Construction: Pre-Planning

Researching the playspace project
Site prep and tools
Community assets

Researching the playspace project

The Basics

First, gather the basic information about your project:

  • Site address
  • Contact information for the play equipment company, playspace installer, and surfacing company
  • Dates of meetings, Design Day, and Build Day

Mission and vision

Close your eyes and picture your new playspace for a moment.

Discuss the overall themes and goals of the playspace project with your co-chair(s), if you haven't already. In the months ahead, you'll be responsible for turning this playspace vision into a reality, and you're in an ideal position to make recommendations for how the space can best be utilized and improved.

Consider walking through our online Road Map so you can visualize the steps the whole planning committee will be taking along the way, and how construction fits into that picture.

Vendors and materials

Your co-chair(s) may have already chosen a play equipment manufacturer and a safety surfacing vendor. If so, study their catalogues and become familiar with their installation procedures. Talk to their representatives about community builds, and if possible, attend one in your area. Research the pro's and con's of the materials you'll be using, as well as future maintenance concerns. Also, think of any special installation/maintenance and wheelchair accessibility concerns. Any research you do now will make your planning phase easier — saving you loads of time, work and headaches.

How long does it take to build a playspace, and how many people do we need?
With the right amount of dedicated volunteers, your community can come together to build a playspace in one day. Pulling off this kind of ambitious community barn-raising requires months of planning, from fundraising to volunteer recruitment to preparation of the site. For a medium-sized playground (50-foot by 50-foot), we recommend having ten to 20 volunteers to assist with advance site preparation and 100 to 120 volunteers to install the playspace, haul loose-fill safety surfacing, and complete side projects. (If you're using pour-in-place rubber surfacing, you can assemble the playspace with only 50 to 80 volunteers.) Communities have done successful builds with fewer people, but you may be up all night! If you spread your build event over several days, you can easily build a playspace with 30 to 40 committed volunteers...or work in shifts and bring in hundreds of part-timers.

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Site evaluation and prep

The playspace site

Putting together pre-fab play equipment is like assembling a puzzle, but without the guesswork. It's actually quite simple, which is why volunteers don't need to have construction experience. Preparing a playspace site, on the other hand, can present several difficulties - and these can lead to unforeseen costs. Site preparation is a major part of your job as construction captain, so it's important to know your site, plan ahead, and get unbiased input from professionals. Keep in mind that there are two phases of site prep:

Major site prep:
This involves changing the landscape of the site itself -; leveling a slope or bumps, filling in large holes, removing asphalt, trees or old play equipment, etc. If you're using rubberized surfacing, you may need to pour a concrete slab. We recommend completing all major site prep at least two weeks before your build in case you run into problems. You also don't want large machinery operating around dozens of volunteers.

Minor site prep:
This refers to any skilled labor that prepares for and simplifies the equipment assembly. It includes marking the playspace border and hole location, digging the post holes, labeling components, and divvying up hardware according to team tasks. Your installer, if you have one, will probably supervise (and provide tools for) minor site prep. If you're planning a one-day blitz build, you'll need to complete these tasks one to two days in advance; otherwise they can be spread out over the days of the build.

Begin your research by talking to your co-chair(s) about what kind of site evaluation has already taken place, and go have a look at the site yourself. Fill out the following worksheets, and then discuss your options with your play-equipment representative and/or a local contractor.

Site evaluation worksheet
Site-prep questionnaire

Utility and soil checks

Before deciding on a particular site, check for two things: the presence of underground utilities (such as water pipes, buried electrical wires, etc.) and contaminants in the soil. Either of these can immediately derail your playspace plans. Local utility companies will perform a free check at your request, but they'll want to do it just before your build; the check typically gives you permission to dig for the following two to four weeks. You may want to have a check performed well in advance of the build and then dig a few "test holes." This can also alert you to any problems with your soil or machinery. Utility checks are particularly important for community builds, because more and more states are placing the responsibility for damaged utilities on the person actually doing the digging – that means you! Learn more about utility checks.

Unfortunately, more and more cities are also finding that their soils contain toxic levels of lead and arsenic – a dangerous situation for children actively exploring their world. If you find that your site contains dangerous levels of toxins, you must remove the top layer of soil or choose a new site. Your local, county and state health departments, as well as the water utility, should have information on possible toxins in your area. Equipment for testing your soil may be available through local landscaping companies, greenhouses and gardening stores. Universities and colleges also typically offer inexpensive soil testing for farmers; contact their horticultural and/or geological departments. If these elements are present only in low levels (below what is considered toxic), teach children the importance of washing their hands after playing, and prevent them from ingesting any soil. Learn more about soil testing.

