Feature Article - September 2020
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Out of the Sun

Shelters & Shade Structures Create Well-Rounded Public Spaces

By Joe Bush


Shade structures have evolved mainly to meet engineering standards, said Brent Derbecker, of a Carrollton, Ga.-based manufacturer of shade structures, shelters and other park products.

"In the early years of shade structures we rarely needed to get engineered, permitted drawings for standard structures, and today over 50% of them require this," he said. "Beyond that, the designs have become more architectural and less simple."

The popularity of fabric shade structures as we know them now in the United States can be traced back to the 1990s, said Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based manufacturer of fabric shade structures.

Prior to that time, similar structures had been used extensively in Australia and South Africa as shade protection for residential applications such as carports. But in the United States, concurrent with the rising concern over the dangers of unprotected exposure to the sun's dangerous UV rays leading to the rise in skin cancer, it was discovered that fabric shade structures help protect people in public venues such as parks and schools.

"As more manufacturers began offering shade, technological advances improved the durability of the fabric coverings, added more color options for both fabric and metals, and introduced essential built-in features such as easy removability and re-attachment systems so that customers could easily take down their canopies for the winter season or in the event of hurricane," he said.

Getting Started

Prospective clients who haven't overseen a shade structure project need to know a few things before they call a provider, said Bayman.

"It's most helpful if clients have at least a site plan or Google Earth image of the proposed location for their shade project, as well as a conceptual idea of the design they would like," Bayman said. "It also helps our design team a great deal to know the application or purpose for the shade—for example, is it a concession area, playground, sports field?"

Mike Jones, who's been involved in shade structure projects as parks and rec director for Margate, Fla., said novice operations folks should learn about the product, and the industry in general.

"Ask questions so you understand from A to Z how the installation will happen and what the finished product will look like," he said. "I believe it is most important to listen to the designers and make sure you are both on the same page so there are no surprises after it is built."

Understanding the community you serve is essential, said Ken Pelham, a landscape architect with the Orlando (Fla.) Families, Parks, & Recreation Department.

"You need to know the neighbors and try to give them what they want," said Pelham. "I find that a range of sizes in picnic pavilions helps. Some people just want a small shelter for a small picnic. Others want something big enough for a birthday party for 12 kids. Others are looking for a huge pavilion for the family reunion. Community involvement results in community ownership, and that's what we aim for."

Pelham said clients should also consider more than their initial budget because of the different climate and conditions in each region.

"Here in Florida, we have pretty stringent building codes for wind loading, and even though Orlando is inland a ways, we can and do get hurricane-force winds on occasion," Pelham said. "So the structure must be engineered for that, and there are no shortcuts. Also, being between coasts, Florida gets some explosive cumulonimbus situations that make us the lightning capital of America, and the Tampa-to-Titusville corridor we're in is the epicenter. We have to take that into account."