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Bidding Playground Equipment – Focusing on the Outcome by Dakota Fence For more than four decades, we at Dakota Fence have assisted area communities with the development of countless playgrounds. Throughout this time, we’ve witnessed sweeping changes to the industry as we moved away from a variety of independent galvanized steel swings, climbers and slides all situated over asphalt to much more colorful and interconnected play events installed over a variety of impact absorbing materials such as wood fibers and bond-in-place surfacing. The steps taken to make play equipment as safe as possible have in some ways overshadowed the innovation of new products, which have been considerable. For many years now, safety has topped the list of concerns of any new playground project. Recently however, we have seen a small shift and some are beginning to wonder if we are making playgrounds too safe. Some believe we may be doing children more harm than good with these efforts to minimize the associated risks found on the playground. Some cite evidence suggesting that “risky play” among young children is necessary to help them master their environments. There appears to be a growing concern that in the quest to protect children, we are stunting their ability to fend for themselves. While others point out that without some element of risk the playground can quickly become boring and thus lessen the interest.

well as those kids who need varying degrees of sensory stimulation, where better for kids of all abilities to meet than the neighborhood playground? A well-designed playground will attract kids and provide a safe place to gather outdoors. From there it needs to inspire kids to challenge themselves physically, mentally and socially, and in the process retain their interests for longer periods of time.

It’s the outcome we should be focused on. The reality is the low bidder is not always the most qualified to produce the best outcome. Rod Rick

It takes certain knowledge to appropriately provide these amenities for various age groups and abilities. Selecting the right partner to assist you with equipment choices and layout is an important element of a successful outcome. When it comes time for you to build a new playground, you’ll find there are no shortages of enterprises eager to assist you. The question is, are they simply motivated to sell you something or are they willing to learn the details of your project and offer a solution Lately we are seeing more creative alternatives that may you can proudly to be associated with? In this area it is provide a solution. By designing playgrounds in a more advised you do a little homework. Seek out only those open, or what we like to refer to as “freestyling,” manner providers who can offer repeated examples of having we introduce unscripted play routes to stimulate kids’ assisted others with successful playground projects. Join imaginations and senses of adventure. This unexpected forces with someone who is knowledgeable, responsive environment lets kids spontaneously play while building to your needs, someone you’re comfortable with and muscle strength, endurance and mental agility. And you can trust to guide you. Your project represents the unobstructed design enables easier supervision. By inspiring significant investment of time and resources, the incorporating the right amount of challenge to promotehealthyakids HEAD TO TOE outcome will depend greatly on the choices you make. self-discovery, and coupling that with proper safety surfacing to mitigate injury risk, we can obtain the best of both worlds. Regardless of where you stand on this issue it’s probably safe to say we can all agree the relevance of the public playground has never been greater. With childhood obesity on the rise, a growing number of children who are losing all connections with the great outdoors, as

Leaders in Playground Design & Installation

800.726.4064 • play@dakotafence.com • www.dakotafence.com


The pressures to contain costs in today’s economic environment can lead to embracing low-bid procurement. But a low-bid approach can lead to significantly higher lifecycle costs and, with playground construction, unintentional higher liability risk. Although low-bids can work, the pitfalls are numerous. You are well advised to establish thorough bid specifications and conduct extensive research on potential contractors if you are considering a low-bid approach. You must then hold firm to these specifications and consider only those contractors you are satisfied have the capabilities to ensure quality work. Success with low-bids depends upon how clearly the project is documented. If developing this level of documentation and adhering to it has you concerned, then perhaps a more informal process should be considered.

mind that IPEMA membership alone does not equal certification or compliance. We recommend when choosing a suppler to make sure they provide you with the evidence that their products are certified. Once a product meets the requirements of the certification program, it will be added to the certified products listing on the IPEMA website. Products are listed by manufacturer and are required to be associated with a specific model number. You can verify and/or print a certificate for any of these products on their website at www.ipema.org. It is a simple matter to create this documentation and by comparing this certificate with the components found on the proposed design one can easily verify whether the products are certified.

