Supplement Feature - April 2019
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Find Your Fit

Site Furnishings to Suit Every Space

By Dave Ramont

Furniture is an important part of our living spaces, and choosing that furniture means considering many factors. It has to be functional, of course, but it also reflects who we are, our personal style and taste. But there's also budget and space to consider, and just how much use and abuse the furniture will need to withstand. How many couches do we sit on before we decide which one to purchase?

These same types of considerations come into play when choosing furnishings for public spaces like parks, playgrounds, campgrounds and other sites. Choices need to be functional and practical, while also presenting a certain aesthetic. Of course, a particular site's needs will help dictate these decisions. Is the site active, where people gather to picnic or play or watch sports? Is the site along a walking path, or maybe in a quiet area reserved for reflection in nature? What about climate, and vandalism or maintenance concerns?

"There are many factors to account for when selecting site furnishings for park sites," said Jason Wiesemann, a senior landscape architect with the City of Sacramento's Department of Youth, Parks & Community Enrichment. "Park type (neighborhood, community or regional), frequency of events or park usage, hours of operation of the park, visibility to the park, historic park sites vs. modern park sites, publicly maintained vs. HOA (Homeowners Association) or special maintenance district."

Using these criteria, Wiesemann said they select the best fit for each site, preferring for each park to have its own identity. "We have some historic parks where we try to maintain the historic feel, using wood or concrete," he said. "We don't want every park in our system to look exactly the same. However, we do try to keep consistency when we can. There is benefit to buying bulk replacement items to replace equipment as it needs to be replaced. We try not to limit ourselves to certain product types, but durability and product longevity are high on the list."

There are many site amenities to consider, including benches and tables, drinking fountains, trash and recycling receptacles, planters, bike racks, message centers, shade solutions and more. There are more specialized items like grills and fire rings, mobile bleachers and portable stages, pet amenities, bollards and crowd and traffic control products. More ADA-compliant and accessible furnishings are becoming available, such as wheelchair-accessible tables, picnic tables and drinking fountains.

"The site context and recreation amenities offered play a key role in selection," said Andy Howard, design principal at Hitchcock Design Group, a landscape planning and architecture firm with offices in Illinois, Indiana and Texas. He listed some of the site characteristics that might steer these decisions: urban park setting vs. natural park setting; orientation (facing south/west) and sun exposure vs. shaded area; traditional park style vs. more contemporary; park amenities within the park (i.e., shelters or sports areas that may require certain types of site furnishings); park capacity—anticipated amount of users at different times of the day. "The ability to customize a site furnishing with a logo or name that gives a branding identity to a family of site furnishings is sometimes wanted for larger park projects," added Howard.

While clients do make the final decisions, Howard said they will suggest material choices or recommend more durable site furnishings for vandal-prone areas. "Longevity, warranties, ease of installation (surface mount vs. in-ground), durability, the ability to customize and price points are all considered when making recommendations to clients."

There are many product materials and finishes to choose from, all with pros and cons, including fiberglass, thermoplastic, vinyl, concrete, recycled plastic, aluminum and various metals. Wood can be treated or untreated, and some wood choices, like Balau hardwood or Ipe, are very durable and resistant to elements, insects and warping.

Bob Simonsen is the marketing manager for an Iowa-based manufacturing company that's been making park, street and campsite furnishings for 60 years. He explained that a particular site—as well as the local environment—should have influence on the materials and equipment features.

"In facilities near water, especially salt water, we recommend a hot dip galvanized finish for steel frame components," said Simonsen, explaining how the galvanizing process coats the inside and outside of the frame pipes, providing a durable finish against natural weather elements. He added that recycled plastic and thermoplastic-coated steel components also hold up well in humid areas, but pointed out that some customers in desert areas are concerned about steel components becoming too hot when exposed to the sun for long periods. "Aluminum is a great material because it doesn't rust and is lightweight, but it doesn't lend itself to as many product applications."

"Beyond some basic, obvious environmental issues, the material selection often comes down to personal preferences," Simonsen added. "Some customers want to use recycled plastic to demonstrate recycling efforts. Some customers prefer perforated steel (round holes) to expanded steel (diamond-shaped holes) because of the appearance."