Tools

As construction captain, you will need to collect all the machinery, tools, and construction materials for the build, including what you'll need for major site prep. Talk to your play equipment representative about tools for playspace assembly, and decide how you'll transport your safety surfacing onto the playground. For loose-fill surfacing like mulch or sand, we recommend having teams of volunteers carry loads of surfacing on plastic tarps: it's inexpensive and puts a lot of people to work. Save wheelbarrows for mixing concrete! Your design and number of volunteers will influence your tool list, but this standard KaBOOM! list should get you started:

  • Post-hole diggers- digging and adjusting post holes
  • Heavy digging bars- adjusting playground posts
  • 6- and 8-foot ladder- placing decks and components on structures, building shade structures
  • 3- and 8-lb. sledgehammers – securing playground borders
  • Tape measures, ratchets, wrenches, Allen keys - equipment assembly
  • Concrete - securing playground posts
  • Hoses, nozzles, cement hoes and wheelbarrows - mixing concrete
  • Pointed shovels - placing concrete in holes, moving surfacing
  • Garden rakes - spreading surfacing
  • 16-foot by10-foot tarps - transporting surfacing
  • Trash bags and garbage cans - clean-up
  • Rags – clean wet concrete off playground equipment
  • Compound mitre saw and saw horses - prepare side projects using wood

What kind of playground digging equipment should I use?
Manual labor requires tools such as post-hole diggers, shovels, digging bars, etc. This is very long and tiring work, and is not recommended! But if you need to keep stopping to dig out rocks, or if your soil is loose and sandy, it may be the best method.

  • A hand-held power auger:
    This kind of machine usually requires two fairly strong people to operate and is basically like a large drill bit that spirals itself into the ground. Power augers can usually be rented at a tool rental company. These do not work well on rocky or hard soil.

  • A compact track loader or skid-steer loader (e.g. Bobcat) with an auger bit attachment:
    These machines require an experienced operator, and the right size auger bit must be rented or borrowed.

  • A utility auger:
    This is ideal, but is usually only available to a large entity, like a power company. Equipment and services are usually donated.

Learn to "talk the talk" with this "playspace build basics" glossary sheet.

Tip: Many people will offer to bring power tools. Remember that essence of a community build is that many hands make light work. In KaBOOM! experience, numerous power tools can be dangerous and unnecessary. Only use ones that are truly needed, like power saws and drills.

Side projects

A playspace is more than just swings and climbers, and it's not just for kids! The entire community can use it. Envision transforming not just the playground area but your entire site into a community gathering space where everyone can enjoy themselves. Get ideas and detailed instructions for side projects like gardens, benches, and picnic tables.

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Community assets

There's lots of teamwork involved with a playspace build, from your fellow playspace committee members to other community members. Tap into your local community to find the resources, skills, and materials you need to make this playspace build happen. First, learn about the other teams on your committee:

  • Children's activities:
    Gets children and youth involved in every aspect of the project, from Design Day to fun activities at Build Day.

  • Food:
    Feeds volunteers during planning meetings, Design Day, and the build. Solicits food donations throughout the community.

  • Fundraising:
    Raises all the cash needed for the project.

  • Logistics:
    Works behind-the-scenes plan for meeting spaces, Build Day parking, restroom facilities, electricity/water hook-ups, tents, tables, chairs, and equipment and surfacing delivery.

  • Public relations:
    Promotes project to community and media.

  • Safety:
    Makes build site safe for everyone and educates local children about playspace safety.

  • Volunteer recruitment:
    Recruits volunteer labor to install playspace.

Next, start brainstorming about community members who can donate or loan every piece of machinery, tool, and bag of concrete you'll need. Remember that personal connections are your key! Read a detailed guide on identifying community resources in the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.

Below are some ideas to get you started.

Individuals:

  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers
  • Alumni
  • Playspace landowner
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Grandparents
  • Business owners

Organizations/Institutions

  • Labor unions
  • High school woodshop classes
  • Service organizations
  • Business associations
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Youth organizations
  • Athletic organizations
  • Cultural organizations
  • Neighborhood organizations
  • Churches
  • Military bases/U.S. National Guard
  • Universities/Community colleges
  • Parks departments
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries
  • Social service agencies
  • Fire/Police departments
  • School maintenance staffs
  • Habitat for Humanity/Youth build gardening clubs

Local Businesses

  • Construction companies
  • Indoor sports facilities
  • Hardware stores
  • Lumber stores
  • Fencing contractors
  • Cable TV companies
  • Cord wood retailers
  • Rental companies
  • Factories/plants
  • Discount superstores
  • Gardening suppliers
  • Home-improvement retailers
  • Utilities/Public works
  • Nurseries/Foresters
  • Pole-barn contractors
  • Tool dealers/distributors
  • Landscaping companies

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