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A Tale of Two Playgrounds
By: Eric Torrey

It was a time to make decisions; it was a time to play. There was a small rural church; there was a large urban church-affiliated day school. One needed a play structure for older children; one needed an extensive playground for toddlers. But, for both, it was the best of times to go green.

When making a decision to purchase just about anything these days, there is often a “green” choice offered-up for consideration. While people will agree it is important to make environmental-friendly choices – and many churches are committed to environmental stewardship – there are many other factors to consider when making a significant capital expenditure, such as the purchase of commercial playground equipment for your church. Often, the one overriding deciding factor is price, and there is a common misperception that green costs more. That’s not true – and when costs over the lifetime of the playground are considered, the purchase of a green playground usually provides the best value.

Two Georgia church organizations recently made the decision to acquire playground equipment. They each had very different playground needs/requirements. Just about the only commonality between the two was they both decided to go green.

Cartecay United Methodist Church
Cartecay United Methodist Church is a small church in Ellijay, Georgia – roughly 80 miles north of Atlanta. Although the rolls indicate a much larger congregation, approximately 110 parishioners regularly attend services on Sunday – and the majority of these parishioners do not have school-age children. So, why would Cartecay UMC be considering the purchase of new playground equipment?

“Growth for this church can only come about by attracting and nurturing a younger congregation,” said John Hochkins, church council president.

Part of the motivation behind the playground project was to have a playground in a place where it can be viewed by the community and portray Cartecay UMC as a family-friendly/family-welcoming environment.

A playground can be a valuable community outreach tool. While the need to bring in new parishioners may be easy to understand on the surface, it can be difficult to get people to support programs and projects aimed to change how things currently are – especially when people are comfortable with their church just as it is.

That’s where the green features of the proposed playground became an important factor in the decision process. Parishioners at Cartecay UMC are very aware of environmental issues, and they support green initiatives. Currently, the church has several recycling programs in place, and when the new Fellowship Hall was built, it included the installation of an energy-efficient heating/cooling system.

The main playground structure was to be manufactured using recycled, post-consumer plastic milk jugs; and it was also sustainable because it could be re-recycled at some point in the future (if the church ever decides it no longer wants a playground). Because of this, people were more willing to sign-on to the project, and agree that it was good, according to Hochkins.

The EcoPlay material used in the playground structure installed at Cartecay UMC was manufactured locally at Safeplay Systems’ factory in Marietta, Georgia. This single playground structure was made out of more than 12,450 recycled milk jugs, keeping them out of landfill indefinitely.

Even though the green properties of the proposed playground were a significant factor in getting buy-in for the playground project, the most important factor consideration in the decision process was cost. The initial price of a playground made from recycled plastic is usually very competitive with standard metal play equipment. And, when considering lifecycle costs, long-term savings can be expected due to the minimal maintenance required.

Cartecay UMC achieved significant savings on this project by having volunteers from the church handle the removal of the old, existing swing set and also having them install the new playground equipment. Being retired from the residential construction industry, Hochkins was able to supervise this work, and he said, “The installation was very straightforward. It just required a couple of strong backs.”

The new playground at Cartecay UMC was positioned not only to be visible to the community, but more importantly, for safety considerations, it was installed in a fenced-in area that is clearly in view from the new Fellowship Hall. The main play structure has 3 slides (including a 72” high spiral slide at one end), a tree climber, a step climber, an overhead horizontal ladder, a couple of play panels, and a deck-to-deck crawl tube. Recently, a spring animal was added, and the entire playground area has been filled with the proper depth of engineered wood fiber as a safety surfacing.

Even though this structure was only installed a short time ago, it is already seeing lots of use. Every Sunday there are children playing on it while their parents gather and socialize. When the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have their regular meetings at the church, the playground is a very active area. And, just recently, there was a wedding followed by a reception in the Fellowship Hall, and the children who attended with their parents were out there playing for over 2 hours. So, it seems the new green playground at Cartecay UMC is being well-received.

Wieuca Road Baptist Day School
Located in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Wieuca Road Baptist Day School has an enrollment of 180 pre-schoolers. As part of their published philosophy, the school embraces the ideal that “the work of children is play, so playgrounds are very important.

In 2001, the school worked with Safeplay Systems to design and install a large playground designed for children age 3 and above. The play panels in this area bright, primary colors, and the entire area is surfaced with red poured-in-place safety surfacing. Ten years later, when it was decided to add on a new playground area for toddlers, a different design approach was implemented.

The new playground features three separate play areas. One large, fenced area (3,800 square feet) is surfaced with turf and is used for open play. The other two areas (roughly 2,300 square feet each) have play equipment and are surfaced with poured-in-place safety surfacing from No Fault Sport Group. One color scheme is used throughout all three of these play areas – tan and green.

Influencing this color choice was a desire to work with the school’s new neighbor – a new high rise with views of the new playground.

Jane Vlahos, director of Wieuca Road Baptist Day School, said, “Using more subtle earth tones gives the playground a nice park-like look that blends in well with the landscaping.”

Color and visual excitement on the playground comes from the toys, balls and wheeled vehicles.

With design/color decisions made, it was easy to decide on a playground manufacturer to work with. The original playground has been in constant use for the past 10 years.

“During that time, we’ve had the playground inspected every year,” said Vlahos. “There have been no problems, and the existing playground has been maintenance-free.”

In addition to working with a playground company they know and like, there is the added benefit of installing a playground and safety surfacing made from recycled materials. The school has several programs in place to teach the children about saving the earth – including recycling.

Each of the two playground areas that feature EcoPlay equipment has a central play structure in a field of green safety surfacing and encircled by a tan trike track also made of safety surfacing. Around the track are traffic signs, a gas pump, and a store/depot. Each area also has a gazebo and storage shed. Over 21,250 milk jugs make up the recycled content of the playground equipment, while a majority portion of the safety surfacing includes the equivalent of over 3,200 recycled tires.

The new playgrounds at Wieuca Road Baptist Day School are a hit – with the children who love to play on them, the parents who like how safe they are, and the new neighbors who appreciate the aesthetics of the park-like play areas.

Eric Torrey, CPSI, is director of marketing for Safeplay Systems, www.safeplaysystems.com.

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