Installing canopies and shelters in an educational environment

Installing products like canopies and shelters in schools can be both challenging and rewarding, but what are the main considerations when installing in an educational environment? SAS Shelters Managing Director Andy Swain shares his insights into manufacturing and installing products on school premises.

When you start to discuss a new project with a school, college or nursery, the first things you have to establish are the age of the children the canopy or shelter is for, its intended use – for example, a play area, outdoor classroom or walkway – and the size of the area they wish to cover.

While carrying out the initial survey, study the school grounds as well as the buildings to determine which style and material will suit the existing look of the school. For example, is the school newly built or is the architecture much older? Sometimes fitting a heavy steel structure to an older building isn’t in keeping with the its look and feel, so you might suggest a wooden structure as an alternative so it’s in line with the school’s current aesthetic. In most cases, planning permission will be required, so it is advised that you check with your local authority with regards to planning regulations on free-standing structures to ensure that the work can be carried out on the premises.

The challenge often faced by a canopy or shelter supplier is being able to offer the correct product that is fit for purpose and pleasing to the eye, within the school’s budget. Another consideration when choosing which type of structure to use is what type of access does the school have for this type of structure? Is expensive lifting equipment or additional machinery required due to limited school access? All these things should be considered in the planning stage as they could add additional cost to the final quotation.

Key considerations

When selecting the right type of structure, many factors have to be taken into account. If the structure requires legs to support it, the number of legs need to be considered. If the number of legs are reduced then heavier steel work will be required to support the span of the roof and this will need to meet snow and wind loading regulations, which will be checked by a structural engineer.

When considering a canopy, the groundwork needs to also be considered. If this is going to be a play area, do you fit a soft play surface or Astroturf? If children are playing and running around near exposed posts from the structure then post protectors are highly recommended to reduce the number of accidents and to keep the children safe.

The type of material used for the roof of the structure also has to be right; the ideal material to use is UV stable roof sheets, as they block out harmful UV rays and will keep children safe from the sun when playing outdoors. If the structure is intended to give shade to a classroom then tinted or opal roof sheets will cut out the suns’ rays and will keep the classrooms much cooler during the summer.

If the structure is going to be situated in the middle of the playground, does the area suit a steel structure? Does it suit a vaulted or gable roof? How large is the structure? Does the structure need guttering? Drainage and guttering plays an important part in the decision making process, as any rainwater needs to be either directed towards drains, connected to the draining system or will require new soak-aways to be installed. If the rainwater is directed incorrectly, this could freeze during the winter months and cause a hazard.

Sail shades

Sail shades are becoming increasingly popular and are a great choice when choosing a structure for a playground. If you choose to go down this route then the school needs to decide if they require them to be waterproof, as this will impact on the material used. Sail shades can be offered in PVC and a mesh fabric, which still blocks out the UV rays, however is not completely waterproof like the PVC. The advantage of this is that the shade does not have to be set at a certain angle so that the rainwater can run off.

Like all structures, sail shades require regular basic maintenance to keep their longevity as over time, the fabric will stretch slightly, due to the amount of rainfall we typically receive each year from our British climate. Tensioners need to be adjusted to make sure the fabric is kept to the correct tension, otherwise the rainwater will not be able to drain correctly and the fabric will become too stretched over time.


If the school does not require a permanent structure, then awnings can be a great alternative. Commercial awnings have come a long way over the years in regards to full cassettes, which help to keep the fabric concealed from the elements when not in use. The fabric used on commercial awnings are virtually maintenance free, don’t fade in the sun and are suitable for all types of weather. Some modern designs can also be fitted with sensors so when the wind gets too strong for the projection, they automatically retract. This solution offers schools a hassle free and low maintenance alternative that can be fitted much quicker than a permanent structure.

Most schools would prefer the work to be carried out during the school holidays, so it is important to schedule the correct amount of time for the work to take place and if the timescales are tight, the school needs to be made aware so that alternative procedures can be put into place to ensure that the work is completed on time. If the work can be completed during term time, then the supplier can be a lot more flexible and has a greater window of opportunity to complete the work without having to rush to fit it in during the school holidays.