January 25, 2018

Playground Building 101: Get it Together!

Let's Build It!

This is part one of a four-part series on building a playground, based on the information found in Blueprint for Play. You can also read our series on Playground Planning, Playground Funding and Playground Design.

Your playground is one step closer to completion! You've planned everything. You've found funding sources. Your design is complete. Now it's time to build! Here are some tips to make the day a memorable experience for your community.  

NOTE: Communication is Key! We can’t stress enough the importance of communicating with your vendor as you prepare to build your playground. From delivery to site prep to construction, your vendor will be able to offer you instructions specific to your needs so the build goes smoothly.  

How will you build?

The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you’ll choose a complete professional install, a supervised install, or a hybrid of both options, like using professional installers for the equipment, and volunteers for installation of surfacing. Regardless of which route you take, you need to ensure you can execute the plan!  

Place Your Order

Next, it’s time to make it tangible, so order away! From the day you order to the day the equipment shows up on site will vary from approximately 21-45 days. With as little as 3 weeks before your equipment arrives, organization and preparation during that time is crucial. Be sure to ask your vendor for your target delivery date, so you know your exact window of time to prepare. During this time frame, you’ll need to plan, prep the site, organize tools, organize volunteers and more.

Contact your trusty playground vendor to find out the number of days the build will take, tools and equipment needed, and the number of volunteers needed for each day.

We recommend starting off with choosing someone to lead your crew. Captain, Team leader, boss, head honcho, whatever you call ‘em, designate someone to be the ringleader. This person will have responsibilities before, during and after the playground build. Make sure to talk about the following items with your vendor and note any additional recommendations they may have.  

  • Secure the volunteers. Develop a list with names, phone numbers and roles prior to build day. Give them a call at least one week in advance to confirm their coming and as a little reminder. This will give you time to recruit additional volunteers if needed.
  • Prepare the site - way in advance! We’ll talk more about site prep in the next blog.
  • Secure the proper tools and building equipment. We’ve put together a handy-dandy tool list for you in the next blog. Your vendor will know exactly what you need.
  • Choose one point of contact for your professional supervisor.  This person needs to have the authority to make decisions on site and be on site all day.
  • Get the tools and building equipment to the site early - preferably at least an hour before the planned start.
  • Have your volunteers sign waivers. Safety and responsibility is a priority. Also, check whether you’ll need to have volunteers sign photo releases.
  • Orientation of the equipment - your professional supervisor knows what parts go together, but you’ll need to show him where on the site they’ll go. Talk with your professional supervisor to agree on the location plan before the build day.  
  • Make sure there is a power source and a water source on site. Both will be vital during the installation.
  • Determine the method of concrete disbursement. Will a truck dispense into wheelbarrows, or will you be mixing on site? Ask your playground vendor how many wheelbarrows you will need. If you are mixing concrete, a water source is crucial.
  • Secure and pay for the concrete for the holes. Your vendor will be able to give you a quantity estimate.
  • Secure, pay for, and supply any other ancillary materials not provided by the vendor. It’s a good idea to talk about these needs with them in advance.

Have a Strong Foundation

You must provide surfacing under and around the equipment in the use zones AFTER it is installed and BEFORE children play on it, so be sure this is planned for. Work with your playground vendor to plan the timing and requirements which will depend on the equipment and surfacing option you have chosen. Under no circumstances should children be allowed in the playground use zone before the surfacing is installed. Depending on your schedule, this may require you to purchase plastic construction fencing or other barriers to prevent access. Discuss with your playground vendor in advance.


Make it Fun!

Your playground build is only as good as your volunteers. So be thoughtful and treat them well! This is an all-day event, so plan ahead to make it fun and productive! Here are some guidelines to get great help and help volunteers feel appreciated.

  • Share the work! Make sure your team size is good for your project build. You don’t want to end up without enough volunteers, and too many idol volunteers isn’t great either. Ask your trusty vendor for advice on how many volunteers you need, and then verify that at least that many are committed.
  • Communicate a dress code to volunteers to keep them comfortable and safe. Flip flops are a no-no!
  • Communicate to volunteers what, if anything they need to bring with them, for example, tools, sunscreen, gloves, or shade hats. Volunteers can also be a great resource for tools, so share a list with them and take inventory of what they can bring.
  • Be sure food, water, first aid, and other amenities (like restrooms!) are available to volunteers.
  • Host an orientation/training meeting first thing on the morning of the build. Be sure your team leader or another appointed spokesperson discusses the day’s schedule, team lifting, protecting the finish of equipment, proper usage and procedure for checking out (and returning) tools, safety, reading the instruction manual, team assignments and captains, and other guidelines as advised by your playground vendor. This is also a great opportunity to thank those who have donated goods and services for the build day!

Many of your volunteers may have kids, and a build site is NOT a place for young children. Consider babysitting services (such a great idea!) or activities nearby to help get parents to volunteer, and to ensure children are kept out of harm’s way during the build. High school-aged children may be appropriate, but ensure their parents sign a release form for them.

Plan fun activities throughout the day to keep spirits and momentum high! Stretching sessions, camp songs, and music are just a few of the options! Rallying the group for progress reports, hydration breaks, and a team lunch can help keep volunteers motivated and engaged to the finish.

Play to your volunteers’ strengths. Find jobs that are suitable for them. A job sign-up sheet prior to the day of is a helpful idea. Communicate to volunteers how long they are expected to be onsite helping.

Your build day should be fun, rewarding, and exciting! It’s a great way to build community strength, create friendships, and work together. By preparing yourself for the event, you can ensure that it will be remembered as a fun time, and help you recruit volunteers to help out in future events!

Can't wait for parts 2-4? Request a free copy of Blueprint for Play.