Playground Guide Part 5
In Canada, Annex H, of CSA·Z614, sets the guidelines for creating a fully accessible play structure. In the United States, The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the ASTM F1487 have determined the requirements to create an accessible play environment. Accessible compliance is compulsory in the United States because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Canada, accessibility is not a requirement of law.
All public playgrounds in the United States must meet the minimal criteria of the ADA. Barriers that prevent access to the playground, such as steep hills or inclines, curbs, and steps, must be removed. Even flat grassy or dirt path access needs to be modified to provide a hard-gradual access pathway such as cement or asphalt.
Although ramped play structures are the best means to produce accessibility, they are not the only way accessibility can be achieved. Structures with transfer stations and accessible routes can provide accessibility as well for considerably less cost. Combine ramped structures with transfer stations and accessible routes. Having an accessible route that accesses elevated, and ground-based play events is the key to making play areas accessible. What is an accessible route? It is a pathway designed to provide access for people, children, and adults with disabilities, including wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and other mobility devices. An elevated accessible route allows users with disabilities to access the elevated play events on a playground. These access points are usually transfer stations or wheelchair ramps.
When planning or designing your play structure, 50% of the raised play events on your playground must be accessible by an elevated accessible route. You must provide an accessible route to the entry point that allows users to access the playground’s elevated play events. An accessible ground-based route must be available at the ground level point of that activity. Suppose the play structure contains 20 or more elevated play activities. In that case, a ramped accessible route must access 25% of the elevated play activities.
Overall Site Evaluation
Play environment sites can vary greatly. Topography, flora, and soil conditions and humanmade products can drastically affect the costs, design, and ease of using and maintaining the play environment.
A proper site analysis can help you save costs, eliminate potential problems, and produce a better play environment for all people involved. A Henderson Recreation representative will be more than happy to help you conduct a thorough site analysis, and best of all, it is free.
Imagine trying to install a playground on a mountain slope, not practical, is it? Even small slopes in your site location can radically influence your overall costs. The playground and the resilient surfacing safety zone needs to be installed on a +/·slope of 1° to 2°. That is not much of a slope, but it is crucial. For example, let’s say your play area is 75 ft long with an elevation change of 1 ft. This slope may not look like much to the naked eye, but after installing the playground level based on the center of the site, the stairs will be a 6″ too low while the slide at the other end will be a 6″ too high. The playground safety standards have dimensional criteria for the height of slide exits and other components from the top of the resilient safety surfacing. The site’s slope can also dramatically affect drainage and debris accumulation, such as leaves and dirt.
Soil and Ground Conditions
Soil conditions vary a lot from one area to the next. You need to know if the soil type is either sandy, clay, loam, and peat, or made of high organic matter. You also need to know if the area was a landfill site previously. Nothing is worse than finding out your installation costs skyrocket as installers start digging out tractor tires and other objects where your playground is supposed to go. Yes, it happens. Sometimes there is so little soil that digging does not matter. Rocky conditions buried under shallow soil is often a normal condition for many Canadian communities that live in the Canadian shield areas. When poor digging conditions are present due to rock and shale, a stringer based (or floated) playground is required.
Your soil and ground conditions can also affect the drainage of your site. Clay soils tend to drain very slowly, so special attention to adequate drainage is essential. Local landscapers and Landscape Architects and a Henderson Representative can help you with your site conditions.
Flora can make the play environment much more inviting and beautiful. Large shade trees outside the playground safety zones can provide a comfortable area where parents and kids can take a break in the shade, grab a snack, and revitalize before another big bout of playing. Be cognizant of plant life that may provide hazards or nuisances to the play environment such as thorns, fruit trees, Poisonous plants, and leaves. Henderson recommends that you contact Poison Control if you are unsure about a plant.
CSA/Z614-20 has an extensive list of flora that should not be used in Annex G.
On hot summer days, the playspace can get uncomfortably hot. Exposure to direct sun, high humidity, low air movement, and overall temperature can turn a playspace into a very uncomfortable place. Under sweltering conditions, parents and children seek the comfort of air condition indoors; thus, children lose the opportunity to play outside, have fun, and exercise.
