Feature Article - October 2014
Find a printable version here

Made in the Shade

Shelters & Shade Structures to Set Your Site Apart

By Rick Dandes

Considering that exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays is the leading cause of skin cancer, it's hard to overstate the importance of having strategically placed shade structures in parks, school playgrounds or other recreation facilities. But protecting patrons isn't the only benefit shelters and shade structures can provide.

Having shade structures also can help pay the bills. Manufacturers of contemporary shade structures cite surveys indicating that people will stay longer at facilities where they feel safe and more comfortable, thus consuming more concessions and increasing facility revenue. Meanwhile, park and recreation administrators know there is one other significant benefit to having an effective shade structure that has little to do with aesthetics: It can reduce the deterioration rate of plastics and powder-coat finishes, thereby actually extending the life of the playground or recreational equipment it covers. Since most outdoor equipment with its related surfacing represents a substantial investment, extra years of life actually helps pay for the relatively economical cost of the structure.

Shade structures come in all shapes and sizes, such as steel or wood structures, shade sails, pergolas (freestanding, open-roofed arbors) and more, all of which vary widely in the amount of UV protection provided.

Manufacturers of contemporary shade structures cite surveys indicating that people will stay longer at facilities where they feel safe and more comfortable.

But not all of these structures are created equal. In fact, levels of indirect UV can still be high beneath some of these shade structures, which in a worst case scenario might have real SPFs of only around 3 to 6. Such an SPF in a playground near a school is unacceptable, given the importance of protecting children from UV and the strong evidence that excessive sun exposure during childhood significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

Factors that determine how well a structure provides shade include the size of the structure, its orientation (which direction it faces), and where it is in relation to other structures, such as buildings, trees and other vegetation. The amount of UV protection provided by a structure is also contingent upon the angle of the sun and the degree of cloud cover. Because the amount of diffuse UV that hits the skin depends on the amount of open sky visible from the shade, larger shaded areas provide more protection than small ones.

Shade structures with side-on walls or other side protection, and those surrounded by other structures provide the greatest shelter from the sun's rays.

Customize Your Facility

A variety of shade structures are available for sports parks, where people spend a good amount of time sitting in the afternoon sun.

The best way to create a gathering space, said Brad Fritz, a sales and custom service manager for a Holland, Mich.-based shelter manufacturer, "is to create more than just a picnic area."

Focus on creating a community gathering place. Have more amenities than just tables. Include built-in restrooms, fireplaces or concession stands. Enhance the space with your own logos or decorative louvers, which help to accent the lighting of the space. Amphitheaters are perfect for this type of request. Being able to house the local boy scout troop or dance studio for their recitals not only draws in the community but also helps to pay back the investment by renting the shelter to those groups.

Once the basic structure design has been chosen, details can be added, such as signage and ornamentation, added Jennifer Graves, a marketing specialist from that same company in Michigan. "By adding these to the gable of an amphitheater," she suggested, "you can identify a site sponsor or the name of your facility to promote further branding and site recognition. This can be done with a high-performance laser cutter, or additional graphics can be printed and displayed in the steel ornamentation."

Other features that can be added include handrails, gutters, column wraps/covers, lightning protection, polycarbonate roofing and windscreens. Amphitheaters can also be engineered to have additional structures added on, including changing rooms, restrooms or storage space. Many frame colors and roof options are also available to choose from.

If you are looking to create a high-end look to your park, Graves continued, consider coordinating additional shelters, trellises and signs to complement your new amphitheater and draw visitors toward it. Use similar details, colors or shapes to pull each structure together. Design elements can be incorporated into each structure to display unique detail and create architectural conversation when visitors notice the small details that were considered. A common theme throughout a park gives strong visual interest and will attract lots of attention.

Amphitheaters go beyond just bringing your community together; they can also give back to the community. Because of their ability to host ongoing entertainment and large audiences, they are the perfect place to host events for fundraising and charities. Amphitheaters can offer a high return on investment, not just financially, but also in building a community