Sports Facilities Score Points With Added Shade

September 1, 2014, Department, by Sarah van Wezel

Thoughtfully placed shade structures, such as these in Carlsbad, California’s Alga Norte Community Park, appeal to visitors visually and make visits during hot weather more comfortable.World Cup excitement reached fever pitch this summer, as more than 26 million fans across America tuned in to watch the USA-Portugal match broadcast live from Brazil. As interest in soccer grows, communities across America are looking for ways to support soccer and other team sports. Developing sports facilities with world-class amenities plays an important role in attracting participants and spectators. 

Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas, is part of a 145-acre facility adjacent to Toyota Stadium, the home of Major League Soccer team FC Dallas. The combination of a world-class stadium and 17 professional-grade soccer fields makes the venue one of the best and most unique soccer facilities in the world. 

A World-Class Soccer Center Gets Even Better

In summer 2014, Toyota Soccer Center enhanced its facility by adding fabric structures to provide shade for spectators at youth and adult soccer fields. “When Toyota Soccer Center was designed, the original plan was to have fabric structures to provide shade at each field,” says Tom Jones, vice president of complex management for Toyota Stadium. “But, we ended up cutting them from the initial construction phase with the plan to go back and install [shade structures] at a later point. Obviously, the reason we wanted to add fabric structures was to provide some sun and heat relief for spectators during the warmer months. As you know, the heat in Texas can be brutal at times, so shade is a welcome relief.”

“We have seen an increase in demand for custom fabric structures that incorporate form (visual aesthetics) and function (shade and UV protection),” says Jay Rivera, senior vice president of sales at Shade Structures Inc., the largest fabric structure manufacturer in the U.S.

Fabric structures provide virtually unlimited design options and can add enormous aesthetic appeal to any facility. They can be designed to echo the distinctive architectural features of an existing facility, as in the case of Toyota Soccer Center.  

When considering the best shade solutions for sports and recreational facilities, factors such as fabric, color and design should be taken into account. Jones describes how Toyota Soccer Center approached the project, saying, “When we were looking at fabric structures, there were three criteria that the structure had to meet. First, the structure had to provide protection from the sun and rain. Second, it had to fit with the architectural design of the facility. Third, it had to be an attractive feature that added to the look of the facility.”

The shade manufacturer, Shade Structures Inc., designed and engineered a custom solution with the objectives of the client in mind. “We designed a custom arch to mirror the existing structures at the main stadium,” says Rivera. “We covered the arch with a cost-effective and durable waterproof fabric to provide protection from both rain and sun. However, increasing evidence about the harmful effects of sun exposure, especially for kids, makes this investment on the part of Toyota Soccer Center more than just a comfort factor. It’s a safety factor,” he adds. 

What is Jones’ take on the end result? “Well, as far as value added to the facility, it’s hard to put a price on it,” he says. “If a cold drink of water is the most valuable thing on a hot weekend, then I would say a nice area of shade is a close second. I would say that the value added by shade from a fabric structure is considerable.” 

Value-Added Shade: Cool Comfort, Sun Protection and Aesthetic Appeal

At Alga Norte Community Park in Carlsbad, California, fabric structures provide sun protection for visitors while energizing the area with a pop of vibrant color. The new, award-winning 32-acre Alga Norte Community Park sits atop some of the most desirable real estate in North San Diego County. Among its many attractions are a state-of-the-art-aquatic center, San Diego County’s largest skatepark, a dog park, three ballfields, basketball courts, a huge playground, and picnic and barbecue areas. “We incorporated shade at our ballfield picnic plaza, picnic shelter areas, tot lots, basketball courts, group picnic shelters, aquatic center concessions areas and the picnic shelter pool deck,” says Liz Ketabian, Carlsbad’s park planning manager.  

Shade Structures, Inc., designed and manufactured 36 fabric structures, consisting of nine different types at Alga Norte. Vibrantly colored fabric complements the overall design of the facility and echoes the beauty of the surrounding area. 

“We worked with the landscape architects on the project to select the colors and also took into consideration the ongoing maintenance and aesthetics of the local master-planned community when making the color selections,” adds Ketabian. “Color choices were based on the overall design for the park, which included an aquatics center, and we wanted the visitors to also enjoy a pop of color, so we selected a dark forest green and tan colors mainly in areas of ballfields, and for the dog park. Bright cobalt blue was used at the Aquatics Center in the heart of the park.”

Planning to Win With Fabric Structures

When planning fabric structures for a facility, it is important to understand the planning process. Rivera highlights the key factors, saying, “There can be a direct relationship between project complexity and timeline, and we work very hard to deliver our structures in a timely and price conscious manner. Fabric structures involve design, engineering, manufacturing and installation, and these phases should be considered in the overall project planning process.” 

Long-term shade solutions such as trees can be supplemented by more “immediate” fabric structures. Ketabian says, “The fabric structures not only add interest to the park, but also provide shade at the site on day one. Alga Norte Community Park is brand new, and it will take a few years for shade trees to grow. Fabric structures provide shade protection for families while picnicking, watching a ball game, swimming, skateboarding or at the dog park. All areas of the park include some fabric structure components to enhance the park experience with needed shade.”

Synthetic materials such as high-density polyethylene mesh are used in most fabric structures today, making them resistant to tears and fading, while blocking up to 96 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays. The latest fabric structures are water-resistant and designed to bear significant wind or snow loads. In addition, fabric structures “breathe.” This creates air circulation that reduces temperatures beneath the structures by as much as 30 percent. 

“The biggest challenge was figuring what the proper height of the structure should be so that we provided the maximum protection from the sun and rain while maintaining a good line of sight on the field,” Jones says. “Give yourself a good amount of lead time to plan and think through the project. Measure twice and cut once!”

By providing a distinctive design feature, a fabric structure can add uniqueness, shade, UV protection and comfort to any recreational facility. Facility operators and owners attest to the positive feedback received from patrons: “Well I can definitely say that they have been a popular addition to the facility and we have received many compliments on the look and about how much shade they provide,” says Jones. “I have been really pleased with how they have turned out.”

Sarah van Wezel is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.