Insiders Guide to Children’s Play Structures

What would it take to add a play structure to your children's ministry space? Ever wonder whether you have enough room? And, what about budget?

Think about how you can utilize the space and features to bring in additional fundsfrom renting out for birthday parties, coffee café sales, and more. Even these small amounts can add up to help fund the play feature.

Play structures can be a big win in offering something different for children from what they get at school or home. It can also be a gift to teachers, caregivers, and parents in providing engagement and a chance for kids to burn off energy.

We asked the experts to share what churches should consider when they are thinking about the installation of a new play structure.

START WITH THE WHY
"The first priority is how are you going to design and provide an attraction that fits your ministry needs. What type of use will it have? Will it mainly be for weekend or weekday? Will a preschool or licensed daycare be using it as well? Do you want to provide an attraction that will be an attraction every day of the week and outreach tool for your community? Or are you designing just for weekend ministry use?" offers Reagan Hillier, CEO of Worlds of Wow in Denton, Texas
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"Defining the reason a church wants a playground helps us get the right product in a space," explains Brian Sonney, business development executive at Soft Play in Huntersville, NC. "For some, it is outreach; for others, it's mom's day out. Sometimes it is near a café area. We can provide custom designs for anything, but to be effective, it has to meet defined needs."

"What are the age levels your church needs to accommodate? Some structures need to accommodate a wide range of ages and others can be more age-specific.

For example, First Baptist Dallas has three different floors in its children's education building. So, the structure for each floor was designed by age group," says Mike Dillon, president of Dillon Works in Seattle, WA. "But at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, they wanted a room that adults could go to sit and watch all of their kids. So, it is designed to serve the full family spectrum."

HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU NEED?
"We are working on an indoor play structure that is 20 feet by 15 feet and that is about as small as I think you would want to go," says Dillon. "Ceiling height can be a limiting factor. In the recent Prestonwood renovation, the ceiling was removed to expose the structure and enable us to maximize the vertical space. Prestonwood's space is 65 feet by 30 feet, which is generous."

"Contained playground systems usually have a smaller footprint. In a contained playground system, kids are playing inside the structure. With traditional playground systems, kids are playing on the structure itself, which requires at least 6-foot fall clearances all around," explains Sonney. "Our structures limit fall-heights to no more than 24-inches. They also direct the flow of play and limit entrances and exits so you can maximize the space."

"Play units can fit a variety of spaces. It would be best to have a minimum of 300500 square feet, but don't forget ceiling height is important as well. The higher the ceiling, the more wow factor' you can provide. Kids love to climb and slide, and the more levels typically the better. Capacity and play value are the two key elements to design around," adds Hillier.

HOW LONG DO PLAY STRUCTURES LAST? 

"Kids are like rust they will eventually destroy anything if you give them enough time," says Dillon. "They are going to use it to death. You will need to update based on how much use it is getting. A church in which the structure is only used on Sundays will have more longevity than a shopping mall in which a structure is used for 10 hours a day every day, but you can't just set it and forget it.' The structures need to be cleaned and maintained."

"We've found that many churches that have play structures open during the week are often mentioned on mom blogs in lists of free things to do with children. It can be a way to reach out to the community and draw young families or grandparents. It is an amenity that many miss out on."
WHAT ARE THE LIABILITIES?
"When a church adds a play structure, something to consider bringing up with your insurance is whether play is supervised or unsupervised. A structure that is outdoors and open to the community may be different to one that is inside and supervised," advises Sonney. "A big design feature for us is that we have clear sightlines so that everyone can see what is going on inside the equipment from the ground. This is great to mention to the insurance company."

Sonney continues, "When comparing how products measure up, there are four regulations that churches should be aware of: the ASTM, which is the US regulation governing safety, the ADA, which requires accessibility for children with special needs, the International Building Code (IBC), and the CPSIA, which makes sure the product is tested for lead based paints."

"There are very specific requirements for the structure to meet ASTM, ADA, CPSC standards," adds Hillier. "The good news is that it's our job to ensure this, but sometimes it does impact the design."

HOW SHOULD A CHURCH THINK ABOUT BUDGETING?
"Many churches are surprised by the cost aspect. The earlier we work, the better we can frame up the budget discussion and help the church manage expectations with the finance committee and other decision makers to get a true view of what the costs are," says Brock Hodge, business development executive of Soft Play. "Don't buy off of cost. All renderings look similar, but there can be major differences in the product. Most manufacturers will do free quotes. Then, you can compare apples to apples. Also be aware that where the product is manufactured can impact how well it meets the rules and regulations for the safety of play."

"Prices vary greatly. If a church can't do a custom structure, then we will coach them with an off-the-shelf system," says Dillon. "In a remodel or new construction, often budgets can come from other places. Consider that the wallcovering, lighting, or flooring budgets can extend the look of a structure in a room."

"Think about allotting enough dollars to provide an attraction that works," adds Hillier. "Also, think about how you can utilize the space and features to bring in additional funds. This can be from renting out for birthday parties, coffee café sales, and more. Even these small amounts can add up in the long term to help fund the play feature."

IS A PLAY STRUCTURE RIGHT FOR YOUR CHURCH?
If you have a compelling why,' then it is probably worth exploring your options when it comes to adding a play structure to your church campus.

While it is often easier to budget for a play feature during a new construction project or major renovation, it can also be handled as a single item if you have the space. Simply reach out to an expert and find out what is possible.

CONTACTS
Mike Dillon Dillon Works ([email protected])
Reagan Hillier Worlds of Wow ([email protected])
Brock Hodge Soft Play ([email protected])
Brian Sonney Soft Play ([email protected])

 

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