Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Play Date

Planning Pleasing Playgrounds

By Richard Zowie


Besides meeting safety requirements, successful playgrounds depend heavily on community support. Nothing can eliminate a possible playground more quickly than neighbors or other locals who don't want it in their area.

Maynard recalled how Guilford's proposed playground was to be built near the shores of Long Island Sound (Guilford is located in south-central Connecticut), and how getting community support was a challenge. Some property owners were concerned about how the playground would impact their own properties; being able to have an unblocked view of the water was one of their big concerns.

"It ended up being quite a task for us," Maynard recalled. "We worked to get support from the planning and zoning commission. Some neighbors initially didn't want it since they had a quiet life on the beach, even though it's a public beach."

Eventually, Maynard and other officials were able to get the support they needed, but it wasn't easy. The neighbors didn't want the playground to stand out visually, so the bright primary colors that tend to appeal more to children were scrapped. Instead, they used colors that matched those of the natural plants in the area. Also, the playground's components had to be produced by a recognized playground manufacturer.

Hausler said that interviewing vendors that sell various playground products and getting them to propose designs is helpful, since doing so helps you determine which vendors' products will best fit the needs of the playground. Then, you develop the public process and put the proposals before the community.

"The planning process also includes funding and fundraising that really determine your next step regarding the type of playground you can install," Hausler said. If money is a problem, none of the other issues will matter.

Feeney said that it is crucial to develop a budget so that you know what you can spend. Once you get a budget, work within it. "Develop conceptual designs, prepare public bidding contracts for installation and set a timeline for completion," she added.

McConkey said you have to be very careful when planning the budget. Being careless or too quick can lead to very unpleasant surprises down the road. "You can easily have cost overruns," he said. "If you're phasing a playground, make sure you allow space and be flexible in the budget for subsequent phases."

Setting a budget, of course, begins with acquiring the funds needed for the playground project and learning how much you have to work with. Scarbrough said that because her company is a municipal utility company that provides water, sewer services and electricity, they largely financed the playground project (including completely financing the main park) and provided the land. Local donations contributed part of the money needed to build the park's Kids' Castle.

From grants and government funds to local donations, there are plenty of sources to help fund a playground. Guilford's playground was bonded. French-Lee said that the $110,000 renovation project for her center's 16 year-old playground came in from revenues from state contributions.

Hausler said that money for his playground came from various sources: federal grants and state grants along with funds from the local municipal budget.

"There are also fundraising efforts within the local community or school system—depending on where the playground is going," he said.

Maynard said that fundraising was one way in which their playground came about. Their small playground was getting old and rusted, and a local resident led an effort to upgrade the equipment. She did a lot of fundraising and raised most of the funds privately. This, along with the work done by volunteers, helped to make things happen.