Feature Article - May 2020
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Understand Your Options on Playground Safety Surfacing

By Emily Tipping


Poured-in-place is a two-layer system that is mixed and installed on site over a stable surface such as concrete, asphalt or highly compacted stone. The first layer is made from recycled rubber mesh, or crumb rubber in some cases. The top layer is made of manmade colored granules that can be combined to make designs or provide a speckled effect. Both layers are mixed with moisture-curing polyurethane binder at different content percentages. The thickness of the base layer can be varied to correspond to requirements for the different fall heights of the equipment.

The surface is hand-troweled, which means a margin of human error, and weather can have an impact over time, as well. "To get a good-quality PIP surface that lasts, using an experienced install crew is just as important as using quality materials," Toomey said. "The crew must be able to handle different atmospheric conditions, as well as other job-site challenges. We are often the last contractor on the job, so our crews must be knowledgeable about AS™ standards and all aspects of playground construction.

"It's a technical and time-

sensitive install process using expensive raw materials, so it must be done right the first time," Toomey added. "If it isn't installed correctly, there can be a multitude of problems. For instance, even though a job can look great when it's done, without an adequate amount of binder in the mix, the surface can deteriorate more quickly. This is another reason why it is important to use a reputable company that has been in business for a while and offers a warranty."

Soileau said that while all of the surfacing materials her company provides are great for fall height protection and keeping children safe, their poured-in-place rubber surface is the top of the line. "Even though it can be more expensive than the rest of our surfaces, it's made to last from five to 10 years, and besides being safe, I love the fact that we can add in-laid designs and bright, beautiful colors to match anyone's theme or to add some flair to the playground. It makes the playground bright, cheery and more fun for children." The company's in-house designers can work with customers to create a custom design that lives up to their dreams.

Though far less common, artificial turf with a pad for resiliency beneath, is another unitary surface option. It's natural looking and considered environmentally friendly since it doesn't need to be watered or fertilized. The downside is that it can get very hot, and requires some maintenance to keep it looking good.

Whether tile, poured-in-place or synthetic turf, all unitary surfaces require little maintenance while offering ADA compliance and consistent fall protection. They also require a greater initial investment and need to be professionally installed.

Maple Park in Barco, N.C., got a playground makeover, thanks to Soileau's company and a partner playground equipment manufacturer. Jack Huffman of Site Concepts worked with Currituck County's Park & Recreation Director, Jason Weeks, to design the park playground more than a year before the project became a reality.

As they were reaching the final design phases of the playground, Weeks expressed a preference for poured-in-place rubber surfacing if it could fit his budget. After tweaking the design a bit, they included a PIP surface for slightly less than the allocated budget.

Huffman was pleased with the crew who installed the surfacing on-site, describing them as "very well prepared for a professional installation with flawless execution.

"I personally met the crew the morning the materials were delivered," he added. "I personally watched an impressive display of an efficient crew in operation, and within two hours, these guys were making final site evaluations and laying the resilient layer on the playground."

Final Thoughts

Whichever surface you choose, be sure to talk to the manufacturer about how the surface has performed against AS™ standard test methods.

"Ask to see actual test results, not just certificates," Merchlinski said. "We encourage playground owners to obtain independent testing of their playground safety surfacing after installation, in order to verify that the surface is performing as expected. And lastly, we would always recommend working with a reputable playground equipment dealer." RM