Seeking bids from multiple sources is not only prudent it may be the policy and/or the law. But this does not necessarily force you to accept the lowest bid; there are many other considerations aside from price to weigh like the following: • Quality of materials • Quality of design • Ability to perform the work in a timely manner • Level of experience with similar projects •A  bility to provide evidence of compliance to applicable standards •P  roof of insurance, bonding capability, proper certifications and licensing •W  arranty, durability, available color options can also be a factor There have been a number of standards established to address playground safety, chief amongst them is ASTM F1487, the Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use. This standard was first introduced in 1993 and has been clarified and added to throughout the years. All manufacturers of commercial playground equipment are to abide by these standards; they are also applicable to those who install playground equipment. In order to insure your play equipment is certified to these standards it’s in the customer’s best interest to always require evidence of compliance. To address this, an industry organization was formed. The International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) was specifically given the task of overseeing a third-party certification (testing) process. IPEMA provides third-party product certification services for U.S. and Canadian public play equipment and U.S. public play surfacing materials. This process ensures that the equipment and surfacing you are purchasing has been verified to be in compliance with applicable standards. IPEMA offers membership, which is separate from participation in the program. Keep in

Testing a component for compliance is an in-depth process that all reputable manufacturers are willing to undertake. Choosing IPEMA-certified products will provide the assurance you need that the products you are purchasing comply with industry recognized standards. This will lower the risk you may otherwise face with non-compliant products. As important as it is to require evidence of compliance for the proposed products, it is equally important that the product be properly installed. Professional installation is typically available from a number of area sources. Reputable companies will have undergone the proper training provided by the various manufacturers. They will also have studied and successfully completed testing to become Certified Playground Safety


Inspectors (CPSI), a national program that instructs individuals on the standards included in ASTM F1487. These companies are certified, licensed, bonded and insured. You can be confident your playground will be properly constructed if you require this level of commitment from your contractor. Add the following clauses to your specifications in order to address these requirements:

All play equipment must meet current ASTM, CPSC1, and ADAAG2 guidelines. Third party certification (i.e. IPEMA Certificate) shall be submitted with bid. Evidence of compliance for proposed design will be reviewed during the selection process prior to award. All designs shall illustrate each component name and part number. The IPEMA logo in association with the proposed compliant design is also requested. Installation shall be provided by a competent workforce that is certified by the manufacturer in the installation of their product. The contractor shall provide an on-site supervisor who is a CPSI. The contractor shall be licensed, bonded and insured. Evidence of this shall be included with the bid.

The adoption of these clauses is in the best interest of everyone and does not preclude any reputable source from bidding as all major public playground manufacturers abide by the IPEMA certification process and all respectable installers are committed to this level of professionalism. These clauses are meant as a tool to alleviate unnecessary risk, it is by no means an onerous task to create the requested evidence nor is it difficult to comprehend and review. Some words of advice from our own Rod Rick, CPSI, who has more than 35 years of experience in playground design and installation: “We suggest you give some thought up front as to what other aspects will be required of the project and clearly spell them out in the scope of work. Be sure to indicate who will be responsible for each aspect. List any timelines you feel are critical to be met. The more information you can include the better-qualified bids you will receive and the better outcome you can expect. It’s the outcome we should be focused on. The reality is, the low bidder is not always the most qualified to produce the best outcome.” In the end, the decision of who to partner with rests with the administration. As you weigh the possibilities, don’t lose sight of the inspiring importance of the outcome—the kids are counting on you. healthy kids

For more information on Designing & Bidding Playground Equipment please contact:

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Dakota Fence 800.726.4064 play@dakotafence.com 1 2

ADAAG – Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. CPSC – Consumer Product Safety Commission, Publication No. 325, Handbook for Public Playground Safety.

Leaders in Playground Design & Installation

800.726.4064 • play@dakotafence.com • www.dakotafence.com



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