Feature Article - October 2009
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Under Cover

Shelters & Shade Structures

By Dawn Klingensmith

Lack of Shade a Liability?

It was a hot day on June 12, 2007, when Hailey Kuhn was waiting in line to ride a rollercoaster at Fiesta Texas, an amusement park in San Antonio. Hailey felt ill due to the heat and fainted. According to a lawsuit filed by her family, she fell 10 feet through a gap and landed on concrete. She is now a paraplegic, the lawsuit says.

At issue in the pending litigation is the lack of safety netting beneath the platform. In June 2009, the San Antonio Express-News reported that there is still no safety net, but that's not all. Reporter John Tedesco went on to write, "The hot South Texas sun still beats down on riders standing in line—there is little shade and no fans or water misters to keep them cool."

And as though put on the defensive, the park's president is quoted as saying, "Our park has a great deal of shade" and that it was unclear whether the ride's lack of shade caused Hailey to faint.

The sun is known to cause health consequences other than sunburn. And though an unsecured platform is being blamed in the lawsuit, in today's litigious society, it's plausible that lack of shade might one day trigger a lawsuit, if it hasn't already.

Having bought several shade structures for various parks and recreation facilities in Mesquite, Texas, Lauren Miller recommends finding a manufacturer that's a reasonable distance from the site. Also, "Look into the warranty," added Miller, the city's manager of park planning. "Ask if there are any installations nearby that you can look at. Does the company have a construction crew or subcontractor to do the installation, or will you need to find and hire a crew on your own?"

For his money, Miller prefers turnkey solutions so he only has to deal with a single company that handles design, manufacture and installation. "It can all happen from A to Z with one company," he said.

Other questions to ask are how long the components are expected to last, what type of follow-up service a company offers and what wind rating is required, Klug said.

Timing is another factor that comes into play. For example, if you manage a seasonal facility and need to get shade structures in place before opening day, it's important to select structures that are relatively quick and easy to erect. Except for the simplest solutions, such as umbrellas, shade structures don't just pop up in no time flat, and some take a considerable amount of time to construct, Haymann explained. Within the fabric category, a lightweight mesh structure is easier to install than a membrane fabric structure, which is heavier and requires a larger foundation. Often, construction overlaps with the start of the season and is disruptive, all because people underestimate the amount of time needed.

One of the most common mistakes Haymann sees is in new construction or major renovations. "People don't do enough planning on the front end," he said. "They think, 'Oh, this is just steel and fabric. We'll just pop it up in the end.'"

But it takes time to install shade structures properly, and a lot of people don't build it into the timeline, he added.

Wayne Pickett, recreation manager for the parks and leisure department in Lewisville, Texas, also has some words of wisdom with regard to planning. "Don't think that you have enough shade," he warned.

People tend to underestimate the need and demand for shade. It's far better to err on the side of plenty. "Try to incorporate as many shade structures as your space and budget will permit," Pickett said.

An aerial view of Lewisville's aquatic center would show a mushroom-like abundance of colorful shade structures. Picnic tables, lifeguard stations and the splash pad area are all protected. The lazy river meanders by "islands" that patrons can swim out to, and each is covered with a bright, cheery shade structure.