“We’ve seen some tremendous dedication in fundraising, community partnerships, and use of available resources where small groups have done wonderful things,” says Anne-Marie Spencer, marketing director for GameTime, a playground equipment manufacturer. “Basically, if a community wants a playground, they can build one.”
A new play space will benefit adults as well as kids because amenities contribute to property values. In South Florida, extensive recreational amenities boost home prices in master-planned communities by 10% to 20%. In Western North Carolina, where spectacular parks and preserves offer abundant natural recreational opportunities, outdoor amenities would still add 2.5% to 5% to neighborhood home values, says Gordon Lucks, a real estate appraiser in Asheville, N.C.
Don’t expect that kind of up tick in value from a playground, though, because only families with small children will use and therefore value a playground. By comparison, adult recreational amenities, such as lakes or golf courses, will give nearby property values the biggest boost, he adds.
Before you leap into the sandbox, consider the drawbacks. If you live in a community with a homeowners association, related expenses for insurance and maintenance can increase your association fees.
Playground equipment becomes outdated quickly. You may spend a year getting a new climbing structure, only to have it deemed unsafe two years later. Playgrounds and ball fields increase noise and traffic on nearby streets.
Even small projects take time. A single swing set can take a year of fundraising, research, and planning. A larger playground takes longer.
Building a playground takes work. Is it worth the effort to get one built in your neighborhood or should you just continue driving to the next town whenever your kids want to swing? Take a look at the steps involved to decide.
Raise interest first
You’re convinced your neighborhood needs a recreational upgrade. Do your neighbors agree? Organize a meeting to find out. If there’s enough support, create a Playground Project Team to help design the playground, raise money, chose the location, and handle building permits, insurance, and maintenance.
Set a playground budget
Playground costs range from $1,500 for a two-person, commercial-grade swing set to tens of thousands of dollars for multiple play areas. A phased plan allows your group to add pieces as you raise more money.
Design your dream play space
Most major playground manufacturers offer layout and design help. The National Recreation and Park Association website lists manufacturers and has equipment photos.
“The best possible way to raise money for small projects like playgrounds is private donations,” says Jen Laird-White, a TV producer-turned-stay-at-home-mom/community organizer in Nyack, N.Y. “Throw a party and ask everybody to come.”
Laird-White raised $130,000 for a waterfront playground and park overhaul by charging $80 per person for an annual fundraising cocktail party held in the nicest house she could borrow. Your fundraiser could be a party, auction, or sporting event. Ask local businesses to show community support by contributing.
Grants from contractors and equipment companies can be another source of funds.
Choose your location
Playgrounds built on city-owned property are usually managed by the parks and recreation department. If you want a playground built on public land, contact the mayor or the chief administrator to find out who oversees playgrounds.
If you live in a community with a homeowners association, its open space could be a good playground site. Take your proposal to the board early in the process and expect the board to conduct its own research and assessment.
To build on school property, with the community having use after hours, contact the school board.
If you want to build on a private lot, you’ll need to convince the landowner to sell to your group, or better yet, donate the property to the town so the town takes over responsibility and liability for the playground.
Some homeowners partner with a non-profit or public-private partnership, such as a downtown revitalization organization, that already has a space and a relationship with the governing authorities.
Another option is to petition a local developer to include a new playground in a planned commercial space, such as an outdoor mall area. In this case, the developer would handle liability, maintenance, and any permits required.
Are playgrounds worthwhile?
Working to bring a new recreational amenity can add pleasure to your community and a feeling of participation and accomplishment to you. But it’s also a demanding job. “It’s just like being a TV producer,” says Laird-White. “You have to have everything organized, all the little tiny pieces. Sometimes the least of the problems is getting the money.”