Sports structure options to help the games go on

Maybe you live in an area where it’s 75 degrees year-round, and where there’s never any rain or snow or wind. (If such a place exists, please let me know, I’m moving.) However, for everyone who must contend with the real-world unpredictability of Mother Nature, an enclosed structure – and the ability to control the climate and keep the elements out – offers many advantages when it comes to sports field applications. There are a variety of structure options to choose from, each offering advantages.

Arizon Companies (http://www.arizoncompanies.com) offers several types of structures, but is probably best known for its air-supported structures, says Matt Polizzi, director of marketing. For Arizon, that’s where most of the interest is at the moment, he notes. “The reason for that is probably cost,” he states. “There are a lot of different things that factor into the cost of a structure, but I can say that typically air-supported structures are going to be the most cost-effective form of construction.”

The installation time frame is also quick with air-supported structures. Polizzi notes that Arizon Companies can have these types of structures up in as little as 12 weeks. And they’re suitable for nearly any type of sport, he adds, from tennis and volleyball to basketball, football, soccer and even hockey. “An air-supported structure is a completely clear span open space where you can put anything you want inside,” he explains, noting that air-supported structures can be put up over a single tennis court or over a 250,000-square-foot football facility.

Arizon Companies offers custom-designed air-supported structures that can be left in place permanently or taken down seasonally.
Photo courtesy of Arizon Companies.

Polizzi says that part of the reason why air structures are a popular choice is because they can easily be taken down seasonally. Though he notes that they can also be installed in a manner where they are permanently left up, though he estimates that only about 30 percent of customers opt to go this route. “About 70 percent use the structures seasonally. There’s no doubt that being able to pull the structure off of the court or the pool or the field during the summer allows people to have the best of both worlds,” he points out. “People want to be outside when it’s nice outside. But in many parts of the country there are just so many months when you can’t do sports outside, and these structures make a world of difference.”

Installations are about evenly split between protecting existing fields and covering new fields, says Polizzi of the company’s air structure projects. Covering an existing field with a frame structure would be much more difficult than it is with an air-supported structure, he states.

While a structure might be put up mainly for sports purposes, they also provide a great deal of versatility, says Polizzi. So there are opportunities to rent out the structure. He cites a recent Arizon Companies project in Minnesota where a structure was installed for a school district. “They use it year-round not just for their sports teams, including football and soccer, but they also rent it out to the community. So on Saturdays there are youth sports leagues playing there and then in the afternoon there are people walking around the perimeter track,” he explains.

“The most important thing with a tension fabric structure is a complete heating/ventilating system to go with the actual building and its use,” says Sterling Mumaw with Legacy Building Solutions.
Photo courtesy of Legacy Building Solutions.

Each air-supported structure from Arizon Companies is custom made, emphasizes Polizzi. “That’s another benefit of air versus frame. With air, there is no standard size,” he states. Making an air structure slightly larger or smaller to fit a given space is easy. “On a frame structure, that can really mess with the engineering,” he adds.

Just as each structure is custom designed, so too are the mechanical systems inside. When it comes to air-supported structures, Polizzi says, “The HVAC system is by far the most important part of the whole facility.” He points out that Arizon Companies got its start 90 years ago in HVAC, and maintains those roots today. “The customization of that system is so important to the efficiency of the facility. You have to have an efficient system; you have to have a system that will keep the dome inflated; you have to have a system that’s not going to be too loud; you have to pump the right amount of CFMs [cubic feet per minute] to make sure it is adequately cooled or heated. There’s so much that goes into getting it right.”

Sprung Instant Structures’ tension fabric buildings incorporate patented “daylight panels” in the peak of the structure. The rest of the fabric is insulated and specially constructed to block sunlight to prevent a greenhouse effect.
Photos courtesy of Sprung Instant Structures.

Off-the-shelf systems designed solely on the size of a building may not work efficiently in an air structure, he cautions. Nor will they necessarily accommodate the local climate. “You want a system that is built specific to that space and that facility,” Polizzi advises.

Sterling Mumaw, director of sales with Legacy Building Solutions (http://www.legacybuildingsolutions.com), agrees that the right HVAC system is absolutely critical when installing a sports structure. “The most important thing with a tension fabric structure is a complete heating/ventilating system to go with the actual building and its use,” he explains. “A fabric building is a plastic bag; therefore, if you don’t put any air in it, it’s going to condense water and rain and be sweaty and smelly. It’s going to be terrible.”

