Supplement Feature - April 2020
Find a printable version here

Everything In Its Place

Furnish Your Site the Right Way

By Deborah L. Vence

When strolling through a park, you might not think that much about the bench you're sitting on, or the trash receptacle nearby, or the table that you use for a family picnic. But actually, a lot of thought can go into choosing those park furnishings.

Selecting the right materials for your park site "often comes down to location, location, location," said Bob Simonsen, marketing manager for an Iowa-based company that manufactures park products.

How to Choose the Right Materials

"Environmental features of different locations can favor one material over others," Simonsen said. "Damp and humid areas would be better served by recycled plastic or thermoplastic-coated steel components rather than lumber. But a hot, sunny location might use lumber, because steel and the dense plastic components can act like heat sinks making them uncomfortable to sit on."

What's more, "High elevation locations that receive lots of snow during the winter need special materials and designs built to withstand tons of snow load until the spring thaw," he added.

Geoffrey Munro, creative director at a Naperville, Ill.-based company that manufactures park and recreation equipment, said that nearly all of the products are engineered for high-volume use in all weather conditions.

"Steel is a very sturdy and malleable material that allows for dynamic designs," Munro said. "The downside is its susceptibility to corrosion—modern thermally applied plastic coating goes a long way to prevent corrosion and offer a wide variety of color options.

"Stainless steel is another way to finish steel to prevent corrosion, but as in the name, it 'stains less'. Galvanizing is another finish that coats the steel with zinc leaving a 'spangled' pattern that is varied depending upon the level of quality of the finishing process, some galvanizing results in a mirror-like shine, while others result in a matted light grayish tone," he said. "Aluminum is naturally corrosion-resistant, lightweight and can be engineered to be very sturdy in a wide variety of forms."

An option that has become popular for sustainability is recycled plastic. "It helps keep plastic out of landfills by repurposing the material," Munro said. "Depending upon color options, it has the look of wood, but does not require maintenance and is easy to repair cuts and gouges and is resistant to paint. It also does not rust or harbor mold, but it has a tendency to lose rigidity in overly hot or sunny environments. Extra reinforcement and bracing can go a long way in these types of environments … due to their rust-free nature they are popular for areas along the ocean and areas with a lot of precipitation and humidity."

Also, "Concrete will last a long time in just about any environment and only needs very minimal maintenance (occasional sealcoating). Concrete does employ steel rebar for reinforcement—if that steel gets exposed to the elements it can begin to rust. It is naturally vandal-proof due to its weight," he said. "They very rarely grow legs on their own. Concrete also works great for perimeter security."

Finally, "Wood has a classic natural look that is always inviting," he added. "Wood amenities are usually engineered with steel or concrete frames."

When choosing park furnishings, "You look for an attractive appearance, but there are two qualities that are equally important—strength and longevity," noted Emma Skalka, Hon. ASLA, vice president of sales and marketing for a Maryland-based company that specializes in site furnishings such as litter receptacles, benches and planters.

Her company's new collection "showcases beauty, strength and longevity to stunning effect. Constructed with ipe wood, one of the toughest hardwoods available, it's extremely resistant to decay, abrasion, insects and weather. This added strength protects against the elements and vandalism, while aging beautifully over time," she said.

"When measuring for quality in your site materials, take into account recycled content, wood species, thickness of the finish and weight," she added.

Mimi Marler, marketing manager for a company in Red Bud, Ill., that manufactures commercial recreation products, said with a wide range of products and materials designed to meet every outdoor amenity need, her company's "products come in a variety of materials including thermoplastic, powder coat, recycled plastic, wood and aluminum."

Marler explained that once the communities' needs are evaluated, her company proposes products within three main categories. For example, some products have a high-end feel and feature powder coating, while another collection features thermoplastic coating for lasting durability and classic design to meet traditional park aesthetics. Another collection features products with 100% recycled plastic. "These products contain recycled material, like your everyday milk jugs, and divert these products that would otherwise end up in a land fill to create beautiful, functional site furnishings," she said.

"Wood allows you to achieve a more natural look while maintaining the traditional park atmosphere, choose between untreated, pressure-treated or redwood stain. Aluminum is perfect for schools or athletic facilities, team benches and tables featuring aluminum planks with powder coated or hot dip galvanized frames," she said.