Installing tents around obstructions requires tenacity, creativity and know-how. Here, seasoned installers share challenging installations and clever solutions.
From overhead power lines to underground utilities to massive tree limbs, obstructions to tent installations are as varied as the tents themselves. While tent installers and the customers they serve strive for a streamlined, efficient tent installation, obstructions can wreak havoc on an otherwise smooth process.
Mike Mutton, a second-generation family member who, along with his father, Bob, and his mother, Linda, run Bob Mutton Party & Tent Rentals in Fort Wayne, Ind., frequently deals with obstructions—both large and small.
In January the company installed a 25-by-45-meter tent on a construction site to allow the construction company to pour concrete during the remaining cold winter months.
“The area we were to set up was the future home of the cafeteria for a retirement community,” Mutton says. “All of the underground mechanical for the space had already been put in the ground prior to our tent install, so there were pipes sticking out of the ground everywhere.”
Because of the trenching and excavating that was required to install the building’s plumbing and electrical components in the ground, the space had large piles of dirt, trenches and a myriad of other obstructions.
“The challenge we didn’t predict on a January install is that two days prior to the scheduled install, the temperatures rose from below freezing to the mid-50s, so what we anticipated was going to be a frozen jobsite turned into pure mud,” Mutton says. “Not only did this make operating machinery a chore, but just walking from point A to point B was almost painful.”
In fact, the Bob Mutton Party & Tent Rental team got their telehandler stuck in the mud several times and almost tipped it over when the wheels slid into a trench. Additionally, there were a lot of challenges around the perimeter of the tent, where legs and base plates were to be placed.
“In one location there was a 6-foot-deep trench in the exact location a base plate was to sit,” Mutton says. “We had to build a ‘bridge’ out of 6-by-6-inch beams to support the leg in that location and then come up with a way to safely anchor it all to the ground.”
From the start, Mutton and his team knew that measuring and squaring the tent was going to be a big project. It was difficult to get good diagonal measurements because of the uneven terrain and obstacles, so going in with a patient mindset was critical.
“We also knew that building arches in place wasn’t going to work consistently, so we made the decision to build all of the arches about 100 yards away on a nice flat solid space and fly them into place,” Mutton says.
This involved buying some new longer Lull® straps and gaining insights from the manufacturer, as well as fellow tent companies, on good attachment points.
“For the trench where we had to ‘bridge’ to support a tent leg, we really hadn’t planned on that so it required some quick thinking and loose calculations on site to come up with, what we believed, was a safe solution,” Mutton says.
Teardown proved to be difficult as well. “We had the original plan to pick the arches from the side to avoid driving on top of the new concrete,” Mutton says. “Unfortunately, the weather never got colder and it also started to rain. As a result, the terrain around the perimeter of the tent wasn’t conducive to allowing equipment to get in place to pick the arches and swing them out to dissemble.”
The team’s solution was to use a much smaller and lighter weight telehandler that the contractor would approve to drive on top of the concrete. “Because the machines we found didn’t have the reach to get to the top of the arch, we had to rent two machines to allow for two pick points that were lower on the arch on each side.”
From an acorn
Like Mutton, New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Tent Rentals has installed tents around obstructions over the years. In December 2017, the company had a client who wanted a custom structure that would enclose two of the mature oak trees on site, making them part of the interior decor. What’s more, the site presented more than a few challenges, being a private residence on one of the most historical and congested streets in New Orleans.
“The points of egress from the front and rear of the home were incredibly narrow to load equipment in or out and crossed public sidewalks,” says Angela Mahaffey Watson, director of event experiences and outside sales manager at Gulf Coast Tent Rentals.
“The biggest challenge of all were the 100-year-old oak trees with massive low hanging branches; large, sprawling, delicate roots; and the thousands upon thousands of linear feet of white lights wrapped heavily on every tree trunk and branch.”
The roots posed a challenge due to excessive weight loads and the “shock” that may occur from driving a stake close to them.
However, the tree branches posed the largest of the challenges. As Mahaffey Watson explains, because of the age of these trees and the weight of the low hanging branches, they were cabled to the trunk of the tree for support.
“The more moisture that the branches encounter, the heavier they become, which can cause their height to be at a 12- to 16-inch differential than what the height was measured at during a drier season,” Mahaffey Watson says.
To address the obstruction issues, the Gulf Coast team hand-carried the bulk of what could not be gingerly forklifted over a rough iron fence.
“We laid a subfloor anywhere the approved forklift could drive on the property,” Mahaffey Watson says. “We were in communication with the client’s arborists as to protocol for the roots and moisture in the branches. Our team was also prepared if modifications had to be made on site to any of the pipe and fabric due to the unpredictability of the weather and trees.”
And the team had to modify each upright at individual heights to account for branch differentials and proper water shedding off of the tops. Heat was also run continually if the interior of the tent dipped close to freezing to keep the clear-top fabric from becoming brittle.
“Alternate solutions are always discussed with regard to the obstruction, the budget and the overall experience they would like their guests to have,” Mahaffey Watson says. “There are instances, however, whether it be out of necessity or sentimentality, tenting around an obstruction is unavoidable.”
Steel, snow and ice
The team at ptg event services of Bethpage, N.Y., embraces obstructions head on. In early 2018, the company was tasked with erecting two temporary structures to complement an existing permanent rooftop structure in Minneapolis, Minn., to accommodate the swell of tourists surrounding Super Bowl LII festivities. The rooftop also presented the challenge of steel billboard frame supports and guy gables, which were inside the structure footprint. The two tents were connected by erecting temporary metal walls.
“In addition to the structural challenges, our crew battled 15 inches of snow during installation and a large amount of venue furniture and temporary supplies that lacked alternate storage,” says Liz Davis, director of operations at ptg event services.
As Davis explains, during the planning phase, ptg event services prepared for building around existing steel and cable supports, which were inside the tent. The team combatted the challenge of loading in to a rooftop space with a small elevator by using a crane for placing materials.
The snowstorm initially delayed installation, and ultimately resulted in an expedited process requiring the crew to use a crane on a busy, snow-covered city street, assist with snow removal through a small elevator, manage significant ice accumulation with a roof torch and work around the furniture and temporary supplies that lacked storage.
“We also modified our hardwall panels by cutting portions to accommodate existing steel and cable supports,” Davis says. The crew used a variety of roof flashing and sealant to seal up holes in the roof around cables. And they custom cut the plastic subfloor around obstacles including steel supports, planters, bars and roof vents. Carpet was added to mask floor cuts.
“Building tents around obstructions is something that is less challenging when there is a good dialog to manage client expectations, a fair amount of pre-production time and a fair amount of installation time,” Davis says. “Our most challenging work is often the expedited installations and surprise obstructions.”
For example, in the past ptg event services worked with a venue that planted trees a week before installation, and the ptg team didn’t learn about the trees until they were on site. They also handled a 24-hour installation timeline for a ballasted tent that accommodated 500 people for dinner with flooring in a public space, surrounded by existing structures, with limited truck access and heavy equipment restrictions.
“This is why site inspections, with thorough attention to all overhead obstructions, trees, elevation challenges, is important,” Davis says. “Also build your network of industry professionals from whom you can solicit advice. Many have experienced the same challenges. But in the end, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
Based in Plymouth, Minn., Maura Keller frequently writes about applications of specialty fabrics.