Feature Article - September 2007
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Special Accommodations

Meeting Special Needs with Shelters, Shade and Other Park Structures

By Stacy St. Clair

Under the Arizona Sun

In Surprise, Ariz., officials used colorful shade structures as part of the innovative design at DreamCatcher Park. The unique sporting venue was specifically designed to attract and encourage athletes with physical disabilities.

Since its opening in March 2007, the multi-use facility has garnered national attention. Inspired by the Miracle League—a nonprofit organization that aims to give all children a chance to play baseball, regardless of their physical abilities—the artificial playing field was built with special-needs patrons in mind. The playing surface is designed so wheelchairs and walkers can move easily. There are wider gates at the field entrances, as well as wheelchair-accessible stadium seating, dugouts, concession stands and restrooms.

The thoughtful design even considers the fans' needs. The stadium-style seating is covered with a custom-fitted shade structure. While the shading may not be considered an essential park furnishing, the covering actually makes the park even more accessible.

"It's important because a lot of kids with special needs are also heat-sensitive," said Steven Groves, board president of the Miracle League of Arizona. "Shade and what's overhead needs to be just as important as what's underfoot."

The fabric shade structures provide an aesthetic touch while blocking dangerous UV rays to provide a cool and comfortable environment for spectators. Their selection was based on team collaboration on color, fabric and design. Several factors were taken into consideration, including the aesthetics of the facility, the overall facility design, durability, sun protection and how it reflected the sun from the playing field.

DreamCatcher's shade structures also follow a popular trend in recreation design. Sporting venues across the country now include shelters and shade elements as an integral part of their design.

Shade—whether fabric toppers over bleachers and dugouts or centralized and permanent pavilion structures—has become a priority. Sun protection for both staff and citizens has moved to the forefront as risk awareness has reached a fever pitch.