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Prolonging Bench Life and Discouraging Theft and Vandalism

By Gary Burmeister, Director of Marketing, PorterCorp

The connecting posts of a post-mounted bench are first positioned in holes approximately 8"-12" in diameter and 1 1/2'-2' deep with concrete poured around them to secure and stabilize them. Often an anchor is driven deep into the ground with a heavy hammer and stake to secure the bench (below).

Whether you're in charge of the grounds at a small facility, or the extensive acreage of a large park, you know that the great outdoors are sometimes best enjoyed from a comfortable seat. Providing functional and appropriate seating is fundamental for any site, as is protecting it against vandalism and theft.

Just as shelter and playground equipment manufacturers have discovered, steel, precast concrete and manmade composite materials offer durable alternatives to wood for equipment used in public and high-usage sites. These materials are also inherently pest-resistant and without the toxicity of concerns of treated wood, making them good fits for benches. Particularly with steel benches, vandalism concerns like gouging and burning are greatly reduced.

The site itself often dictates the type of bench that is appropriate, and with each type of bench there are options to make it stronger and less vulnerable to vandals.

Types of Benches

Freestanding benches are normally bolted into concrete though baseplate holes. Epoxy anchor bolts (generally sized 3/8"x4") are used to fasten the bench into the concrete. While this type of bench is the most susceptible to theft, there are options for decreasing its likelihood. One such option is to 'peen' the head of the anchor bolt, making access more difficult without special tools. Weights and locks can also be used to keep freestanding benches in place.

Integrated benches are sized specifically for, and mounted directly to, park shelters and are more difficult targets for thieves and vandals. These benches do not have legs, and are secured by brackets connected directly to the shelter columns.

Post-mounted benches have a look similar to freestanding benches, but are the most vandal-resistant seating option since no fastener is exposed.

The fasteners used to connect the benches to the shelters can have special heads (below- Photo: Guy Nelson), thereby making removal very difficult without a specialized tool. For safety purposes once the bolts are tightened they cannot be unscrewed. Integrated benches also offer the appeal of a cleaner, less cluttered look when seating is required within a shelter.

The construction of the bench itself can also serve as a deterrent to vandals, with heavier and more sturdily constructed benches making theft more time-consuming and cumbersome. Park shelter manufacturer Poligon of Holland, Michigan, offers benches in all three of the above-mentioned styles in varying lengths, with a five-foot freestanding steel bench made of 1/4"-3/16" thick steel weighing in at approximately 80 or more pounds.

Eric Pelak, Poligon's Quality Assurance Manager also stresses the importance of selecting the right finishing system for extending the life of benches.

"Our finishing system starts with shot-blasting the steel to clean it and maximize top coat adhesion," says Pelak. "We also recommend using E-coating or an equivalent primer or base coat on all of our benches before they're powder-coated to improve corrosion protection."

Prolonging Bench Life

Other options for extending the longevity of benches and ensuring that they are used properly include welding armrests at various intervals. The armrests not only serve their named function, they also act as "sleep guards" to deter the bench from being used as a cot. Benches with armrests also make those sitting next to others feel less apprehensive about sitting in close proximity to strangers.

Along with material considerations, careful planning for benches is another factor in prolonging life and preventing damage. Grouping benches with other site amenities (trash receptacles, transportation shelters, etc.) increases their visibility and the likelihood that they will be cared for and used appropriately.

Care should also be taken to balance bench placement to be both close to the action, but away from interfering with pedestrian traffic. A general rule of thumb is to have benches at least 24" from walkways. Benches placed too far off the beaten path and supervision are more likely to be targets for vandals, or to simply be unnecessary for the site. Benches too close to the action may pose a hazard for passersby, or be unpleasant for visitors to sit upon.

While no bench or other site amenity is truly 'vandal proof,' the right combination of materials, careful planning and site security can certainly reduce the likelihood of these unpleasant incidents.

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December 7, 2019, 4:34 am PDT

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