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Planning for Play - What You Need to Know
By: Tabitha Beach

Your congregation has finally agreed that you need to purchase playground equipment. Are you in the dreaming stage? Or, have you already begun the researching or fundraising process?

Those who have gone before know that a buyer must take into consideration a myriad of details to plan and purchase equipment, and many buyers find themselves getting stuck at one stage or another. Yet, no one knows the complexity better than play equipment companies themselves.

Seeking and choosing a playground sales organization that offers turnkey services simplifies the process for the buyer. A quality sales company will capably walk you through each step instead of hanging you out to dry. Ask each sales company whether or not they offer these basic services.

1. On-site CPSI certified inspection of existing equipment
Companies should offer CPSI (Certified Playground Safety Inspector)-certified sales representatives or installers to inspect your site for safety code violations of existing equipment, if you plan to upgrade existing equipment. The National Playground Safety Institute, NPSI, provides extensive training and testing for CPSI certification. Visit

2. Site evaluation and planning recommendations

Just as people have unique traits and quirks, so does land. A quality sales organization should be available to visit your site and offer recommendations for play equipment placement, taking into account your site’s distinctive characteristics. Age ranges and the number of children to use the equipment, as well as accessibility needs, play an additional role in layout and design.

The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) suggests dividing age groups into separate areas to decrease play time injuries – 2 to 5 year olds separate from 5-12 year olds. This is not a requirement, especially for locations where fewer children will be playing together at one time.

Accessibility restrictions have heightened for the playground industry in the past several years, and churches – more than other organizations - should be sensitive to the needs of all people. Sidewalks, surfacing materials and layout are all affected by accessibility concerns.

Furthermore, you and your sales representative should take into account your climate. Why? The amount of sunshine affects which play equipment materials and colors you should choose (e.g., dark colors and metallic materials retain and conduct heat more than others) and whether you need additional sun protection such as shade shelters. Also, is your area prone to vandalism? No equipment is completely vandal-proof, but some are easier to repair than others.

3. Full design services
Wise consumers making large purchases, including playground equipment, expect the final product to meet their specific wishes. Many playground companies offer design services to make modifications to standard models listed in their catalogs. Some manufacturers allow customers to modify play components or colors. Ask for pricing on re-design work or design modifications. 

4. Full installation services
Once you have purchased your equipment, you are only halfway done – installing the equipment comes next. Churches on tight budgets might be tempted to cut corners by choosing to install the equipment themselves, but more often than not, they wind up having to find an installer to fix the problems incurred from struggling to make sense of complicated prefabricated parts. Many playground sales organizations will provide either in-house installation services or refer you to installation organizations certified to install their equipment. Letting the professionals do it saves you time, energy and headache-numbing medication.

The manufacturer and the installer should provide proof of liability insurance to build and install playground equipment, protecting your church from responsibility for negligent construction. Additionally, the installer should be a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) to certify a final safety inspection upon completion of the project. Professional crews will provide unload to final clean-up service, leaving your site clean and safe before driving away.

In addition to procuring a full-service sales organization, seek a manufacturer or supplier that guarantees the following: 

  • CPSC, ASTM & ADA Compliance: Just as codes dictate accessibility and safety for buildings, codes and guidelines govern playground equipment manufacturing processes and products to ensure the highest safety standards for children. These are called the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). IPEMA, the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association, is a third-party organization that assists companies with compliance to the CPSC & ASTM requirements. Some companies offer free site inspections and consultation on ADA accessibility as well as site design to meet specific needs and ADA code.
  • Quality, not just quantity. You want to be able to keep this equipment for years to save for the future, so don’t just jump at something that sounds too good to be true (low price for the amount of equipment) but that will fall apart in a year or two.
  • Warranty: Compare warranties among companies for their equipment, and look for a manufacturer that will be around long-term to back up their warranty.
  • Integrity: Business is business, according to most companies, but you should expect a high level of consistency and honesty from a sales representative. The safety and well-being of your children rest on it. They should be sensitive to your church’s specific needs, not just push a product on you to make a sale.

Budgeting for Playground Equipment
As a rough estimate, play equipment prices range from $2,500 for structures accommodating 5-6 children to more than $25,000 for structures accommodating 50 or more children. Count the play component units per play structure to compare amount of play to the cost. While playground equipment buyers unfamiliar with commercial grade pricing may gasp at the steep initial cost, they should keep in mind that the equipment will be used many years into the future - yet another reason to look for a company with a good warranty, excellent reputation and quality materials.

