Advancements in Design Boost Sports Facilities
By Jeff Williams
It seems like every couple of years now, an NFL team opens a brand new billion-dollar stadium. Major Division I universities strive to provide world-class facilities to impress recruits and enhance their athletic programs, and they typically have the fundraising clout to build whatever they want for the top revenue-producing sports.
For the rest of the athletic world, including non-revenue sports at those same universities, lower-division college athletic departments and private clubs, among many others—there are much tighter budget constraints to consider, and people are looking for creative, value-driven options.
Affordability was the key entry point for tension fabric structures to enter the sports and recreational building market years ago. But while the price may have been attractive, the fact that so many fabric buildings were pre-engineered often required users to compromise on their ideal design parameters. In other words, round pegs were frequently being forced into square holes.
A lot has changed as the evolution of fabric building technology has ushered in a critical, yet seemingly simple, development—conventional I-beam construction. This rigid-frame engineering concept makes it possible for users to get the benefits of fabric membrane cladding while enjoying the structural flexibility that was lacking in traditional fabric structures.
I-beam design has essentially eliminated sizing limitations when planning a fabric sports facility, with clear spans of 300 feet and beyond now easily achievable. With ample room inside the structure, the possibilities for fabric buildings are virtually endless.
Professional and collegiate football and soccer teams can build indoor practice structures. Universities and private schools can construct multi-sport competition complexes for basketball, volleyball, wrestling and inline hockey. Tennis, swimming and recreational clubs can develop high-quality facilities that are truly affordable.
No matter the need for a building, it's a reality that most decisions to actually move ahead with a construction project are economically driven. In the past, this might have meant building on the cheap. Today, it's become increasingly common for customers to think bigger and longer term, and to make a real investment in something that suits not only a sports environment, but also pays financial dividends through additional uses.
Fabric Becomes Conventional
Even properly suiting the primary purpose of an athletic facility could be a challenge with traditional web truss or hoop style fabric structures. With only standard size offerings available, customers were left to shape and adjust their original requirements to make them fit the limitations of a pre-engineered building.
With the advancement of fabric buildings that implement rigid I-beam engineering, the whole process has moved light years closer to what a user would experience with conventional building methods. It's everyday construction with an architectural membrane cover.
Manufacturers who work with I-beams are able to take a site-specific approach, designing a brand-new building from the beginning to meet all applicable building codes and customer wishes. Instead of selling an off-the-shelf option, the supplier can focus on listening to the user and developing a customized solution that complies with all size, site and application requirements.
This process has obviously proven far more advantageous for developing facilities hosting athletic competitions and practices, particularly with sports where the action is not always neatly confined to the footprint of a field or court. With I-beam construction, manufacturers can precisely match every desired building dimension down to the inch. Sidewall heights, peak heights, building length and width, and additional building features can all be easily accounted for upfront.
Built For Play
Fabric building manufacturers have long extolled the virtues of natural light and promoted it as one of the key benefits of a fabric roof. While fabric's translucency remains an important characteristic for many building applications in the industrial sector, athletic facilities carry a different set of demands.
First and foremost, building codes must be accounted for, and state energy codes typically dictate anywhere from an R-19 to R-30 building envelope. To achieve the necessary R values, insulation and liners must be applied to the interior of the fabric cladding, which blocks out any natural sunlight. In some cases it is possible to leave a certain portion of the fabric roof uninsulated to allow the translucent fabric to act as a skylight.
However, it's important to note that light emission through the roof still won't necessarily be enough to meet the lighting standards of a particular sport. Even in buildings that do allow significant natural light entry, artificial lights are turned on to provide adequate illumination.
Fire suppression is another feature that has become more of a requirement for fabric sports facilities. Indoor air quality, HVAC, ventilation and the overall flow of air through the venue remain critical considerations as well, especially for those buildings frequently visited by spectators.
Buildings that house aquatic competitions and other high-humidity activities have additional stresses placed upon them. In response, manufacturers must be prepared to provide special hardware and components that resist corrosion. For I-beam structure suppliers, it's common to supply a hot dip galvanized frame in these circumstances.
The latest engineering developments have put many old concerns about strength to rest. With I-beam construction, a fabric building is just as structurally sound as any conventional structure. The building profile can be designed in any fashion necessary, allowing users to add spectator viewing decks, adjoining clubhouses, pro shops, offices, storage areas and much more.
Thanks to I-beam engineering, even aspects like security and exterior appearance can be easily addressed. For projects requiring the addition of aesthetic architectural elements to the outside of the building, the straight sidewalls of a rigid frame structure make it simple to add steel panels, multiple doors and windows, colored membranes, glazing walls, or a stone or brick fašade around the exterior.
By enhancing more aspects of their offering, fabric building manufacturers continue to thrive in sports facility construction. Most of the advancement is due to a seemingly simple concept—listening to the customer. That simple step has helped to solve the age-old "round peg in a square hole" dilemma and allowed more fabric structure suppliers to become the square peg solution everyone is looking for.
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