Estimating the number of build volunteers
This is the moment of truth...how many volunteers do you need to build a playspace?
If you're planning on a one-day, 6- to 8-hour build, bank on 100-150 volunteers. That's assuming you're using pre-fabricated equipment and loose-fill surfacing for an approximately 50-foot by 50-foot site. If you're using poured-in-place rubber surfacing, you can get by with 50 to 80 volunteers. If you have a smaller playground or are taking more than one day, you can also use fewer people, but you can always use more! There's plenty for people to do on Build Day, from assembling playground components (pieces), to manning the food and registration booths, to cleaning up at the end of the day. The more the merrier! The value of a community-build playground project can only increase as more neighbors turn out to work side by side, so keep track of how many interested volunteers you have beyond your target numbers, and plan extra activities like side projects to keep them busy contributing to the space on Build Day.
Download this sample Build Day matrix to see how to organize volunteers into teams.
Next, let's break those numbers down so you can break your volunteers into Build Day teams. Here are the factors to consider:
The size of your playground structure
Talk with your construction captain about how many components (slides, panels, climbers, other parts that attach to the decks and posts) your playspace has. You'll need a "decks and posts" team with approximately 12 people to put the skeleton of the structure up. Then you'll need several "component" teams, each with 10 to 12 people. Each component team should be responsible for assembling about four to five components. Talk to your construction captain and even the equipment manufacturer about the difficulty of assembling each component - make sure to give each team a mix of easy and hard assemblies. Don't forget the free-standing pieces like the swings!
The type of equipment you'll be installing
Are you purchasing your equipment, or building it from scratch? Pre-fabricated equipment (metal and plastic structures) can be assembled relatively quickly using only hand tools; therefore, lots of unskilled volunteers can participate with minimal safety risk. If your build requires sawing and/or power-tool use to build a wooden playground from scratch, your construction captain may want to limit the number of volunteers on site, or designate a separate area for potentially dangerous tasks. Building a playground from scratch also takes longer - count on a small group of core volunteers, or invite large numbers of people to work in shifts.
The type of safety surfacing you'll be installing, and how much
If you're using "loose-fill" surfacing for a playground such as engineered wood fiber (EWF), sand, or rubber mulch, you'll need about 60 volunteers to transport the surfacing onto the play area by hand using tarps or wheelbarrows. That's assuming you'll have 150 to 200 cubic yards of EWF. You'll need to coordinate with your playground installer, co-chair(s) and construction captain to order the right amount of safety surfacing to cover the use zones for your playground equipment. Before moving the surfacing, a base material (usually landscaping fabric, which should be provided with your EWF order) will need to be laid down and border timbers installed to hold the surfacing in place. Hauling loose-fill surfacing is by far the largest, most time-consuming task on a playground build...the more volunteers you have, the faster it will go! Projects with "unitary" surfacing materials (e.g. poured-in-place rubber and rubber-tile systems) require fewer volunteers; these materials are installed after the playspace is completed, usually by professionals.
The number of side projects you plan to complete
From butterfly gardens and shade structures to a paved tricycle path, additional playspace projects can be a great way to involve older volunteers, hobbyists, youth, or hordes of unexpected volunteers in your project. Get detailed instructions and volunteer recommendations here. Each side project requires a small handful of volunteers (usually 5 to 10), and can transform the space around your playground area into a real community gathering space that will appeal to people of all ages.
Are you planning a one-day playspace "barn raising," or will your build be stretched out over several days? Shorter builds require a large number of highly organized volunteers, working simultaneously. As mentioned earlier, plan on 100 to 150 volunteers for a one-day build. Longer builds are usually broken into volunteer shifts, and this can be a great way to involve busy professionals and parents. A word of advice: try to get people to commit to at least four hours at a time. Too many people coming and going can create utter chaos!
Tip: In our experience, around 30 percent of confirmed build volunteers will stay home for various reasons. So always recruit more people than you need! (But be prepared for a full turnout, just in case.) To maximize your volunteer turnout, follow these three easy steps: (1) Don't be satisfied with verbal commitments...make volunteers sign on the dotted line! (2) Try pre-assigning each person to a specific task. (3) Be sure to make confirmation calls the week before the build; tell people what to wear and remind them that there will be free food, drinks and fun!
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