Facility Profile - October 2010
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Playground Safety

Watch Out Mulch!
Portsmouth Public Schools in Portsmouth, Va

By Kellye Whitney

If the wear mats—which cost about $100 a piece—are used across the school district there likely will be significant cost savings as well. Until now, Mensia-Joseph said the district was unaware of any cost effective alternatives to mulch.

"We've tried a different border, but we have not tried alternative playground covering. There's a rubber covering that was way too expensive. It was beyond what we could afford to do," she said. "So, mulch was the most cost-effective way of ensuring playground safety."

She agreed that so far the mats seem to be working out. There have not been any complaints from Park View Elementary School, nor have there been any accidents reported.

"We chose this particular playground because it was brand-new, just installed, and the mulch was brand-new, so we had a very good reference point to how the wear mats would perform over the course of the year. We would be able to compare it to new mulch and other playgrounds in terms of safety.

"If this could help us out it would hopefully prevent us from having to remulch those areas on an annual basis, and we could get away with maybe three or four years before we had to provide additional mulch," she said.

Mulch expenses depend on the playground—and Portsmouth School District playgrounds vary in size—but Mensia-Joseph said the district probably spends about $10,000 every 18 months to two years to keep playground mulch fresh.

"That can go from $2,000 to $10,000 depending upon the school. Our mulch bill runs about $50,000 every two years," she said. "We would look at that being about $50,000 every four years, so it would cut our mulch costs between 30 and 50 percent."

The annual return on the initial investment wouldn't be too shabby. Couple the cost savings with the safety of the mulch alternative, and the mats have been qualified as a tentative success.

"If we were doing some sort of statistical analysis I would say there is no significant difference between the mats and a properly mulched playground," Mensia-Joseph said. "A lot of districts have difficulty maintaining the proper level of mulch on a consistent basis. That's where the safety improvement comes in. You will consistently have the right height underneath the swing or the playground."


Portsmouth Public Schools: www.pps.k12.va.us

Zeager Bros. Inc.: www.zeager.com