Feature Article - September 2022
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A Shady Place

Shade Structures & Shelters for Parks & Other Recreational Spaces

By Joe Bush


Ask the Right Questions

When potential clients jump into the market for shelters and shade structures, they need to consider a few things first, said Derbecker. What will be shaded? What clearance heights are needed? Is there any style preference? And crucially, what's the budget?

"The thing about selling shade is oftentimes people don't necessarily know what they want it to look like, they just know what the end result is," he said. "The first thing we ask them is, 'What do you want to shade?' The nice thing about selling shade, designing shade, people intuitively know the purpose of shade.

"If it's hot outside people know, 'Let me step into the shade of this tree or this building.' The concept is incredibly intuitive. What we're trying to facilitate is the preferred solution that meets the customer's expectations and budget."

By knowing that the intended shaded areas are a playground, or the shallow end of the pool, or three benches by the tennis courts, or a grouping of picnic tables, styles, models and products can be narrowed.

Derbecker said for most playgrounds the most economical way to shade is a four-post square or rectangle hip shade. "It affords great shade coverage, can be done in large sizes and is the cheapest per square footage," he said. "Typically there's a lot of square footage involved with shading a play structure."

Site amenities like picnic tables might be paired with umbrellas or cantilevered umbrellas, while bleachers at the softball and baseball and soccer fields are typically covered with cantilevers, said Derbecker. Alternately, premanufactured steel, wood or combined-material shelters can cover picnic areas, as well as dugout areas. The options for shading recreational spaces are abundant.

"When someone tells us what they want to shade, we have preconceived notions of product categories that pair well with the intended solution of shading x, y or z," Derbecker said.

It helps to come to your manufacturer with a few ideas about styles you've seen in other play or athletic areas, or at trade shows or online, Derbecker said.

Most are familiar with shade sails because they're so common and striking, but Derbecker said shade sails are often the most expensive, and here's why: In a shade sail, the canopy is absent an internal frame like you would see on a hip shade or an umbrella or cantilever. Rather, there are upright posts with various connection points that are supporting either a triangular or rectangular piece of fabric; at a glance it seems inexpensive because what catches the eye are fabric and posts.

"But what people don't realize is in order to provide the tension necessary to fully tension a canopy and apply it to the top of these uprights your steel sizes get pretty large and your concrete size gets pretty large," said Derbecker. "As a result your steel member sizes and concrete volume required for a product are probably going to be substantially larger than a comparable structure with an internal frame."

Derbecker said clearances for a playground should be seven feet above the highest standing deck to the canopy, and if there's a roof on top of the playground the preferred clearance is three feet above that roof.

In areas where vandalism is a problem, consider the height of umbrellas over amenities like picnic tables. If vandalism is a problem, "… could someone standing on the picnic table have access to the canopy with a knife and vandalize the canopy?" he said. "If you're in an area that might be exposed to vandalism you might want to increase the entry height to make the canopy out of reach to someone who might otherwise vandalize the canopy."

Last but not least is to get budget details, said Derbecker. "We've designed what you're looking for, but is it really in line with what you want to spend? If not, we step back to stage one to fine-tune the process," said Derbecker.