Before you build
A lot has been written in recent years about play value. Trends towards eliminating recess from elementary schools and the steep rise of obesity in children are cause for concern and extreme measures by scientists, educators, and parents. With traditional rural and wild landscapes being replaced with buildings and concrete, the importance of the value of play and playgrounds is very evident. Playground owners are at the top of the list of people who have the ability to make a difference, just by building a playground.
When shopping for the "best value," some tend to confuse the word "value" with terms such as "cheap" or a "good deal." The best deal or ultimate value would be to get good quality playgrounds for a cheap price, right? I wonder what a poll of playground owners would reveal about this statement. Hopefully with common sense and after a few lessons in trial and error, we understand that when it comes to playground equipment getting the best value is not a monetary issue after all.
Value is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "rate of usefulness, importance or general worth." Play is defined as "the spontaneous activities of children." Putting these two words together, I think, fairly effectively and accurately describes what every playground owner hopes to achieve when purchasing and installing new equipment. The real mission then becomes to develop and provide a safe play setting where the "rate of usefulness" or "play value" is maximized.
Embarking on the task of providing a setting that promotes the "spontaneous activities of children" requires gathering information and tapping into available resources - the website you are currently browsing is a perfect example. Here are some more:
- A website from the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) dedicated to the topic of play value voiceofplay.com. The site features articles about the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of play and offers expert advice from a board of advisors. Check it out.
- Becoming a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) or having someone on your staff certified is certainly a proactive move that thousands of public and private entities have used to further their knowledge of play.
- Earning a Recreation Installation Specialist Certification from the International Playground Contractors Association, definitely adds ways to improve one's skills for building value into your playground. These courses are available throughout the country, so keep an eye out for a class in your neck of the woods.
Finding value also means working with the right sales and installation companies. Beware of sales firms that require a significant deposit to order your equipment or are in a big hurry to get you to sign off on a project with which you are not completely comfortable.
Always know how and when the playground will be built prior to ordering it. Work with a contractor who has a reputation for getting the job done in a timely fashion. If the playground is purchased and installed by separate entities, get feedback from both firms about the playground you are selecting. A site visit with one or both parties is always a good way to filter any issues that may be overlooked when looking at the job just on paper.
Demand documentation about the products you are purchasing in the form of a warranty and proof of liability insurance. Many times your playground will come from several different suppliers, all of whom can have different warranties. Ask the same of the installer. They should be able to provide you with proof of liability and workman's compensation coverage. If these documents are hard to come by, it can be a sign that your valuable time would be better spent looking for another company to work with.
Work with people who are easy to reach on the phone when you need them. Communication by email is a great time saver, but it is not the way to make a deal. There is great value in being able to get a live voice on the other end of a line during business hours. That's what cell phones are for, right?
Beware of really cheap prices. This should be a red flag to anyone looking for real value. Most playground companies incur the same costs of operation. If one bid comes in extremely lower than the others, it can be an indication that something is missing from the bid or they are supplying substandard materials.
Consider ways in which you can get the most bang for your buck with your project budget. One way could be partnering with a home owners association, nearby school, YMCA, city, or a civic organization such as the Lions Club. What about a local business that may contribute time, supplies, or cash? Sharing your vision of the "value of play" for the children in your community with potential donors is a great way to make a small playground a big one. You'll never know unless you ask.