Fabric buildings do not leak, they are airtight, so they hold the heat, he explains. You need to match the system with the building. “The worst thing people do is buy a fabric building and then pay an architect to put in some fancy, expensive heating/air conditioning system that never works right,” Mumaw observes. He says people frequently focus on the shell of the building, and perhaps high-end lighting, and forget about the mechanical systems that are so important. “Many architects only know hardscape buildings – metal, brick and mortar – so they overmatch the HVAC,” he explains. “So we have to work hand in hand with the HVAC people to match the system.”

Legacy Building Solution’s tension fabric structures are all custom-designed, which allows them to be tailored specifically for each application and location. “Therefore we can build for any sport anywhere in the world and the building will meet code,” says Mumaw. “From tennis all the way to track stadiums to football practice venues and complete soccer buildings, we can build at any dimension necessary.”

The typical install time of Sprung Instant Structures’ buildings is about half that of a conventional, pre-engineered building, says company vice president Jim Avery. “These days, people want the building up right away. They don’t want to wait two years-they don’t even want to miss one season,” he observes.

According to Mumaw, Legacy Building Solutions specializes in medium to large sports facilities. He believes that tension fabric structures offer an efficiency advantage over air bubbles, and are more cost-effective and outperform metal buildings. “We’re very green, both in terms of our energy use and our materials,” he states, pointing out that the company’s structures can work with LEED criteria.

While the sports structures industry has generally slowed with the economy, Mumaw says lower-cost practice facilities are proving to be a popular choice. “We’re seeing more and more practice buildings, either turf or multisport courts,” he explains, pointing out that these are by far the most economical choice: “When you start needing offices and bathrooms and all the accoutrements, that’s when the architects get involved and the price goes through the roof.”

“There’s a real demand for lower-cost field houses right now. We’re seeing that as a growing market for us,” seconds Jim Avery, vice president of Sprung Instant Structures (http://www.sprung.com). Multipurpose arenas and gymnasiums are also popular at the moment, he observes. In fact, sports and recreation structures in general are a growing part of the company’s business, says Avery.

Sprung Instant Structures is a 100-plus-year-old company that patented tension fabric technology in the 1970s and continues to specialize in what Avery calls “permanent fabric structures.” The company’s tension fabric buildings incorporate patented “daylight panels” in the peak of the structure. The rest of the fabric is insulated and specially constructed to block sunlight to prevent a greenhouse effect in the structure that comes with translucent fabric, while the panels in the ridgeline let in the optimum amount of sunlight, Avery explains.

He recommends that those considering a sports structure look for one that is insulated and can be climate controlled year-round. He points to the ability of Sprung’s tension fabric structures to handle higher wind and snow loads than air bubbles as a key advantage, along with the fact there’s increased operational efficiency by not having to run a system to constantly keep a positive pressure inside.

“Everybody asks how much it will cost them to build a structure for sports, but they don’t pay any attention to the operating costs. And, boy, do you ever have to pay attention to that these days,” says Avery. Tension fabric structures from Sprung might cost a little more than some other types of structures initially, “but we can show significantly lower long-term operating costs with our design,” he states. “That’s because our building envelope is virtually airtight. If you can properly heat and cool your building, that leads to lower operating costs.”

Avery notes that the typical install time of Sprung Instant Structures buildings is about half that of a conventional, pre-engineered building. “These days, people want the building up right away. They don’t want to wait two years – they don’t even want to miss one season,” he observes.

Sprung’s buildings are available in sizes up to 200 feet wide and can house nearly any type of sports. “The tall peak height and the fact that it’s bright and energy efficient and spacious,” make the structures versatile, states Avery. Plus, the company’s structures can be expanded in the future, and can be fully relocated, offering long-term flexibility, he points out.

Universal Fabric Structures (http://www.ufsinc.com) also reports that its structures can be expanded and relocated. UFS offers pre-engineered and custom-designed buildings for sports and recreation applications. They’re available in widths from 60 to more than 320 feet, and since the buildings are assembled using 15 to 20-foot modules, nearly any length can be constructed. The buildings can be ordered with steel or aluminum frames, allowing the structures to withstand heavy snow and wind loads. The structure’s fabric can be ordered in a variety of colors, including a translucent option, which the company reports can save users up to 65 percent on lighting costs.

Varco Pruden Buildings (http://www.vp.com) specializes in steel system buildings that are pre-engineered and delivered to the site and bolted together for quick installation. The company reports that buildings can be delivered in as little as four to six weeks. A variety of exterior options can be chosen, including metal, glass and stone, to create a customized look. Similarly, a number of different roof options are available, depending on local climate and application. Varco Pruden can provide buildings ranging in size from 600 square feet to more than 185,000 square feet, and within the sports and recreation segment has designed buildings for applications ranging from tennis to college football practice fields.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories. You can contact him at pwhite@meadowridgemedia.com.