycled plastic due to its closed-cell physical properties is resistant to graffiti, and powder coatings are available in anti-graffiti formulations for an upcharge," McCallum said. "Products that can be pressure-washed help graffiti come loose."
Another suggestion is to buy commercial equipment designed for public use.
"We factor in some level of abuse when we are designing our … equipment," Simonsen said. "By using heavy-gauge steel for grills and campfire rings and table frames, and solid steel bars instead of tubes or wires for cooking grates, we make it harder for someone to randomly damage these furnishings. But some determined vandals will find a way.
"We had a customer who reported that a camper tried to steal a charcoal grill by pulling it out of the ground with his 4x4 pickup and a chain. If some, maybe remote, areas are more prone to vandalism, then you will want to install site furnishings that are built even stronger than most," he said.
"Pedestal tables with posts cemented into footings will deter theft. Steel materials for tabletop and seats can withstand more abuse than lumber. And it's not only abuse from humans. Animals can also damage tables and benches," he added.
Bell noted that keeping areas well-lit when possible is a good way to ward off vandalism. In addition, he suggested "using furnishings that are designed to resist vandalism and graffiti; [and] replacing/repairing damaged items in a timely manner so as not to encourage additional damage."
Moreover, Alan Robbins recommended selecting a material that can be easily cleaned should graffiti/vandalism occur. Things to consider include "product design, material system ability to be cleaned of graffiti, and durability of construction," he said.
Even if you have a limited budget, you still can plan for site furnishings.
One way to keep costs down is through public-private partnerships, Dave Robbins suggested.
Another factor to consider is the actual furniture.
"From our perspective as an equipment manufacturer, the best way to keep maintenance costs as low as possible is to install furnishings with features that will accommodate the site," Simonsen said.
"For example, we have many public park and rental companies with properties in vacation areas along the coasts. Charcoal grills are popular site amenities here, but the moist, salty environment is hard on steel," he said.
"For these sites we'd suggest stainless steel grills. The initial cost is more, but the maintenance and replacement costs are reduced," he explained.
"Simple things like cleaning out grill fireboxes and fire rings can have a significant effect on the lift of the unit. Regularly sealing wood components will also greatly extend the life of the wood. Since budget dollars are always limited, then it probably makes sense to buy higher quality products to start with so fewer future dollars don't have to be spent on repairs or replacement," he added.
Most importantly, buy products based on value vs. price, McCallum suggested.
"Site furnishings are typically a very small percentage of the overall development costs, yet cutting here typically can be the most visible," she said.
Similarly, Bell said to find durable products.
"Most site furnishings are made to order and require assembly. Plan purchases in advance of the need date to keep shipping (expedited shipping is expensive) and labor (overtime labor for assembling/placing furnishings) costs down," he said.
Another course of action to take is to find out if there are grant funds available.
Are "charitable, individual or business donors available? Is this a project that could be stretched out over a few years to keep the yearly cash flow under control?" Alan Robbins said, also suggesting to source out the products manufacturer.
"They usually offer the lowest purchasing cost option. Internet or catalog resellers usually offer the highest pricing levels or lowest quality of products," he said.
Furthermore, he recommended looking at the landed costs, too, which would include transportation costs to your location form the provider.
When it comes to price, "Commercial-grade site furnishings have a wide budget range dependent upon design and materials," Alan Robbins said. And, things to consider when budgeting for site furnishings include the source of funds, such as a maintenance budget and capital budget.
Find out: "Are there grant funds available? Are there charitable or individual donor resources available? Can these purchases be spread out over a few years to soften the annual cash outlay?" he said.