Supplement Feature - April 2016
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Pay Attention to Quality, Environment When Furnishing Your Site

By Deborah L. Vence

Site furnishings bring character and balance to a park's open space, with benches, water fountains and picnic tables being just a few of the common accessories you can find.

But furnishing your park site requires careful planning, too, with one of the best ways being to understand or determine the common or intended use for your specific areas.

"Is it a space for people to congregate and relax? Or is it more activity-focused (playground, ball field, hiking or walking trails)?" said Austin Bell, product data manager for a North Aurora, Ill.-based manufacturer of commercial outdoor furniture. "Understand the environment type. Is it a wild/natural space or more of a landscaped/maintained area? Consider maintenance necessity and availability of the chosen furnishings."

Site Planning

When planning for specific areas of your site, another factor you have to consider is size. That is, the overall footprint of the site and, when it comes to picnic tables and benches, tabletop design, seating capacity, shape, style and length, noted Alan Robbins, president of an Akron, Ohio-based company that manufactures plastic outdoor furniture.

Victoria McCallum, marketing coordinator for a company that manufactures wood, metal and recycled benches, receptacles, ash urns, planters, picnic tables, bike racks, grills, tree guards and paver-grates., agreed, saying that the biggest consideration is size, for example, length of benches and accessibility.

"Our products typically [are] used as accessories to facilitate a particular purpose, i.e., picnic tables for a picnic area. As far as which items are the best choice, this will depend on use, aesthetics, budget and other factors," McCallum said.

In addition, keep in mind wheelchair accessibility when planning; as well as mounting options, whether the furnishings are above ground, in ground or portable; the surface: grass, stone or concrete; and location, whether it's a park, pool, streetscape or plaza, Robbins noted.

When it comes to knowing which particular site furnishings are the best ones to choose, "You'll have to do your homework and due diligence to understand what commercial products are best for your opportunity," Robbins said.

"Do not be trapped in to purchasing lower quality or residential quality materials and designs and think that they will hold up to the rigors or a commercial park. It just won't work," he said, adding that products that are needed to plan for your site include picnic tables, park benches, waste receptacles, entrance and wayfinding signage, new walkways, picnic pavilions and parking areas.

As far as materials go, recycled plastics for low maintenance are important, as well as steel, aluminum, combination materials, wood, powder-coated or plastic-coated metals and concrete, he said, noting that you should also keep in mind the types of fasteners: stainless-steel hardware vs. zinc-plated, and if there's a warranty offered.

In addition, "Be sure you know what you are paying for: fully assembled, partially assembled [or] completely unassembled," added Dave Robbins, sales and marketing director for the Akron, Ohio-based company.

The Biggest Benefits

Getting the most value out of your site furnishings starts with buying a quality product.

"Many retail stores sell outdoor furniture, but it's built down to a price point and designed for consumer or backyard use. Parks and campgrounds need to invest in equipment that is designed and fabricated for public use and exposure," said Bob Simonsen, marketing manager for a Cherokee, Iowa-based company that manufactures park, street and camp site products.

"This 'commercial quality' equipment may cost more to buy, but will last longer, with fewer repair needs, and won't have to be replaced as frequently. It may be an old cliché, but you do get what you pay for," he said.

"There is no shortage of good companies in the U.S. that make these commercial furnishings. The parks and campgrounds have many choices available to them," he said.

Bell added that you can have the most value out of your furnishings with usability and durability.

"What's the point of having the furnishings if they are uncomfortable or difficult to use?" Bell asked. "Items that break or wear out become a money sink."

And, Alan Robbins suggested sourcing out products that have reduced maintenance costs: no painting, no splinters, no rot, stainless steel fasteners, ease of assembly and installation.

"Buy products that have a long life expectancy. Select a product that does not need to be removed during winter periods," he said. "[And], buy eco-friendly, recycled content products."

You can get the most value through frequent inspection and giving prompt attention to any maintenance issues, McCallum noted.

"As products are used they will be scratched and scuffed. These need to be touched up. Semi-annual or annual inspections and cleanings are recommended," she said.