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Two tent companies create successful graduation ceremonies

Project Briefs | April 1, 2008 | By:

Two tent rental companies resolve site challenges to stage successful graduation ceremonies.

Clifton Park Rental Center, Clifton Park, N.Y.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s football field—surrounded by fencing in the center of the Troy, N.Y., campus—posed some challenges as a site for a graduation party.

“We were the first company they allowed to put tents on their football field,” says Mike Frodey, operations manager of Clifton Park Rental Center, which is in its fifth year of providing services for the institute’s graduation. “Putting tents on the football field is a big deal. It’s sacred. They trusted us because we’ve been doing business with RPI for at least eight years.”

In addition to the tents for the after-commencement party, Clifton Park sets up chairs for 10,000 for the outdoor commencement on the school’s practice field. The graduation party takes place on the regular grass football field, with only one access point because of its fenced enclosure. “That requires much hand carrying of equipment, and we have to be careful of fiber-optic cable going through the ground,” Frodey says. Clifton Park relies on its two PiggyBack® forklifts, which are turf-friendly for setups over football fields.

Past setups have used a Eureka! Genesis® 40-by-130-foot tent and a 40-by-180-foot tent; behind them were 20-by-80-foot and 20-by-40-foot Eureka! Twin Tube® tents. In the middle field were two 50-by-90-foot Eureka! Genesis tents with tables and chairs underneath. Clifton Park delivers and sets up about 450 60-inch round tables in the middle of the field. Most of the tents are used for food service and buffet lines. Setup and takedown require eight days using a crew of seven for the commencement picnic and a crew of five for the commencement itself.

For this annual event, Frodey attends institute planning meetings and presents detailed proposals and designs. “They always have to go out for bid and I never come in as low cost, but they keep using us because of the comfort level,” he says.

The rental center has Rensselaer’s graduation down to a science now, so he wouldn’t approach it differently, Frodey says. “It’s one of the events where it’s important to preplan. Everything has to come together. It gave us the confidence that we could do large-scale events.”

Special Events Tent & Party Rentals, Bangor, Pa.

Washington and Jefferson College has a large, grassy mall for enjoying the sunshine at the Washington, Pa., campus. But it’s low ground and tends to collect water, a problem confronted by Special Events Tent & Party Rentals three years ago when it covered the mall with a tent for commencement. “The second year we worked on the event, the problem was with the bowl,” says Butch Ruggiero, president and general manager of the Bangor, Pa., company. “The problem was constant rain.” The college worked on the drainage problem that year and made a permanent fix the following year. The fix included installation of French drains along both long sides of the tent. “Now any water draining from the tent or from the surrounding buildings is directed to the drains before it can make the lawn too soft to use,” Ruggiero says.

For this commencement event, the company does tent setup and lighting, and partners with RMC Rental Enterprises of Washington, Pa., the primary contractor on this job, to do chair and stage setup for 2,500 attendees.

Special concerns include staking; there are 256 stakes around the 80-by-260-foot Anchor Century® tent because the ground is soft. The tent slides into a slope with custom heights on one end to accommodate the slope. “It fits like a shoe,” Ruggiero says.

The commencement was a major event for the company the first year. “The tent was 80 feet wide by 240 feet long and represented the largest individual tent we had erected at that time,” he says. In addition, the college is 600 miles round-trip from the company’s home base, which meant transporting employees and equipment. “The rising cost of fuel and associated transportation keeps us constantly searching for the most economical method of moving equipment.”

Because the job can require an overnight stay, Ruggiero tries to replace labor with mechanical solutions. “For example, we can erect an 80-by-260 tent with as few as six men. Very little is done by hand.”

The job has taught Special Events how few people it can take to pull off an event of this size—with the right equipment. “It led us to clearly look at the cost of travel in this market. We only sent out four men last year. RMC provided two who worked with our equipment. This year we’ll attempt to do it with three and three of their men, plus equipment.”

Terry Monahan is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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