College and university campuses present myriad challenges when it comes to setting up chairs and installing tents for commencement ceremonies.
By Pamela Mills-Senn
The graduation season provides lucrative opportunities for tent and event rental companies, along with headaches that can try the steeliest of nerves. Take college and university graduation ceremonies, which often require massive chairs setups. CAD layouts are invaluable, allowing tent and event rental companies to create layouts and setup strategies, but experience is the greatest educator in getting it right.
Special Events Entertainment & Rentals, a Portsmouth, Va.-based party and event rental company, does three large-scale commencement events annually, says general manager Michael Fitzwater. One of these, the College of William and Mary, involves 12,000 chairs set up at various areas around campus. The job stands out because of the logistical complexity of having to deliver to multiple locations, each with a different timeframe and obstacles, such as a 1,100-chair setup at a multilevel amphitheater. It became even more involved recently with the addition of a stadium setup that added 5,000 chairs to the total order.
“Parking, unloading and moving chairs inside and on a turf field was an undertaking,” Fitzwater says. “It forced us to examine our labor rate for setup, given that we were moving chairs over 300 yards from the unloading point.”
The job also involved removing the chairs from the stadium ceremony and resetting them for Saturday and Sunday night graduations. In addition, the William and Mary commencement activities fell on the same weekend as those of another client. That event called for 7,000 chairs, which the company achieved by obtaining chairs from another vendor.
Weather is another worry—often the biggest one, says Andy Mattrick, general manager of Event Central, an event rental company in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
“This can prevent us from driving equipment on campus or accessing the site by tractor trailer,” Mattrick says. That’s a major consideration when delivering upwards of 13,000 chairs. “The sites we’re accessing on campus aren’t always the easiest to park multiple tractor trailers on, or use equipment to offload. This means being prepared all around, especially with our materials handling.”
Unfriendly weather affects more than delivery and set up. Setbacks also happen when chairs are returned wet and muddy and must be cleaned in time for the next event, says Kyle Richardson, project manager for L&A Tent Rentals, Hamilton, N.J.
Richardson says his company is more likely to supply tents rather than chairs for graduation events, because most of its clients own a sufficient number of chairs. Tenting brings its own issues, especially maintaining jobsite security during installation.
“We face thousands of people walking through campuses, and most times, they’re oblivious as to what’s going on around them,” Richardson says. “We often deal with people disregarding caution tape, cones and other forms of job securement.”
Finally, there are the underground utilities. “Many tents are erected in courtyards, and the universities have thousands of utilities running every direction through them. It can be quite the challenge to get the tent properly squared out and staked while trying to avoid every utility in the courtyard.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a Long Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.