The Shoppes at La Posada

David Crowell of Green Valley enjoys a book under the shade structures at The Shoppes at La Posada.

When the GVR Board of Directors turned down the money to put a shade structure up at the new Pickleball Center, the vote ran counter to what scores of schools, cities and organizations have been doing for years.

In a split vote Wednesday, the board opted not to provide $60,000 to add shade at the $1.25 million center, which is scheduled to open in January. The decision also was a reversal for GVR itself, which has increased shade at several of its facilities to provide comfort and save money.

Since April 2016, 18 shade structures/canopies have been installed, 10 at the request of GVR clubs and two at the request of members, according to CEO Kent Blumenthal.  

Green Valley Recreation isn't alone. Organizations around the country are answering the public demand for shade, whether in Arizona or New England.

Valerie Samoy, a special staff assistant for Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, said shade structures are generally part of new projects and are often added to existing ones. She pointed to Historic Canoa Ranch south of Green Valley as an example. The installation of ramadas has been a part of the improvement projects around the ranch and its new lake.

"They're costly, but whenever we can, we try to do it if it's called for," Samoy said.

Pima County's parks system has 100 ramadas, which run about $45,000 each, and 15 tarps over playgrounds. The tarps are $20,000 each, and Samoy said the county could use more.

Shade is also a priority at GVR. While the board rejected the structures that would have covered a staging area and the area near the restrooms at the pickleball site, Blumenthal said the need for more shade is growing, and members often are the ones asking about it.

"Over the last four or five years, we've been really good at strategically-placed shade that has been requested by various groups or needed for years," he said.

He attributes several factors to the increased demand for shade — people are more active and are spending more time outdoors; increased concern about sun exposure, higher temperatures and heat-related injuries; and when GVR installs shade structures at one site members notice and ask for them at other sites.

Blumenthal also said adding a bit of shade to the pumps at swimming pools has prolonged the life of the equipment.

La Posada, Sahuarita

The Shoppes at La Posada added shade structures to the courtyard in December, 10 years after the facility opened. Paul Loomans, the community’s director of marketing and sales, said shade is vital for any public gathering space and they have placed shading throughout the 124-acre campus.

"It made a big difference in that space for us," he said. "It increases year-round usage. There were times when we couldn't hold events or wouldn't want to depending on the temperature, and now we have a lot more confidence in planning certain kinds of events at certain times of the year."  

The Town of Sahuarita found that shade prolongs the lifespan of playground amenities while keeping equipment cooler. Laura Holbrook, the town's parks manager, said the Parks and Recreation Department is always seeking to put up more shade structures.

"Living in Arizona, that's a number one priority, right?” she said. 

Holbrook said where there aren't shade structures, major park features are empty throughout the day. Playgrounds are one area where people will see added shade where they typically weren't 20 or 30 years ago.

Holbrook said a new structure can cost $15,000 to over $100,000, depending on size. She estimates the town has about 20 shade structures and ramadas, and replacing them can be costly. The shade structure over the playground at Quail Creek-Veterans Municipal Park recently was found to have a long rip; replacing and installing new fabric will cost about $5,000.

Nationwide action

It’s not just sunny Southern Arizona that’s concerned about shade. Last year, city leaders in Las Cruces, New Mexico, approved $750,000 for shade structures. Phoenix unveiled shade-producing art structures along public paths downtown in 2017. Portland, Maine, constructed a shade structure over a playground using a grant from a local dermatology practice and the American Academy of Dermatology. The academy also provides grants to public schools and non-profit organizations to provide permanent shade structures. 

Shade was even a topic of recent research on children and poverty. A study in the St. Louis area published last month in JAMA Dermatology found shade on school playgrounds decreased by 22 square feet for every 1 percent increase in the number of children receiving free or reduced lunches — the poorer the kids, the less shade they had.

The GVR Pickleball Center will have shade structures near the court walkways but the other areas will remain uncovered for now.

"It's a big issue, but everything costs money," Blumenthal said. "So, it's a tough one sometimes."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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