Feature Article - July 2007
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Pump Up the Fun

What’s new on the playground?

By Stacy St. Clair

Under cover

Just a few short years ago, Warnick Jewish Day School faced a recreational dilemma. The school, located in Foster City, Calif., liked to give students a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, but officials didn't want them exposed to the merciless elements.

"This place gets intense sunlight," said Bill Post, Warnick's director of operations. "California has a lot of wonderful qualities, but we use a lot of sunscreen here."

To combat the problem, the school installed two shade structures. One went over the picnic area, and the other covered the playground.

It's no exaggeration to say the decision may very well help save lives. Experts say placing shade protection over playgrounds serves as an invaluable strategy in the fight against skin cancer.

The depletion of the earth's ozone is increasing our exposure to the sun's dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. With more than 1 million new cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer currently ranks among the fastest-growing cancers in the United States. A baby born today is twice as likely to develop skin cancer as a child born 10 years ago. Research also shows that as few as two severe sunburns during childhood double the chance of developing potentially deadly melanoma later in life.

One American dies of melanoma every 65 minutes, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In 2007, an estimated 8,110 deaths will be attributed to melanoma in the United States, while another 2,740 will be from other types of skin cancer. A staggering 5,220 men and 2,890 women will succumb to melanoma, with older white Caucasian males having the highest mortality rates.

Worldwide, the numbers are even more staggering. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 60,000 people a year die from too much sun, mostly from malignant skin lesions. About 90 percent of these deaths stem from overexposure to UV rays.

Though the human toll is the most important reason to worry about skin cancer's deadly impact, there are also fiduciary reasons for concern. Each year, the total direct cost of treating non-melanoma skin cancer alone is a jaw-dropping $1.5 billion.

But the benefits of shade structures go beyond just protecting kids' health. The shade structures also allow the equipment to be used in inclement weather, thus bolstering usage and providing constant fitness opportunities. In short, this once-optional park amenity has become a required element where the public's health and welfare is concerned.

Fortunately, the shade industry has proven a willing ally in the fight against UV ray exposure with long-lasting, durable and attractive components. The best elements offer extensive warranties and come in a range of colors and shapes.

At Warnick Jewish Day School, the shade structures have bolstered outdoor programming. Students now eat their lunches under the shade structures, while the playground is getting more use than it ever did before.

The shade elements give children a place to play even during inclement weather. Having a rainy-day option is an important perk in Foster City, where the residents are no strangers to daily precipitation.

"It was awful before," Post said. "Kids were in rain or direct sunlight. There was no protected area on the entire campus."

Post now cheers his shade structures, which he says are well-constructed and shield his students well in both rain showers and sunshine. The structures also add a little pizzazz to the campus.

"The shade structure is the single best thing we have going on campus," Post said. "We have no regrets and would do it again. It's one of the favorite creature comforts."

When purchasing a new shade system, be sure to ask yourself several questions: What is the warranty on rust through corrosion on metal components? What is the deterioration warranty on fabric canopies, including stitching thread? And, most importantly, what percentage of UV rays does the canopy screen?