Feature Article - March 2010
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All Together Now

Making Play Safe & Accessible

By Matthew M.F. Miller

Maintenance Requirements

Hendy believes that every playground should have money set aside for maintenance before construction begins, which would include taking care of the surfacing. Without regular maintenance and inspections, no playground will remain in a safe condition for very long.

"Forty percent of all playground injuries are alleged to be caused by lack of maintenance," she said. "That is huge. Seventy-nine percent of all injuries, according to the CPSC, are a direct result of falls. Maintaining our playground surfaces is the single most important thing that we can do to reduce the number and severity of playground injuries."

When designers don't have CPSI certification, collaboration between both the planners of the new facility and the manufacturer can help reduce the number of accidents that occur in the future.

"If the person or persons charged with designing a playground do not have the necessary knowledge and experience to deal with all these issues, they should look to collaborate with experienced playground designers, playground equipment sales representatives and a local CPSI to help work through the maze of design considerations, safety issues and product and materials options available in the marketplace," said Ken Kutska, member of IPEMA's Voice of Play Board of Advisors and president of Children and Recreation Environment Inc. "Many designers and sales representatives have attained CPSI designation."

And while the CPSI designation does not qualify the person as an expert in playground design or safety, it at least ensures they have been through a comprehensive program that address all the issues related to proper design and safety.

Skulski, who has assessed hundreds of parks and recreation facilities for safety and accessibility, says that when a playground is 5 to 7 years old, she's not going to make any recommendations for the park owner to be putting in little new pieces of equipment to update the look and appeal of the area.

"I'm going to be recommending that they look at the remaining life cycle of that playground and then begin planning to replace it," she said. "Again that's not just for accessibility but for safety. The equipment was designed under old standards. There's so much we learn every day and how it plays into design."

If it's a younger playground, the first thing Skulski looks at is access route, then at variety of equipment to make sure that one of each type of equipment meets accessibility standards.

According to Bloomington's Williams, people often incur "sticker shock" when told about the costs for new play equipment and surfacing, so it's imperative that you are realistic about your budget limitations.

"Spending all your money on surfacing and little on play features will result in a lightly used playground," Williams said. "Be realistic about your ability to maintain the new playground surface over the 12- to 17-year life that the new equipment should last. If there is no maintenance staff, or inconsistent budget allocations for maintenance, downsize your design to purchase the best quality surfacing and equipment you can afford that will lower maintenance costs. Look at compact designs with multiple play events coming off of one post or central pier to reduce square footage and surfacing costs."