Monday, January 11, 2010

Only Equipment Built for Heavy Use Lasts -- Short-Term Savings = Long-Term Replacement Costs and Safety Concerns

Durable equipment is the most important thing to consider when designing and putting together a playground, whether it’s for a backyard or a large municipal park. Lesser quality slides, swing sets and any other contraptions tempt with lower costs, but why risk the safety risks and very possible mechanical breakdowns that are all too common?

Here are some recommendations for properly designed playground structures that will last and prove to be a wise long-term investment:

Residential: Small wooden structures

Day Care: Small structures made entirely of plastic

Churches or Small Schools: 3.5-inch extruded steel posts, lighter gauge side panels, or more substantial wooden structures

Public Use - Small Towns: Smaller size play units using 5-inch extruded steel posts, or more substantial sized play units using 3.5-inch extruded steel posts

Public Use - Urban Areas: 5-inch extruded steel post, or 5-inch pipe, heavier gauge side panels

Since heavy use will really put playground equipment to the test, municipalities especially should heavily consider structures that have some kind of defense against wear-and-tear and vandalism.

Header boards and handles are key indicators of a structure’s durability and overall quality. Cheaper, less resilient models often will have handles that can be easily removed with a Phillips screwdriver or socket wrench. Flimsy header boards that can be kicked out easily are another tell-tale sign to take into account.

Tamper-resistant components and hardware undoubtedly yield longer equipment life. Plastic components need to be thick enough and positioned in such a way as to resist vandalism, the elements and warping. Steel pipes need to be thick enough and have enough paint layers to withstand weathering and normal, but steady, wear and tear.

Wear and tear occurs by the amount of children playing on the unit, which is most directly indicated by visible wearing of painted areas. Moving pieces, plastic games, pretty much all components continually withstand hundreds of children wearing them down. This is why well made equipment of the proper use grade is essential.

Larger, more heavily used playgrounds such as a city park should also consider the area’s demographics. If a particular park is frequented by lots of teenagers, for example, extra-sturdy equipment becomes especially necessary.

Playground structures are intended for use by smaller-sized children compared to taller and heavier teens, who generally should not be on the equipment. Given the naturally rebellious nature of being at that age, though, teenagers are the most likely age group with the potential for vandalism.

Those deciding on equipment should always bear in mind their facility’s demographics and its observable history of playground use to fully account for the kind of heavy use or possible damage that may occur.

Weather must also be considered. If the play unit is located on the beach or on sand, nature’s favorite abrasive element will wear surfaces and affect hardware. Heavy rainfall or snow, of course, deems rust protection.

Here’s a few quick-reference tips geared toward municipal playgrounds that will help resist vandalism, damage or warping from weather elements and heavy use:

Tamper resistant screws

Thicker gauge metal and plastic pieces

Increased number of paint coats on equipment

Secure placement of steel posts to ensure stable platforms, panels, stairs and slides

Fencing and lighting, and closing the park after dark

Adequate supervision