Feature Article - September 2021
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Safe Havens

Provide Sun Protection & Boost Aesthetics With Shelters & Shade Canopies

By Dave Ramont


Early this summer I was walking through a large park near my home in the Chicago suburbs. And while we'd been experiencing a period of drought, this day was damp and drizzly. As I walked by the park's pavilion I saw there was a wedding reception taking place, complete with food, music, dancing and laughter. Fortunately for this happy group, there was a large and stylish shelter next to the river to protect their celebration from the rain; had the day been cloudless it would have protected them from the sun. In fact, within that same park there are two other shelters: another reservable pavilion adjacent to the inclusive playground and a smaller picnic shelter near the concession stand.

Shelters and shade structures can bring tremendous value to parks and other public sites, allowing children and adults to spend time outdoors for longer periods. "Parks are designed to invite people in and relax," said Sean Schmeiser, sales supervisor for a Michigan-based manufacturer of shelter systems. "Shelters can be a place to gather for outdoor performances, picnics, community meetings or simply to get out of the sun. We help to create shelters that can be the focal point of a park or function for shade and to protect equipment underneath. Our engineers make sure that our shelters meet the building code requirements, while our design team helps to design shelters with the park setting in mind."

Schmeiser explained how they work with landscape architects, park directors, engineers and more to come up with the perfect design for the setting, meeting the needs of the park and the community. "We do standard and custom products and in any size, turning your imagination from an idea or a sketch into a reality."

Schmeiser explained how they work with landscape

Examining the band shells offered by Schmeiser's company, we see that variations include square, rectangular, octagonal and hexagonal shelters with multi-rib roof panels. Tongue and groove or structural wood panel roofing materials are options, as well as asphalt or cedar shingles. You can also incorporate a custom laser-cut arched banner or gable-end ornamentation, or choose a tapered barrel vault design with curved roof panels and ornamental beams extending through the roof. You can change the overall size in one-foot increments, raise or lower the roof pitch, raise the eave height, extend the eave overhang and add a roof tier or two. Accessorize the shelter with optional features including cupolas, weathervanes, handrails, clocks, premium columns, enclosure panels and display cases, as well as a variety of colors and finishes. "Band shells are a popular product for us," said Schmeiser. "They can be used in many different ways from outdoor theatrical performances to concerts to community meetings."

"Open structures give protection from direct sunlight, inclement weather and the occasional stray ball at athletic fields," said Jennifer Graves, marketing supervisor for another Michigan-based company specializing in the design, engineering and manufacturing of open-air steel structures. "When visitors have more comfortable areas to gather, they stay longer and are more likely to use your facility again." She added that adding an open-air structure to an already established facility is a great way to showcase a renewed, professional look, as well as create a better use of space.

The pandemic has also shifted the way people think about space, according to Graves, resulting in new trends. "Open-air structures are becoming even more popular as architects, designers and business owners look for ways to better utilize their outdoor space and create an area where people have a greater connection with nature," she said, citing examples of structures being used for outdoor classrooms as well as community gathering spaces. "Being outside promotes better learning by students and collaboration for businesses and communities. Rooftop gathering spaces, outdoor dining and entertainment all give a place for people to gather, in an open environment without walls, where they feel more comfortable and excited to be back together."

Farmers markets continue to gain popularity in communities of all sizes, and Graves mentioned these events as another ideal opportunity to add permanent shelters. "Farmers markets bring community together, provide entertainment and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Markets also promote local shopping and support small businesses. When a permanent structure is installed, vendors can move their shops outdoors to a more open environment without the hassle of individual tents while increasing attendance and revenue potential. Electrical access and cutout can also be provided within the columns, allowing wires to travel inside the columns, eliminating any exposed conduit. (Our) structures create a defined space that becomes an identifiable part of the community."