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Hatherly Shaed Structure with Labadias 2What it took to install a shade structure on our school grounds By Katie Labadia (Guest Blogger)

A startling lack of shade on the playground at my children’s school became a topic for discussion at the year’s first Parent-Teacher Organization meeting in September 2015, after some surrounding trees had been cut down over the summer. With a growing awareness of melanoma and skin cancer on our minds, we formed a Sun Safety Committee. I became chair.

I have been passionate about sun safety for many years, not only because I am fair-skinned but also because I lost my mother to melanoma. By taking on this cause, I was hoping to honor my mother, protect my children, and educate our beautiful seaside community about skin cancer prevention. My role evolved into my arranging a sun safety educational program, advocating for sunscreen at school, researching shade structures and fundraising.

The PTO decided that fundraising would be the best way for our school to pursue this project. I contacted the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation, which agreed to provide its SunAWARE Curriculum, to help us research shade structures, and to assist in fundraising. On CMPF’s recommendation, I contacted an Australian company called Sailshades that manufactures its products in Texas. The shades were attractive, blocked UV rays, came in a variety of colors and could be easily taken down for our New England winters.



By the start of the following school year, I had obtained estimates from Sailshades for the sail, hardware and design plans. Within two months, I contacted our local building inspector, building commissioner and zoning officer because I knew that I needed them to sign off on all permits. The building commissioner referred me to the Assistant Facilities Director for school buildings. A local engineer and fellow parent drew up the site plan for the shade structure. I then learned I would need a licensed contractor to obtain a permit as required by state and local regulations. This was a huge hit to our budget, because we had planned to rely on parent volunteers. In addition, I learned that Plymouth County required wind proofing of at least 110 mph for all structures, and that minimum was expected to increase to 133 mph. We ultimately worked this out by agreeing to detach the shade sail from the poles during winter months and strong wind warnings.

Throughout the spring of 2017, I contacted a dozen local contractors. I again hoped that some or all of the contracting work would be done pro bono for our important sun safety cause. It was a very frustrating time because I spent months trying to get a contractor to commit to the job, even with pay. The School Facilities Director eventually recommended a contractor who had worked previously with the town.

Our initial budget for the project was $5,000 for the shade, plans, and installation. Our total project cost ended up at $11,897. We spent $2,250 for the shade, hardware and plans and $9,647 for installation costs. We raised money to make up the difference by selling sun safety items (such as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen) in the school store on Don't Fry Day, a national day of skin cancer awareness held on the Friday of Memorial weekend. This netted $1,187 in proceeds for the project, and the PTO very generously donated $10,000 to cover the remaining project costs.

The sail cloth was erected on the school’s playground as part of our annual field day in June, 2018. I proudly set up a sunscreen station right under the sail shade. That long, hot field day concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and acknowledgements from our school principal and superintendent.

The annual plan is for the sail shade to be re-installed during April school vacation and taken down by Thanksgiving weekend to be stored inside our school for winter. We are now looking for user-friendly carabiners or marine hardware to make it easier for the school custodian to attach and remove the shade structure. The good news is that the shade plans can be used for other town buildings.

We have learned many lessons learned throughout this project. Primarily, making something happen that you feel really strongly about can be both extremely frustrating and rewarding. If I hadn’t taken copious notes with a constant punch list, this shade project never would have come to fruition. I am pleased that my four children and all other students at the school will benefit from this sun safety project for many years to come.

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