A mom sets a wheelchair adjacent to the swing in preparation to assist her young son in transfer from the swing to his wheelchair.Like any big ticket purchase, comparison shopping is essential in the planning process. The planning team should embark on a purposeful mission to determine the playground surface system most appropriate for their site and operational resources. Some agencies may have more capital dollars at the front of the project for a surface system that costs a little more but requires less maintenance. Others may have a smaller project budget for a less costly surface, but have more operational funds for daily/weekly maintenance.

The planning team should engage with all representatives from all surface systems under consideration. Decision-makers should dialogue with the surface supplier regarding realistic, objective measurements to evaluate surface performance and maintain the surface material over the life span of the playground. Decision makers must ask very specific questions to fully benefit from the advantages and costs-savings of a surface system. The dialogue with the manufacturer or sales rep should address:

  • Specific written instructions for installation.
  • Written description of the base, sub-base and required drainage system.
  • Results of ASTM F1951-99 laboratory tests, including the values for the baseline, straight propulsion and turning runs. The test results should also include a description of how the surface was prepared for the lab tests and should be consistent with the installation instructions.
  • Results of ASTM F1292-99/04, with written confirmation of the critical fall height for the surface material. These test results should include the depth of the surface material for drop heights. The critical fall height shall be higher than the fall height of the highest equipment on the playground.
  • Written description of the maintenance and frequency necessary to maintain the accessible route and clear ground spaces.
  • The field test procedures to assess the surface for impact attenuation and accessibility upon initial installation and periodically through the life of the product. This should include selection of an independent testing agent and optimum values for ASTM F1292-99/04 and ASTM F1951-99 when field tested.
  • A minimum 5-year warranty that stipulates compliance with ASTM F1292-99/04 and ASTM F1951-99, field testing strategy, limitations, exclusions or preconditions, remedies available to the playground owner, and process for making a claim.

The playground owner should also ask the manufacturer for a list of customers in the area that have installed the surface material in the last 5-10 years. The planning team should talk to those customers and visit older installations to find out what issues may have come up with installation and maintenance. If the surface system is to be installed by a contractor, those customer sites should also be visited to view the contractor’s expertise and craftsmanship. It is important to visit older installations to see how the product has aged and what maintenance issues may have arisen over time.

The chart provided above describes the playground surfaces included in the NCA surface study: poured in place rubber, rubber tiles, engineered wood fiber and hybrid systems. Other surface materials such as sand, pea gravel and shredded rubber have been used in playground construction. However, if used as part of the ground level accessible route, these surface materials must meet the accessibility standards, including the referenced ASTM standards. Many manufacturers continue to use technology and research to develop new and improved surface systems. The planning team should be on the lookout for new innovations, but at the same time ask questions and visit site installations. This inquiry will give the decision makers a greater understanding of what to expect from different products over the lifespan of the playground.