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Building Your Dream Playground One Phase at a Time

January 1, 2017 valormedia Blog

By Eric Torrey

If you have ever envisioned your dream playground, presented your ideas to a commercial playground design consultant, and then been shocked by the cost – you are not alone.

Playgrounds can be expensive. When faced with this reality, many people amend their dreams and “settle” for what they can afford.

This does not have to be the case. You can get the playground you want, without settling; it just may take some time.

When working with a playground company representative, tell him/her what it is you want on your playground – and why. If you have budget considerations, let them know.

Often, the playground representative can present options to you – that accomplish what you want, all within a budget you can afford.

If your dreams are big, many playground companies offer financing as an option.

But, if your dreams are bigger than your current budget — and you are not interested in financing — there is another option.

You can develop a playground Master Plan that can be implemented in phases. As funds become available, each phase can be installed.

Before starting a multi-phase playground project, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much can we budget for each phase of the project? (Be realistic! Will other projects come along that may derail your playground expansion?)
  • How long will it take to raise the funds for each phase of the project? (How long will the project take to complete? Will the playground company still be around?)
  • What is most important to include in each phase? And, how will these items affect the budget?
  • Does the playground company have a minimum “mobilization fee” that could drive up the cost of installation?
  • What type of safety surfacing is going to be used? (For example, you don’t want to install poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing before all the equipment is installed, but, you can put in engineered wood fiber and then just move it out of the way when new equipment is added.)
  • Has the playground company done other multi-phase projects? Can they offer you any helpful suggestions – based on their experience – for what to include? Fundraising ideas?

As you move forward and answer each question, other questions will arise.

Are you comfortable with your playground company representative? You will be working with him/her very closely for what could potentially be a project lasting for many years.

In Need of a New Playground

When Susanne Greenwood became principal of St. Peter Claver Region Catholic School in Decatur, Georgia, she knew that one of the capital improvement projects the school needed to take care of was the playground.

At that time, the old wooden playground structures were rotting, the safety surfacing had washed away, and the area just wasn’t great for playing anymore.

A new playground was needed, but funding would be an issue. Many of the families whose children attend the school qualify for financial aid.

About 85% of the students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. Because of this, the school only holds one fundraiser per year, and any other additional funds would come from unplanned gift giving.

“After seeking out several bids,” says Greenwood, “We chose to go with EcoPlay Playgrounds because their company and product most closely aligned with our desired goals – warranty, recycled product, and sustainability.”


Because of the school’s ethnic diversity (many of the students are Black, Latino, Burmese, or Thai), the annual fundraiser is held in February – Black History Month and close to Valentine’s Day. The event is entitled “Hearts & Heritage Barbecue Dinner and Raffle” and is always a lot of fun and always successful.

To prepare for the fundraiser, EcoPlay Playgrounds developed a brochure for the school to use – showing photos of the old, worn-out, existing playground area, and renderings of what the new playground area would look like.

As mentioned in the brochure, “At St. Peter Claver, we believe education should go beyond the classroom walls. The new space will include play structures to promote regular exercise and play, educational panels to reinforce grade-appropriate curriculum, and raised garden beds to better educate our student body about proper nutrition, and instill healthier eating habits.”

Three-Phase Implementation

Each of the three phases of the playground installation was driven by budget and what was anticipated could be raised by fundraising and gifts.

“But, it was important to us that Phase One would look good once it was in,” says Greenwood.

So, it was decided that Phase One would include the main (larger) play structure and installation of borders and mulch for the entire play area.

The success of Phase One helped to energize efforts to complete the rest of the playground project. Thanks to a couple of large donations, the school was able to reduce the initial 3-year plan to a 2-year plan.

Nine months later, Phase Two was installed – a climbing structure intended for older children.

Several months later – again, thanks to an unplanned gift – Phase Three was implemented to complete the project with an outdoor classroom area, benches, planter boxes, and a dragon-shaped seating/climbing structure.

The success of the playground implementation has encouraged the school to move forward with fundraising for their next major capital improvement – a soccer field, with the possibility to including a running track around it.

A multi-phase approach to any project is all about fulfilling your dream in a realistic manner.

The secret to success is to think and plan carefully. As each phase is implemented, use it to energize participants and create excitement for the phase that is to follow.

Eric Torrey oversees business development for EcoPlay Playgrounds – commercial-grade playground equipment made from recycled, post-consumer HDPE. Visit to learn more.

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