Guest Column - September 2014
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Sports Fields

Sporting Shade
Play It Cool While Playing Ball

By Sarah van Wezel

Multi-use sports parks and recreational facility operators are increasingly discovering that colorful shade features can enhance local revenue while providing a comfortable environment.

Athletes and spectators aren't just found in stadiums these days, but increasingly at local sports parks and athletic centers in their own communities. In general, participation in organized sports is on the rise; nearly 30 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports in the United States. Facility owners and operators as well as landscape architects now are tasked with designing and developing multi-use sports parks to accommodate the demand for a central location where soccer stars as well as skaters can convene.

The newer facilities often are state-of-the-art, with first-class fields, concession stands and bleacher seating, while also addressing key concerns such as sustainability and access for the disabled. The challenge is to create a cool and unique facility for spectators and participants alike.

This past December, the City of Carlsbad, Calif., completed its new 32-acre Alga Norte Community Park. The park sits atop some of the most desirable real estate in North San Diego County and features an aquatic center, San Diego County's largest skatepark, a dog park, three ball fields, basketball courts, a huge playground, and picnic and barbecue areas. Alga Norte Park currently isup for multiple design awards and just recently won an American Public Works Association (APWA) award for best new project in Southern California.

"We incorporated shade at our ball field picnic plaza, picnic shelter areas, tot lots, basketball courts, group picnic shelters, aquatic center concessions areas and the picnic shelter pool deck," said Liz Ketabian, park planning manager at the city of Carlsbad. Multiple shade designs and structural types work together beautifully to create the desired look the city and planners intended. The site's 36 shade structures include nine design concepts in fabrics colored to complement the overall design of the site.

"We worked with the landscape architects on the project to select the colors and also took into consideration the ongoing maintenance and aesthetics of the local master-planned community when making the color selections," Ketabian said. She emphasized the value of both shade and aesthetics in the City of Carlsbad's motivation to incorporate the fabric shade structures: "Our decision to add shade structures to the park was mainly for sun protection, but also for aesthetic value as well."

Advances in fabric architecture have increased the design and aesthetic options from which facility managers can choose. Buyers at cities also are getting more selective when they choose shade solutions. Structures that become a focal point for a community or facility, such as gazebos or pavilions, are expected to become more and more distinctive as cities and municipalities ask themselves what image they want to project.

Another world-class multi-use sports facility is the recently opened Toyota of Lewisville Railroad Park in Lewisville, Texas. The 274-acre athletic complex features eight lighted soccer fields with championship-quality hybrid turf and bleacher seating; four football fields with scoreboards; four baseball/softball fields with 400-foot outfield fences; three concession buildings with covered patios; three manmade lakes; a 1.5-mile walking trail; the city's first skatepark; and the city's first dog park.

The construction of the park took a little more than a year and cost $20 million, making it the largest capital project in the city's history. It was paid for through a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters for library and park projects. The city of Lewisville already has benefited financially, first with the naming rights, which were reached in a 10-year, $1.5 million dollar deal with Toyota of Lewisville.