Going Undercover ... Covered Parking for Hospitals
By Matt Vernon
With the ever-increasing demands placed on the healthcare system in the U.S., medical professionals are being actively recruited by hospitals and medical centers with any number of attractive amenities. Across the Sun Belt, a relatively new amenity is rapidly emerging - covered or "shaded" parking.
Cool Comfort an Added Amenity
Anyone who has entered a vehicle after it has been sitting all day in the hot summer sun can attest to the discomfort associated with that intense blast of heat, as well as the steering wheel that is too hot to touch. In the southern half of the country, interior vehicle temperatures can be 30 to 50 degrees higher than the ambient air. Today's fabric-based covered parking solutions shade vehicles throughout the day, in addition to providing ancillary benefits such as protection from UV rays and damaging hail.
For medical professionals utilizing this shaded parking, the benefits are obvious. "What a great perk for the doctors to have access to covered parking. It's so nice to come out to my car at the end of a 100 degree summer day and find that it is cool inside, and that I don't have to worry about burning myself on the interior," said Dr. Tracy Elliott, a physician near Dallas.
Elliott's office, at Tenet Healthcare's Centennial Medical Center, decided to purchase its shade structures nearly three years ago. "The fabric roof-covered parking structures were added to the landscape as a way of enticing, and retaining, top-flight physicians. The structures are exclusively for their use, and intended for their comfort," said Kim Pulliam, Director of Central States Construction & Design for Tenet. "Covering over 40 parking spaces, our requirements were ample shade, sound structural integrity, cost-effectiveness per parking space, and a reputable vendor. All of these requirements were met with the fabric-roof structures we selected."
Tenet chose an offset cantilevered system, which places the columns virtually out of the parking area. Additionally, this design allows for a single column for every four parking spaces. This enables unobstructed access to each covered parking space and reduces the possibility of vehicles running into the columns. It also decreases costs, as fewer steel columns are required.
Aesthetics - Another Amenity
One Texas-based developer, JaRyCo Development, also has installed a fabric-based covered parking system at Twin Creeks Medical Center in Allen, Texas. "The No. 1 comment I get about these structures is how much better they look than conventional metal- or wood-roof carports," said Bruce Heller, JaRyCo President. "There is currently a waiting list at this location to access the covered parking spaces."
JaRyCo chose a fully cantilevered design, which places the columns completely out of the parking area. Their installation also compensates for a radius in the center's parking lot. Its vendor, Vehicle Protection Structures (VPS) of Dallas, provided for this when engineering the project.
For some developers and owners of newer facilities, it also can be about keeping up with the Joneses. "The owner of Rockwall Medical Center had seen fabric-covered parking structures being erected all over town, and decided they needed that type of amenity, as well as the aesthetic treatment for their facility," said Dale Parker, Senior Project Manager with CF Jordan Construction in Dallas. "At Rockwall Medical Center, covered parking has been provided exclusively for the physicians and other key staff members."
Return on Investment From Above (Rooftop Applications) and Below (Ground level)
Aesthetic value also cannot be overlooked, as property developers and managers continually look for a competitive edge and new ways to seamlessly integrate modern landscape elements. Fabric-based covered parking structures attract attention and increase the visibility of the property, which provides a great return on investment for the owner.
Additionally, these structures are low maintenance, particularly in comparison with solid-roof structures. Cleaning the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) fabric can be done with a mild soap and hose or pressure washer. Hail stones, which can severely damage solid-roof structures, simply bounce off their fabric counterparts.
Although many of these installations are for ground-level covered parking, they also provide similar solutions for rooftop parking. VPS recently completed the first phase (approximately 60 parking spaces) of a rooftop covered parking system for St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson, Ariz.
"Employee satisfaction was the objective. With limited parking available, the roof became the inevitable location to park for the latecomers ... who would be disgruntled with this situation," said Walt Dubois, P.E., Manager of Facilities at the medical center.
"The covered areas are the first parking spaces to be filled on the roof," Dubois said. "Clearly, these are the coveted parking slots. ... The only feedback we have had is why we still have not completed all covered parking on the roof. As funding becomes available, we will complete the remaining areas on the roof that lend themselves to the application."
Depending on the structural design and integrity of the parking garage, VPS can design solutions for integration into existing garages or for new construction. Project scope also is virtually unlimited. As few as four parking spaces at a given location or up to as many as 10,000 spaces can be covered depending on the need. Form can meet function.
Exposed parking areas are prone to heat buildup due to the presence of vehicles and the dark, paved surfaces, which are commonly made of heat-holding materials. Shading parking areas extends the life of the lot by protecting it from heat and UV rays. Vehicles are also protected, and for retail and commercial zones, shade keeps customers and employees more comfortable.
From a vendor perspective, covered parking is an obvious fit for the medical community. "Although physicians and nurses may not see daylight due to their long workdays, their vehicles are baked in the blistering summer sun," said Saul Goldenberg, Vice President of VPS. "Fabric-roof shade structures are an ideal solution for shielding their vehicles from the sun and protecting the vehicles (paint, interior, etc.) from UV damage."
Once thought a lightweight for durability, synthetic materials such as polyethylene are used in most fabric structures today, making them fade- and tatter-resistant, strong, and able to block out up to 95% of the sun's harmful UV rays. "Fabric structures do something that solid-roof structures cannot - they breathe," said Goldenberg. "The fabric is permeable, so as hot air rises through it, it creates a movement of air that significantly reduces the temperatures beneath the structures."
Dubois pointed to another reason for his Tucson medical center's choice in fabric parking structures. "With the full cantilever construction, no one is going to run into the steel members. There is no repair or upkeep." He added: "With the high wind conditions we sometimes incur, the fabric design gives us peace of mind - there is no steel sheeting to be blown into the air with the potentially disastrous consequences."
The fabric industry benefits are realized across the board. "The last decade has seen unprecedented acceptance of fabric structures by architects and engineers, commercial and retail designers, parks and recreation officials, hotel and resort locations and end users from an enormous diversity of market segments," said George K. Ochs, Chairman of the Board of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.
Bruce Wright, editor of Fabric Architecture magazine, noted a significant increase in the awareness on the part of architects for the need for shade, particularly in the Southern and Southwestern states. This has led to a dramatic increase in the use of shade structures for commercial applications, he said. Architects are finding that fabric shading elements can be an economical and practical method of meeting sustainable design requirements, more commonly required by municipalities adhering to modern building codes.
As the popularity of fabric structures increases, look for more to appear at hospitals around the country, providing comfort and protection for the doctors and nurses who do the same for their patients.
Matthew Vernon is General Manager of Vehicle Protection Structures (VPS) in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at (866) 887-4233, or
Article Abstract from August, 2006