Constructing Natural Playgrounds
I know it sounds easy. Sort of like landscaping, so anyone with any kind of
landscaping background should be able to build these beautiful play areas,
That's certainly what I thought when I started the company 15 years ago. I'd
design beautiful natural play environments all over the country, and then
hire local landscape contractors to build them.
Well, it didn't work out that way. We found that landscape contractors were
adept at building patios, landscaping around commercial and residential
buildings, planting trees and shrubs, installing gardens and walkways, but
had no idea how to construct 3-dimensional landscapes.
If they tried (and they did), they changed our layouts so things no longer fit,
misinterpreted our plans, didn't know how to solve drainage issues, couldn't
read plans, didn't understand the ASTM and CPSC safety guidelines so they'd
create safety hazards, and they had no idea how to implement the ADA
They caused more headaches than it was worth, and, because they didn't
know what they were doing (had never before built a Natural Playground), to
cover themselves, they charged our customers way too much money, in one
case 3 times what we had estimated!
So - we started our own construction company in 2008, totally, totally
focused on Natural Playgrounds. We don't build anything else, so we've
gotten very good, very fast, very efficient, and very cost-effective. Because
making beautiful, safe places for children to play is our top - and only -
priority, we've developed numerous proprietary construction procedures and
techniques that save our customers time and money!
Construction Documents and Bid Packages
In many situations, we find that customers want to put together bid
packages so they can get competitive bids for the construction, but here's
the thing. Bid packages cost a tremendous amount of money, and most
times, our customers have limited playground budgets, so do they need to
go this route?
The idea behind bid packages is excellent: you want several companies to
bid on the exact same thing, so everything has to be detailed, right down to
the size of the screws used. Everything that appears in the playground
design, from birdhouses, to drainage channels, to tree decks, to climbing
walls, to embankment slides, to the size of each rock, to each tree and each
shrub, and every single other thing, has to be accompanied by very detailed
drawings, as well as the techniques for putting them together. It's not
unusual to see 30-50 page packages, with each page measuring 30"x40"
and covered with detailed drawings and notes.
All that detailing costs money, and lots of it. We've put together several bid
packages, so we know.
Then comes the time-consuming bidding process. You have to advertise,
then distribute the bid packages, then evaluate the proposals (so you need
specialists to help you make decisions), and then hope and pray you've
made the right choice - and that you won't get hit with lots of change
orders because the contractor didn't understand what he/she was bidding
There are at least 5 construction disciplines/skill sets required to build a
Natural Playground, and most contractors won't have them all, so they bring
on subcontractors to do some of the work, which creates coordination issues,
which means more time and more money.
And in the end? You may still not get what you thought you wanted or were going to get.
Here's a recent, and perfect, example. Our client spent a quarter million
dollars ($250,000) on this new childcare center playground designed by a
landscape architect who said she knew what she was doing.
Almost every design element in this play area violates some kind of safety
code. So not only was the design totally inappropriate, the construction
company had no knowledge of playground safety guidelines, so they couldn't
self-monitor and catch and correct the issues.
This slide is a perfect example. It's concrete, so it doesn't slide well. There is
no sit-down bar at the top of the slide (which is required), no railing along
the top so a child could stumble and fall and hit their head on the concrete
curbing, and the dismount distance at the bottom is wrong for this age
During our walk-through, we identified so many safety issues that our
customer is going to spend close to $50,000 to demolish the entire
playground so they can start over again with our new design, and with our
construction company building it.
Because we both design and build our Natural Playgrounds, there is a
seamless integration between the design and construction process and no
intermediaries. Further, because our crew has built so many of these, and
knows the guidelines well, they do not need any construction documents,
which saves our clients a tremendous amount of money.
The term 'sole source contract' means that there is only one company that
can provide the contractual services needed, so any attempt to obtain bids
would only result in that one company bidding on it, or other companies not
being qualified. (Wikipedia)
Having one company, such as the Natural Playgrounds company, capable of
handling both the design and construction phases eliminates the need for a
Project Manager overseeing numerous vendors, contractors, and service
providers and all the miscommunication that usually accompanies a complex
Sole-sourcing is a viable way to go, especially in this specialized industry
which requires a very specific skill set. Here's a link to the language you can
use when making an argument to the oversight committee, or in a bid
document to make sure you get only (mostly) qualified contractors bidding
on the project. Read More.
If you have lots of contacts within your school or religious community, such as with contractors, nurseries, or gravel pit owners, or with town/city transportation departments, you may be able to get at-cost pricing or outright donations of materials. Sometimes our customers are doing work on their own sites, and materials are generated from excavating, or from constructing parking lots, and so on, and this material is then donated to the playground project.
The point is, that donations can s-t-r-e-t-c-h your dollars considerably, so it is well worth seeking them, as about 50% of the cost for any playground project is in materials!
It always sounds so wonderful. "We have great community. Lots of people
willing to help..."
If the project is simple and short, volunteers are fabulous, and can save
money! However, if the project is more than one or two weekend long,
volunteers are not a good option. They run out of time, they have other
things to do and can't make the necessary long-range commitment.
If you want to use volunteers, use them for short, easy to accomplish
projects: installing raised bed gardens, planting shrubs, filling fall zones,
painting fences, fall and spring clean-ups. We can give you a long list of
things that volunteers can do to help build your Natural Playground!
But let our crew do the major land work and major installations that require
skill, equipment, and knowledge. It'll be faster, fun to watch, and cheaper in
the long run.
If you want your Natural Playground done right, and done fast and
efficiently, call us toll free: 888-290-8405.
Or email email@example.com
Please contact The Natural Playgrounds Company® to discuss your thoughts and plans. We welcome your inquiries and will get back in touch with you promptly.
Thank you for spending some time with us today.
(Don't forget to check out our online store of natural play elements!
Click HERE to go there now!)