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Enormous Butterflies, Caterpillars, Toadstools Sighted in Vegas -No, It's Not Area 51, It's Centennial Hills Park, Phase One

by Stephen Kelly, regional editor

The custom reinforced-concrete Mushroom Table Sets at the family picnic area were made by Universal Precast to Stantec specs. The butterfly and flower shade structures are designed, manufactured and installed by Sun Ports. There are various material choices for fabric shade structures: Teflon-coated fiberglass (PTFE) and its hybrid forms, ethylene tetra ethylene (ETFE), vinyl-coated polyester (PVC), high density polyethylene (HDPE) and laminates. The HDPE is perforated and said to block out up to 98 percent of the harmful UV radiation. Shade manufacturers, who've been operating in the U.S. for more than a decade, say the temperatures beneath the structures are as much as 30 percent cooler. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

Centennial Hills, a master planned community in the far northwest corner of the Las Vegas Valley, is home to an eponymous park, formerly known as Deer Springs Park. This area of the valley voted to adopt the moniker "Centennial Hills" in Jan. 2001. Centennial Hills Park incorporates Adventure Playground, replete with a splash pad to cool the furrowed brow and larger-than-life "natural" elements--daisies, mushrooms, frogs, toadstools, butterflies and caterpillars.

The Centennial Hills Park Adventure Playground from the sun's perspective. The splash pad (left) cools off the tikes and probably a few parents who descend from the observation deck. Two reinforced concrete tubes made and painted by Universal Precast Inc., lead from one play area to another and incorporate speaking tubes to communicate with people on the deck above. The speaking tubes are a modified product called Fun-Fone as manufactured by Miracle and home-made components by Noorda Sheet Metal Co. At the 10 and 4 o'clock position are two modified play structures that simulate forts from GameTime, composed of powder-coated aluminum, plastisol decks, and molded plastic slides and roofs. Photo: Sun Ports International, Dallas, TX.

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Stantec Consulting, Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada, Cary Baird, managing senior associate, prepared the master plan for Centennial Hill Park's full build-out, then the working drawings for phase one (22 acres) of this ultimate 100-acre, multi-use city park. The custom playground, walking trails, dog runs, group and single picnic pavilions, a professional volleyball complex and regulation soccer fields make this park stand out from others in southern Nevada.

The Design

Stantec wanted to integrate modern park elements, yet "create contrasting diversity not found in a kit of parts," observes Baird.

"Weathered steel was the medium of choice to reflect the weathering process on steel. The colors chosen for all other materials are desert tones to reflect the surrounding mountains' hues and complement the weathered steel." To the west and north of the park are the Spring Mountains. It's a land of arroyos and geologic formations said to be unique to the valley.

The shapes designed for the picnic structures are freeform and constructed of organic materials found in our desert environment, Baird explains. "The restrooms and concession building mimic those materials and express simplistic forms of earlier times to contrast the picnic shelter forms."

The lighting is designed to reflect through the roofing's meshes to create interesting shadowing. The hardscape finishes and colors in the plazas and at the picnic shelters are in keeping with the "aging process of time and the structures they surround."

Phase 1 master plan. From left top: The Adventure Playground; stormwater wash, one of the area's natural arroyos; two regulation soccer fields; large dog run; From left bottom: parking; an 11-court professional sand volleyball complex with spectator seating separated by the pavilion area; and small two dog run. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

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Playground Elements

The design of the custom playground and splash pad sought to create an outdoor fantasyland to stir the children's sense of adventure and imagination, verses a conventional playground and its standard play equipment. A bridge is the entry to Adventure Playground. Materials used were steel railings and stamped and stained concrete to simulate wood planks. The bridge is in reality built on earth with concrete culvert pipe to channel storm water. The gateway to the play area features an overhead custom steel flower box painted in vibrant colors of flowers, grass blades and butterflies.

