Feature Article - July 2020
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Flexible Building Solutions

Nonconventional Structures Expand Your Possibilities

By Dave Ramont


This year we've seen a lot of situations where temporary or nonconventional structures were utilized in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. These versatile structures were ideal for temporary medical facilities, drive-through testing sites, temporary emergency housing and more. They were cost-effective and could be designed, shipped and constructed expediently. Oftentimes, parks and rec departments, aquatics facilities, fitness clubs and sports venues also utilize various types of non-traditional structures, allowing them to provide programming year-round without having to invest in additional brick-and-mortar buildings.

Metal & Fabric Structures

Geoff Ching is director of sales for a South Windsor, Conn.-based manufacturer of metal and fabric structures that provides building solutions across many industries, including athletic and recreational buildings, indoor sports facilities, school gymnasiums and parks and rec buildings. "Our building solutions offer exceptional value by providing superior athletic environments at lower costs," said Ching, comparing their structures to more traditional buildings. "Our design flexibility allows easy customization of sidewall and peak height clearances. Climate-control options are limitless, from side openings to allow natural airflow to fully insulated structures with HVAC systems. Our speed of design and construction allows for expedited project completion as well."

There are two types of fabric cover options offered by Ching's firm: the standard 12.5-ounce polyethylene cover, and-for the harshest applications requiring maximum strength and durability-the 29-ounce architectural vinyl building cover. These covers can withstand high winds, heavy snow loads and other inclement weather. "In warmer southern climates, sidewalls and end walls can be designed open or with retractable curtains to promote natural airflow," Ching said. "In colder northern climates, R30 insulation systems can be added with heat or HVAC if needed."

The fabric building covers are recyclable and energy-efficient, allowing for monthly energy savings. The climate-sensitive polyethylene covers keep interiors cooler in summer and warmer in winter, while allowing abundant natural light to filter through. According to Ching, this provides the most natural feel possible inside an enclosure. "The natural light penetration is an incredible benefit offered by (these) systems. Fabric-covered structures have been the most popular for athletic facilities given the preference for natural daylight to enhance the playing environment. We are happy to work on the designs of metal and hybrid buildings if requested."

Besides fabric coverings, the company also offers metal buildings featuring metal cladding that's constructed with grade 80 steel. The cladding comes in several channel designs and offers numerous color options, so buildings can blend in with local surroundings or match existing structures. They also offer a hybrid building with a fabric roof and metal sidewalls.

A large assortment of cooling and watering systems are available, and to provide proper circulation there's a vast array of ceiling fans, circulation fans, duct fans, exhaust fans, vents, shutters, evaporative coolers and humidifiers to choose from. There are a multitude of lighting options available-including outdoor security lighting and temporary or portable lighting solutions-as well as a number of door and loading dock options.

Two types of building frames are available, and Ching said they'll engage with project managers to evaluate the optimal design for each installation. The truss frame is made from triple-galvanized steel and allows structures to be constructed up to 300 feet wide and at any length. The frame design requires no internal support posts, allowing for a wide open interior. For indoor sports facilities, this means no columns to obstruct players or spectators, while exceptional height and clearance means no low ceilings to interfere with games. The truss arch buildings also provide exceptional acoustics.

The I-Beam frame-constructed with grade 55 structural steel-is stronger and more durable, fully customizable and can be built to any size. Additionally, Ching said that buildings can be reconfigured. "Our designs allow for easy addition of square footage by lengthening, as the end wall columns and fabric simply need to be removed, then rebuilt once additional frame and cover sections are added."

For larger athletic facilities, 10,000 square feet and larger, Ching said foundations are typically either poured concrete or helical anchors, which drill directly into the ground and "often reduce construction costs by minimizing or eliminating concrete costs," while drastically reducing the amount of excavation and sitework as well. And while the anchoring system is 100% temporary, it provides the strength of a permanent foundation. Customers can also build on existing foundations, or choose from other options including blocks, pony walls, piers or concrete pads. For customers needing extra storage, building on durable metal containers is an ideal option.

Ching mentioned some of the athletic and entertainment facilities that they've installed nationwide, including an indoor football practice facility at James Madison University in Virginia; a horse barn and entertainment facilities at Gulfstream Park in South Florida; an insulated four-court tennis facility with full HVAC in Nashville, Tenn.; and the Welcome Center and lion buildings at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo.

If there's a pandemic, flood, hurricane or other catastrophe, the company offers disaster recovery facilities. Since they have minimal foundation requirements and feature no internal support posts, the structures can be easily relocated and deployed multiple times. The natural lighting and ventilation can provide an ideal environment. In April, the company adjusted their manufacturing facility to provide governments, medical centers and communities with these rapidly deployable structures and medical buildings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The orders could be shipped in less than 24 hours, and with the company's in-house installation services, the facilities were put into use in a matter of days.