Supplement Feature - September 2010
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Creative Cushioning

Adding More Safety to Play

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Special Considerations: Certain disinfectants, chlorine bleach, oil and gasoline, and some solvents can damage poured-in-place surfaces, so be sure that these are kept away. (Most of those aren't things you want hanging around a playground anyway.)

Some colors of the outer coat have a tendency to develop a yellowish cast or fade over time, so a special (and more expensive) binder might be needed for certain designs. Poured-in-place surfaces are porous, so depending on the amount of precipitation or other water they'll be exposed to, a drainage system might need to be installed when the concrete base is poured.

Poured-in-place surfacing is definitely the most expensive in terms of initial costs. With the concrete pad and installation, surfacing for a playground can run $35,000 to $40,000—and that's before you have any equipment. But, Thompson is quick to point out that over time—say five to seven years—the cost of personnel to maintain a loose-fill surface, as well as the expense of topping off the material from time to time, will add up to about that same $35,000 to $40,000.

Retrofit vs. Reinvent

It may be that your playground equipment is in fine shape, and you're thinking just a little surface upgrade will do the trick. If you're swapping one sort of loose-fill material for another—wood mulch to shredded rubber, like Baytown, Texas, or maybe pea gravel to wood mulch for some added shock-absorbency—it's usually a relatively simple process. Out with the old, in with the new.

But, before making any sort of switch, check your equipment for a decal on the posts that indicates where the surface must be, suggested playground safety expert Thom Thompson.

If the equipment was initially installed to accommodate 12 inches of loose-fill material, be sure you install a 12-inch layer of the new material, even if its safety rating requires less. This idea is especially important when switching from a loose-fill surface to a poured-in-place or other potentially much thinner surface. If adjustments aren't made—such as a thicker concrete slab or an added crushed gravel base—when the new surface is installed, "every entrance and exit on a composite play structure will have the height wrong by 2 or 3 inches," Thompson said. "The equipment will be noncompliant with the new surface."