  • Sun Ports International helped Stantec design and build custom colorful giant flowers and butterfly shade canopies.
  • Custom colorful reinforced concrete mushroom-shaped tables and chairs make room for family picnicking.
  • Crawl tubes (big concrete pipes) are painted in vibrant colors and placed at different angles.
  • Play structure posts of different heights and painted different shades of green simulate a grass field, spaced closely so kids can play through and between them.
  • Custom and colorful concrete circular stepping stones of different heights and widths let kids walk from one step to another.
  • An overlook with benches and trees allows parents to fully see all the playground action. Two concrete tubes beneath the overlook connect one play area to another and feature speaking tubes so kids can talk to those atop the overlook.
  • Two modified play structures at opposite ends of the play area simulate forts.
  • A two-way small bike path circumscribes the play area, complete with speed limit, stop and yield signs.
  • The hill built off the overlook sports custom tube slides, custom and colorful steps built at different angles and a rope pull-up that challenges kids to climb the wavy hill.
  • Frogs shoot water in a computer controlled splash pad.
  • Sitting options include custom concrete caterpillar and butterfly benches. The back of the butterfly benches is a colorful steel mesh wing.
  • The play surfacing is a mixture of resilient surfacing on the flats and a special blend of sand on the hill and in key play areas.
  • The concrete pavement areas have multiple stained pavement colors.

"Our goal was to break away from the standard playground concept. The playground has been a huge success, with families coming from all over to play there. The play area has days where there are waiting lines to play," reports Baird.

The bridge into Adventure Playground. The railings are tubular steel (Noorda Sheet Metal Co.) and the bridge surface stamped and stained concrete simulating wood planks. The "bridge" actually sits on earth with a concrete culvert pipe beneath to channel storm water through the arroyo that nature built. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

Stantec has designed these type of playgrounds before--ones that charge admission. The Centennial Hill Playground, as part of a public park, is free to use.

Volleyball Complex

An 11-court professional sand volleyball complex with spectator seating was designed and built as a venue for professional and amateur volleyball events.

The butterfly shade structures are supported by a sand blasted, powder-coated steel frame and steel connecting components. "The different wing angles of the butterflies were meant to simulate them flying through a flower patch," explains Gary Haymann, exeutive v.p. for Sun Ports. The caterpillars are custom made by Universal Precast Inc. and colored with automotive paints. Sun Ports won an Industrial Fabrics Association International "Award of Excellence" for their innovative shade structures at Centennial Park. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

"The challenge was to design a sand complex to allow usage in the daytime during the hot summer months, and not limit the usage to night play," Baird says. If you've ever walked bare footed on hot sand you need no explanation.

I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I'm a man."--Chuagn-tzu, 369-286 B.C.

Stantec worked with Bison International to build custom volleyball posts with built-in sprinklers to cool off the sand before and during play. A neat trick. The system is designed to let the city monitor usage through its central computer system.

The custom and colored steps leading to the playground overlook are field-formed reinforced concrete by Richardson Construction painted using Semco Manufacturing concrete stains. Some areas have seeded black exposed aggregate (stained) supplied by KRC Rock, Calif. The handrails are galvanized steel fabricated by Moorda Sheet Metal Co. This material was selected versus painting, as it will hold up longer to skateboarders. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

"Let the Sunshine In" ... They Used to Say

I, a member of the Baby Boomer generation, grew up along the shores of the Chesapeake and later in the mountains of Colorado, enjoying the outdoors in an uninhibited manner, not concerned about the sun and getting a little pink skinned. It was natural, after all. You play outside, it's sunny, you get burned.

The splash pad includes frogs that shoot water made by Universal Precast per specs. The water equipment is by Vortex and Water Osyssey, and the slip-resistant surfacing, Tot-Turf by Robertson Industries. The tot lot features Human Bob, Space Bob and Mechanical Bob--talking posts (Playworld Systems) that kids hand crank to hear them speak. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

In 1969, the musical "Hair" on Broadway gave voice to "Let The Sunshine In," a bit of a hippy sentiment, of course, but still evidence of the thinking of the time--sun is good, let it warm, tan and liberate you! And I did let it in over the subsequent years, whether in Hawaii, Cancun or Southern Calif.,--decades of playing tennis in bright sunlight, many of those years hatless, as I hated anything on my head.

As youths we didn't know any better but as young adults we did began to hear admonitions about absorbing too much of Mother Nature's glow. Today, the American Cancer Society reports there are about 1.3 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

The lighting for the pavilion and shade structures is the Reflex Series by Diversified Lighting. Each of the granite filled rebar pillars has two lights below and one on top. The light passing through the grates in the sheet metal make for interesting shadowing effects yet provides adequate light for night use. Other site lighting is GE Sports Lighting for the Soccer Fields and Volleyball Courts and CC/CCS Series (Kim Lighting) for the parking lots. Photos: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

Yes, UV component makes for more wrinkles, liver spots, can cause eye tissue damage and even damage DNA and suppress the skin's immune system! Ah, sun worshippers no longer--well, let's say diminished worship. There's solace knowing moderate sun exposure helps our bodies synthesize vitamin D.