Consider adding shade trees, manufactured shade on or over the playground, permanent shelters, and vegetation to increase thermal comfort. The design of the surrounding area should not block prevailing winds near the playspace will also help increase thermal comfort. Annex K of CSA·Z614·20 is an excellent resource that explains the importance of thermal comfort and the steps you can take to achieve thermal comfort around the microclimates of playgrounds and play spaces.
Local Weather Conditions:
Saltwater environments, extreme hot and cold weather conditions, high UV radiation due to elevation, high precipitation, and changing sun angles all affect your play equipment’s lifespan and must be considered. For example, stainless steel slides should face north, or natural or humanmade shade should be provided to prevent the slides from becoming too hot and burning a child. High snow load areas can also limit the playground’s use, and wet freezing conditions can make the resilient surfacing ineffective. Areas prone to seasonal flooding can also limit the playground’s use during flood times and wash away much of your aggregate resilient surfacing, thereby requiring it to be topped up or replaced.
“Call before you dig,” almost everyone has seen the sign or heard this slogan. It’s true because there are many underground utilities in the oddest places. Call to find out utility locations (sewer, electrical, bell, gas, cable, and telephone wires). You should also contact your municipal engineering department for water and sewer locations to make sure they are well clear of your potential site.
It takes little thought to know that playgrounds should not be located under large power lines or near electrical transformer stations. Playgrounds should be located well away from roads, bicycle paths, steep ravines, cliffs, and visually dense forests. Water is an attractive feature for young children. Water close to a playground may not give a distracted caregiver (texting or talking) time to react quickly enough if a child wanders off.
Design the Space
Site Access and Circulation
Give careful thought to the location of parking lots, park amenities, pedestrian, and bicycle paths, and even restrooms.
Properly lit playgrounds can help prevent vandalism and other indiscreet activities. It is also a good idea to have an emergency telephone close for emergencies. Try to keep the playground in a visible area from the street or nearby housing. A secluded playground well shielded from community observation is asking for unwanted trouble.
Do not want clashing colors in the neighborhood? Design a space that blends in with the natural surroundings. Need something funky? Try lime, or purple or grey, to create a different look than the standard red, blue, yellow playgrounds you typically see.
Need to create a particular shape to match an overall theme of a landscaped design? Talk to your Henderson Recreation representative to help design a playground that will fit your site correctly.
Are you looking for something different?
Try a themed playground design such as castles, boats, lighthouses, and trains.
Want to create an ocean with dolphins for your playground ship? Try custom surfacing to imitate water. Keep in mind that playgrounds can accommodate a large variety of designs, layouts, and colors that can complement your site.
Select Your Playground Equipment Solutions
We have now reached the fun part of designing and creating a play environment, selecting the best playground equipment solutions to achieve your goals.
Before delving into the details of selecting the right play equipment solutions, why not consider having a design day with the primary users, the children who will eventually be playing on the playground? See the section called “Got Kids, get them involved too.”
There is a plethora of playground equipment and site features to choose from. For example, some equipment is specifically designed for older age groups, and others for younger children. Some equipment is used on composite play structures, which most people think of with the word playground. In contrast, some other play equipment is independent or freestanding.
You should mix up the various types of play equipment to address different types of play. For example, you could choose play equipment for physical play, social play, sand play, quiet play, etc. Be sure if you are designing a play environment for all ages of children to allot 40 percent to preschoolers and 60 percent to school age children. It is also good practice to keep the play areas of these two age groups separate.
When selecting play equipment, keep in mind preschool aged children (2 to 5 years old) and school aged children (5 to 12 years old) have different physical abilities and needs. Preschool aged children are still developing and may not have the mental capacity or awareness to know what they can do. For example, they lack the balance and coordination of older children. They are also top-heavy, so their center of gravity is higher up, and can topple over low objects, often falling on their heads.
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