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8 Things to Consider Before Buying a Play Structure

Purchasing a play structure for your school, church, park or HOA is an important decision with many factors to carefully consider. This information will shed some light on that process and the important details that must be considered when planning for the purchase and installation of a play structure.

First, a little background on me: I’ve held a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) certification for five years and have installed more play structures than I can count. They have been installed all over the country both indoors and out. Currently, and for the past three years, I serve as the Director of Sales and Operations at JM Installations located in central Florida.

Based on my experience, here are some of the most important things to consider.

  1. Location of the Play Structure

    The area where the play structure will be installed must meet several criteria. The area must be large enough to accommodate not only the play system, but also a “usage zone” required by each structure. This location must be level and free of debris. Before installation can begin, a “locate” will need to be performed by utility companies to affirm the location is free of any utilities that may run through the area underground.

  2. The Age Range for your Play Structure

    The age-specific structures and children should only play on the playgrounds designed for their age group. When installing multiple structures designed for different age groups, they must be separated with fencing and adult supervision will need to be provided to insure children only play on the structures designed for their age group.

    • Ages 6 months – 23 months
      Play areas for children 6 months through 23 months should offer equipment where children can move and explore. Appropriate play areas for this group will have equipment designed to encourage crawling, standing and walking.
    • Ages 2-5 years
      Play areas for children ages 2-5 should offer equipment that challenge the children to make “step ups” and “step downs” and include crawl spaces. Appropriate play areas for children ages 2-5 could include: areas to crawl; low platforms with multiple access such as ramps and ladders; ramps with hand rails attached for grasping; low tables for sand & water manipulation; tricycle paths with various textures; flexible spring rockers; sand areas (with covers); and shorter slides (usually no taller than 4 feet).
    • Ages 5-12 years
      Developmentally appropriate play areas for school-age children could include rope or chain climbers on angles; climbing pieces; horizontal bars; cooperative pieces such as tire swings, slides, sliding poles and open spaces to run and play ball.
  3. Budget for the Play Structure

    Working with an experienced play structure supplier will benefit you in getting the most play equipment for your dollar. For example:

    1. They will have suggested play structures for the age group you identify as your target.
    2. They will space plan your playground thereby ensuring a proper fit. Most playground suppliers will do this for free.
    3. They will include in their quote to you pricing for the following: structures, safety surfacing, borders, installation, handicap raps and even local permitting.

    These experts will ensure that you have everything you need for a safe, successful playground that fits into your budget.

  4. The Material the Structure will be Constructed From

    There are two different types of play structures with regard to materials. The first and the most common is a metal structure with some plastic components, such as the slides. Wood structures are also an option but are less common in commercial or educational applications.

  5. Number of Play Elements

    How many play elements do you need? How many can your area support? These are two great questions and can be answered by your play structure supplier. Space planning is crucial in answering these questions.

  6. Surfacing

    The surfacing of the play area is crucial. The first question you must address is what type of surfacing will be used. There are three basic types of surfacing:

    1. Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF), This is a chemical-free wood mulch and has been “fall height” rated. EWF requires monthly attention as it compresses by use and must be raked/spread to ensure that an appropriate depth is maintained.
    2. Rubber Mulch, is made of recycled tires. There is little maintenance required and is an excellent choice.
    3. Pour in Place, is a granular rubber that is mixed with resin and applied to a sub base of cushion. It also requires low maintenance but can be more costly than some of the other options.
  7. Maintaining Your Play Area

    Maintaining the play structure and the area around it is critical. Inspections should be performed on a regular basis looking for any issues and any found should be addressed as soon as possible. It is best that you keep a log of these inspections that include a list of problems found and the corrections made. These maintenance forms and other information usually accompany the structure that you have chosen.

  8. Where to Purchase

    There are many suppliers of play structures to choose from. Look for one that seems to be as much a consultant as they are a vendor as you will want help selecting the structure that meets your need. If you are looking for a turn-key solution, you need to make sure that the supplier you choose uses professionally-trained installers. The supplier should also be willing to do electronic space-planning for you (free of charge) so you can be sure the structure(s) will fit in the space you have available. Using a local company is not necessarily a must as long as the company can provide you with the sales, support and installation services you need in your area.

By using this basic information I have outlined as a guide, you should be able to identify the play structure that is the correct for your needs. If you have any additional questions or would like me to recommend a play structure supplier, comment below or send me an email.

Authored by Barry Gilreath, National Director of Sales and Operations/CPSI of JM Installations