What’s Going to Last?
If you buried a toothpick, a paper clip and a plastic spoon, which one do you think you would find nearly unchanged within a year? You could probably (if you marked the spot well enough) dig up the spoon, wash it off and eat a double-scoop of Rocky Road. You might not even find traces of the toothpick or paper clip. Plastic is nearly impervious to deterioration unlike wood and metal. Plastic dumped in landfills only takes up space (harming the environment), but plastic recycled into useful products steps towards Biblical stewardship of the land given to us. 

In recent years, manufacturers seeking to find a solution to the drawbacks of wood and metal have developed lines of equipment made from progressive materials including wood-polymer composites (such as Trex), plastic-encased metal supports and solid plastic. Most of these products are partially or fully recycled post-consumer content. Even though wood-polymer composite lumber works well for decking, for the most part, it has proven to be too weak structurally to hold up under constant abuse from playing children. Recycled plastic encasing metal supports lessens the danger from impact and offers a solution to some of the chipping and scratching problems of metal, yet only serves as a veneer to metal without recycling nearly as much plastic as solid plastic structural supports.  

Solid recycled plastic play equipment, aside from the obvious benefits of utilizing recycled materials, offers solutions to the haunting faults of wood and metal, but is not without its defects as well. Plastic may need metal reinforcement to prevent bowing under direct sunlight or high-weight load areas; it is not as strong as metal equipment.

Choices of playground equipment companies and materials increase continually. Most importantly, your church or committee must weigh the negatives and positives of each product based on the specific needs of your church. Objectively compare each product against criteria addressed in this article as well as concerns voiced by pertinent parties – budget committees, parents, children, teachers, and church leadership. There is no perfect solution to please everyone, but your church’s play area can be a success story through cooperation and good choices. Your efforts will provide hours of safe play for your children.

Tabitha Beach is marketing manager for Play Mart, www.playmart.com

Product Roundup

KoalaPlay Group
KoalaPlay Group’s interactive play offerings and themed environments help make church a place where stories of the Bible come to life. Churches across the country are discovering that whether indoor or outdoor, KoalaPlay Group’s innovative play areas create an atmosphere that keeps children excited about church, making them want to go back, and thus bringing their parents with them. KoalaPlay Group’s unique, custom designs allow churches to use a signature attraction play area, whether it be a dry play structure or a soft foam play area to draw in new people, reach out to the community, and make a difference in the lives of children.

MaxClimb System from Park Structures
The MaxClimb System from Park Structures is the “clear” choice in climbing walls. A common problem with playground climbing wall systems is that the climber obstructs the parent or supervisor’s view of the play area. Park Structures designed the new MaxClimb System to remedy the issue of supervision around climbing walls. The rotomolded climbers are designed with carefully placed open handholds, allowing full visibility through the component and increased supervision in those typically hard-to-view areas.

Kompan Elements
For more than 30 years, Kompan Elements play equipment has played a special part in thousands of children’s lives. There is little that can compare to the expression on a toddler’s face when they are introduced to a world built just for them. The rest of the environment they live in is not designed to capture their young imagination or foster a child’s unique physical skills. In a world built for grown-ups, Kompan Elements offers a special place just for toddlers to explore, create and discover.

WallCano Climbing Wall System from GamTime
GameTime’s expanded WallCano Climbing Wall System is fully modular, allowing it to be configured in a myriad of ways. Create walls that rival the grown-up versions with 90-degree corners, hanging cliffs, flat walls and angles. Systems can be created for either the 2-5 or 5-12 age groups. The new additions to the WallCano Climbing system are proving to be a huge hit with kids, providing them with a fun way to develop strength and coordination. Kids will experience the thrill and challenge of placing their hands and feet to climb to the top of the wall, just like adults, but with age-appropriate equipment geared toward their smaller hands and reach. It provides an easy to learn climbing activity for children, with brightly colored handholds, so they can easily see where to place their next hand or foot.

CoolNet Shade Canopies from BCI Burke
As children spend additional time on their playgrounds, it is more important than ever to protect them from the dangerous rays of the sun.  BCI Burke offers CoolNet Shade Canopies to help reduce the dangerous exposure to U.V. rays and provide 4 to 7 times more shade coverage than an average playground roof. Burke’s shade solution is a durable and attractive product that screens up to 95% of the sun’s dangerous rays, allowing children and adults to linger outdoors for extended periods of time safely. They also keep play equipment surfaces cooler for the more sensitive skin and hands of youngsters. CoolNet Shade Canopies are available for all Burke Series 2000, Series 3000 and Little Buddies Play Systems. 

