Playground Design: Before You Begin

Basic playground design information – types of equipment available, age-appropriate elements, use zones, safety surfacing options, shade structures, etc. – is easy to find online and it is relatively easy to understand. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) offers a free, downloadable Public Playground Safety Handbook. Members of a playground planning committee should definitely download this Handbook and review it while researching playground options.

If the planned playground area is part of a larger construction project, consult with the project architect and/or landscape architect – who may be able to provide playground design services/advice. If not, perhaps they will assist with reviewing equipment manufacturers and make suggestions during the design phase of the play area. If there isn’t an existing designer, most play equipment manufacturers offer design service at no additional charge.

The CPSC Handbook is a great reference, but final playground design decisions rest with the playground committee, which should be very familiar with the planned playground requirements. Only the committee members know the topic well enough to review options and understand how those options meet budgetary, operational and aesthetic requirements.

When working with a playground designer, it is important for the committee to clearly communicate all requirements and expectations relating to the playground project right from the beginning. Honest, open communication eliminates wasted effort – such as designing a $100,000 playground when the committee has a $20,000 budget. Finally, review every decision before signing-off on it. Often, it’s little things that cause big headaches later on.

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