A large Scandinavian study of melanoma risk published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 esteems adolescences the most dangerous age to sunburn. This message is taken to heart more so by our cousins down-under. In Australia, most schools require kids wear hats when they venture out into the open (see Playground column for one result of the practice). When former Aussie tennis star Patrick Rafter played his matches he'd slather mounds of zinc oxide across his visage, resembling a Scottish warrior--and wear a hat. In my neighborhood of Westminster, Ca. (aka "Little Saigon") Vietnamese women (the older generation) open umbrellas over their heads whenever its sunny--which means about 95 percent of the time.

The dog run, one for big dogs and one for the lap dogs, features a dark green, fine-textured three-way fescue blend that Vegas likes to use: 34% Adventure II, 33% Anthem II, and 33% Aztec II, excellent for drought and heat. At the entrance to the dog runs (self-closing gates) are centralized shade shelters modeled on the pavilion area. For parched throats, man or beast, there are segregated drinking fountains, i.e., ones positioned for canines and those for upright bipedal types. The chainlink fencing and powder-coated colored posts (Tiberti Fence Co.) keep the canines corralled. There are also emergency one-way exit gates at opposite corners or the run. The landscape here includes Cimarron rangers, deer grass, coyote bush, with a Chitapla tree (foreground) and a Raywood ash on the turf. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

Shade--a Blessing in the Desert

Landscape architects not only have to design safe and attractive play areas, but incorporate shade. I've noticed in Southern Calif. that many parks, situated as they are out in the open, do not a glimmer of shade have.

On a recent trip to Ft. Lauderdale for the ASLA annual meeting, I stood waiting in the midday sun on a dock for a water taxi. I had a baseball cap on, but the sun was remorseless--and this in October! I felt I could melt.

I wondered what brainiac hadn't foreseen the necessity of a rudimentary shade structure for people queuing for the water taxi.

I'm also reminded of a short walk taken with my sister Leah one summer morning in Vegas. Such oppressive heat I've never before experienced. The kicker is she wanted a hot coffee at Starbucks!!

My Kingdom for a Swatch of Fabric

Fabric shades are a practical solution, not only for keeping sun off tender skins but mitigating UV damage to play structures. Shading keeps the rubberized surfacing and play equipment cooler. Us Baby Boomers well remember hot metal slides.

The fabric shade structures in Centennial Hills Park are from Dallas-based Sun Ports International.

The pavilion between the two volleyball areas structure was built by Noorda Sheet Metal Co. Noorda formulated a process at the direction of the landscape architect to give the steel materials an aged, weathered look, to the extent that the rusted steel decking on the structures creates rust lines on the pavement when it rains. Weathered steel, used for some time in Arizona, is a favorite of Cary Baird, managing senior associate with Stantec. It was necessary to convince the city project manager and council to use the material and allay concerns it would be a target for graffiti. Thus far no graffiti! Youthful Phoenix date palms provide a desert esthetic and eventually more shade. The volleyball posts with sprinklers were custom designed by Stantec and Bison Recreational Products, Inc., to cool the sand on hot days. Photo: Stantec, Las Vegas, NV.

"Permanent shade structures can be designed and manufactured in various styles, from simplified free-standing units, to complex elaborative tension systems, depending on budget and purpose," says Gary Haymann, exe. v.p. of Sun Ports. "The outcome (at Centennial Hills Park) is a Disneyland-like appearance, while providing a practical shade and UV-free environment for children to play," he adds.

"Tensioned fabric can be twisted, overlapped and angled into a virtually limitless array of forms and color combinations," adds Jay Jensen, USA SHADE & Fabric Structures, Inc.

Former rivals, Sun Ports and Shade Structures joined forces to create USA SHADE & Fabric Structures, Inc., which they say is now the largest shade and fabric structure manufacturer in the world. The company has five brands: Sun Ports and Shade Structures, FabriTec, VPS (Vehicle Protection Structures) and Shade Concepts.

Advances in fabrics give specifiers increasing style options and custom designs. Shade fabrics are lightweight, economical and come in many colors. Shade fabrics are less costly than most building materials and less labor intensive to install.

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December 10, 2019, 7:35 pm PDT

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