ARCHITECTURAL: Bringing Shade to Schools

Intech helps install sheet metal shade structures at California schools.

Last year, Intech Mechanical of Roseville, California, bid on a plumbing job for the Sacramento City Unified School District. To their surprise, a routine bathroom upgrade for several elementary school campuses led directly to a series of architectural sheet metal projects. Local 104 only knew about the sheet metal aspect of the work until Intech bid on the job. “This one didn’t have any HVAC or ductwork, and it didn’t have any roofing,” says Gary Myers, Intech’s vice president of marketing/business development. He worried that the carpenters, the ironworkers, or the roofing unions might claim the work. Still, none of them came to the planning meeting to dispute his bid. “It wasn’t on anybody’s radar.” 

The project was called shade structure projects, with American Disabilities Act plumbing upgrades tacked on. “We wouldn’t normally go after shade structures, but the project had a decent plumbing scope,” Myers explains. While Myers was evaluating the ADA aspect, his estimator asked if he wanted to also bid on the shade structures. “The general contractors were looking for somebody to take on that scope of work because they didn’t know who builds these particular structures.” Intech bid the labor for each shade structure separately at $33,000 per project, adding up to just over $250,000. The plumbing scope was about that much again. 

The structures were like tinker toy sets. “They come pre-manufactured with directions and all the hardware,” he says. But Intech couldn’t simply slap the panels together and square them down. Each structure has a gable roof on four sides, which requires measuring and field cutting. “Metal roofing is fairly specialized, but my attitude is that my people are qualified to do just about anything.”

The shade structures are part of Sacramento’s COVID mitigation plan. “The intent of these structures is to create areas for the kids to eat lunch outdoors,” Myers says. “We have a lot of outdoor campuses in California. They’re not enclosed like you would need in a winter environment. Even on the worst days, kids can usually bundle up and go outdoors.” 

      The shade structures are 60 feet by 30 feet and weigh 4,000 pounds each.

The school district pre-purchased the steel columns of the shade structure from a company out of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis company paired their framework with a metal roofing system from a different manufacturer in Northern California. All eight structures were 60 feet by 30 feet galvanized finished products, weighing about 4,000 pounds. The structures are mounted on 12-inch by 12-inch tube steel posts anchored into a 10-foot square concrete foundation. Buyers can choose from several pre-painted color schemes to match their properties.

Intech sent teams of two or three workers to each site. “We were working at two, sometimes three, schools at any given time,” Myers says. It took about four days to erect each frame, then five to six workdays to mount each roof, adding up to 10 days total per school. The first shipment arrived on December 10, but Intech didn’t finish the last one until early March because of weather delays. “We’ve had one of the wettest seasons we’ve seen in years.”

Intech’s biggest challenge was installing seven of these projects on occupied campuses. Any occupied site presents safety concerns, but Intech takes extra precautions to maintain safety around small children. “The actual worksites were fenced off by the general contractor,” Myers says. “Anytime somebody moved material or a piece of equipment in or out, or you did something that would create a hazard, you would have a separate person watching to ensure that children didn’t run up behind you. That’s standard for all our work at occupied campuses.” 

These precautions were not enough for the eighth school, which has a very tight campus. “It was too cramped for us to set the structure with the lift while the children were there,” Myers says. “We ended up doing that one over the Christmas break in a short window of time.

The manufacturer sells these shade structures nationwide, and Myers hears rumors that hundreds more are coming to schools near him. “I’m trying to find out where and when because I’d like to go after them. We’re constantly looking for more market share.” 

The general contractor pointed out a similar school project last week, and Intech is well-positioned to win the bidding process. “I’m looking at a couple right now,” Myers says. “They’re the exact same structure from the same exact manufacturer, and I now know exactly what it cost to install it. I can put out a number and be confident that I can repeat it.”