Feature Article - October 2018
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Gimme Shelter

Keys for Creating Great Covered Spaces

By Brian Summerfield

Whatever design you settle on, just be sure that it aligns to the purpose of the space. Here's a long (but not comprehensive) list of imaginative ways in which these shelters and shade structures are being used today:

  • Pools and splash pads
  • Community amphitheaters
  • Venues for weddings, family reunions and other life events
  • Outdoor fitness areas (often with exercise equipment and games)
  • Farmer's markets
  • Theme park character meet & greets
  • Entrance or walkway covers
  • Lines for amusement park rides and line queues
  • Rooftop gardens
  • Concert venues
  • Dog parks
  • Coverings under railways (to protect walkways from falling debris)
  • Train stations
  • Bus and light-rail stops

Sometimes these structures aren't even used for recreational purposes. For instance, Bayman said canopies supplied by his company have been used to cover water treatment tanks by the city of Margate, Fla.

"These are large polyethylene tanks that get so hot in the sun that they can seriously burn technicians who are responsible for reading meters located on them," he said. "Also, exposure to the sun causes faster deterioration of the tanks, which can cost over $25,000 each to replace. According to city staff, their tanks now last much longer, effectively paying for the shade structure investment after about five years."

"Our product offering has grown to meet a number of segments outside of parks and recreation as well as accommodating various applications," Chumah said. "Shade creates a more comfortable outdoor environment for any purpose. Design is driven by understanding the need, what the intended use for the structure is going to be, maximizing the shade footprint, and working to provide cost-effective solutions while considering design and aesthetics."

Shade creates a more comfortable outdoor environment for any purpose.


Another area in which to think creatively is in managing the finances associated with these spaces. The first category is in how the design and construction of the shelters are funded.

As Bayman indicated earlier, many parks and recreation departments are operating with bigger overall budgets these days. However, even in the best of times, there are still a number of priorities competing for financial resources. And that calls for finding ways to make these projects more cost-effective. One potential cost-saving option Graves suggested is a cooperative purchasing contract.

"That saves a government entity of having to put out a bid, since the cooperative purchasing contract has already been bid," she explained. "Sourcewell (www.sourcewell-mn.gov), formerly the National Joint Powers Alliance, is a government co-op that can be used and meets bidding requirements."

Fortunately, shade shelters don't have to be completely constrained by the limitations of a departmental budget. Additional money can be raised in a variety of ways, including grants, bonds, donations from the community and business sponsorships. Naming rights can be sold, as can plaques and signage.

Once the shelter has been built, there could be other ways to make it into a revenue-generating space if it meets certain criteria, such as overall size, seating, food service and protection from a variety of weather elements.

"Pavilions can be rented out for gatherings such as reunions, parties and so forth," Graves said. "Also, amphitheaters can be rented out for events, performances and concerts to fund-raise for community projects and charities."


If you're currently considering building a shelter of some kind, chances are you've already got at least one place in mind for it. And if your shade structure has certain kinds of utility—covering a playground, for example—then the site more or less selects itself. Yet if your shelter is more generalized in purpose, try to build it in an area that's easily accessible by foot traffic and where people would naturally congregate. The more isolated and out-of-the way the structure, the less likely people will use it.

Even if you've got ideas for a spot, you should consult with representatives from firms that design and build these shelters before you settle on a particular site. Many of them will have expertise that can help you understand what designs might be able to work with your particular location, and also let you know if there are any red flags with the area you've selected, such as potential for flooding, ground that's too soft or rocky, probability of high winds and other hazards to your shelter. They can also help you with any local safety regulations and building codes.