EPS Plastic Lumber
“Buy it once.” A simple concept, but how often can you say that you were able to purchase something that lasted longer than 10 years, or 20 years? EPS manufactures and distributes 100% recycled HDPE plastic lumber and park furniture. With a 50-year limited warranty, they guarantee it   won’t splinter and rot like wood. It won’t dramatically fade, stain or delaminate like some composites you find at your local retailer. It simply looks like the furniture you installed, year after year. It is safer, cleaner and longer lasting than anything you can buy locally and is recycled from milk jugs. It comes in seven great colors. Church, school and scout groups receive a 5% discount for mentioning this offer.

International Play Company
International Play Company designs, installs and manufactures indoor and outdoor play structures for churches. Make your church more dynamic than ever for young members and youth ministries. IPC is dedicated to creating customized play systems to meet your space and budget requirements. Create a play environment in a style to suit your church: a Noah’s Ark theme, a tree house or a jungle safari.  If you can dream it, they can design and install it. They adhere to ASTM, CPRA, IPEMA safety guidelines and have in-house playground safety inspectors. They offer interactive and creative play solutions at very reasonable prices.  New products include the New Wizard Quest Interactive Game, Ballistic Ball Arenas, Obstacle Courses and Sport Courts. Both indoor and outdoor designs are available with unique styling and design.

Play Mart
Play Mart Playgrounds, a leader in recycled plastic play systems, offers play equipment made with 100% Recycled Structural Plastic (RSP) supports, decks and railings. Being solid, color throughout plastic, RSP is virtually maintenance free - no splinters, splitting, staining, painting or sanding, saving you time, money and energy. RSP is backed by a 100-year warranty. Buyers can now cooperate with the Presidential mandate to “buy recycled end products and contribute to domestic energy conservation.” Play Mart gives you the choice of a recycled product that meets all the national and international safety guidelines and laws (ASTM, CPSC, CSA, EN and ADA) and also closes the “recycling circle” by recycling consumer waste.

Grounds For Play
Grounds For Play is a full-service provider of great children’s playground environments. This begins with their local Design Consultants who provide complete project consultation, site master plans and safety evaluations. The then manufacture, install, and service a full range of playground equipment, including play structures, safety surfacing, outdoor music gardens, shade components, and science and nature elements. What makes them different? They are built on an understanding of children. They are owned and operated by educators. Both Dr. Eric Strickland and Dr. Jim Dempsey have completed extensive research and writing on children's play and play environments.

WOW’s Big Idea in Playgrounds
VeggieTales playgrounds offer a unique look for your church playground with the characters your children know and love. For more than 10 years, children have been learning timeless values with Bob and Larry; now they can join them in play, on the playground. Custom designs with themed VeggieTales characters in music, sports, western and traditional character designs provides great street appeal.  VeggieTales are the creation of Big Idea, Inc., a family media company committed to providing entertaining stories that help parents teach today's children important life lessons.  Now with Bob and Larry and all their friends taking the lessons to the playground – what could be better?

Rock ‘n Cross from BigToys
BigToys’ new Rock ‘n Cross redefines traditional see-saws by combining a multi-rider teeter-totter with a dynamic overhead activity. The unique design of the Rock ‘n Cross removes the dangers of common teeter-totters by eliminating pinch points and sudden stops through the use of an internal spring-assisted action.  The “graduated challenge” of the Rock ‘n Cross offers children ages 5 and older individualized levels of activity to suit their developmental abilities. It is the latest example of BigToys’ dedication to providing children with both physical and social development in a single play activity. Founded in 1970, BigToys creates opportunities for kids to interact through play where they develop the skills that will equip them for life.

Star Seeker from Landscape Structures
Landscape Structures has introduced the Star Seeker, a towering, three-sided climber constructed out of SpaceCable Climbing Cable. The Star Seeker challenges children with three separate climbing routes supported by a mast-like central steel post. It can accommodate many children at one time, and can be used as an independent play event or linked directly to a PlayBooster playsystem. The Star Seeker stands 11 feet tall and each SpaceCable climbing route is 10 feet in length. Its unique shape presents many climbing routes and more play variety. SpaceCable is an extremely durable nylon-wrapped, six-stranded galvanized steel cable that is flexible and easy to grip. The polyamide nylon covering is UV stable, and does not get hot in the summer or cold in the winter. SpaceCable is virtually maintenance-free and extremely vandal-resistant.

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Religious Product News