I know it sounds easy. Sort of like landscaping, so anyone with any kind of landscaping background should be able to build these beautiful play areas, right?
That's certainly what I thought when I started the company 25 years ago. I'd design beautiful natural play environments all over the country, and then our customers would hire local landscape contractors to build them.
Well, it didn't work out that way. We found that landscape contractors were adept at building patios, landscaping around commercial and residential buildings, planting trees and shrubs, installing gardens and walkways, but had no idea how to construct 3-dimensional landscapes.
If they tried (and they did), because they didn't understand how to build in three dimensions, they would change our design on the spot, with the result that things no longer fit. Most of the time, they misinterpreted our plans, didn't know how to solve drainage issues, couldn't read plans, didn't understand the ASTM and CPSC safety guidelines so they'd create safety hazards, and they had no idea how to implement the ADA guidelines.
They caused more headaches than it was worth, and, because they didn't know what they were doing (had never before built a Natural Playground), to cover themselves, they charged our customers way too much money, in one case 3 times what we had estimated!
So - we started our own construction company in 2008, totally focused on Natural Playgrounds. We didn't build anything else, so we got very good, very fast, very efficient, and very cost-effective. Because making beautiful, safe places for children to play was our top - and only - priority, we developed numerous proprietary construction procedures and techniques that saved our customers time and money!
However, after 10 years of working all over the country, the challenges of keeping our licenses up in every state, and wrestling with local permitting requirements (which are different in every town or city) got to be too much, so we stopped installing natural playgrounds, but that doesn't mean you don't benefit! We translated what we learned into designing much more cost-effective and beautiful natural playgrounds, and into very easy to follow assembly and installation instructions for all of the items we sell in our store.
After you receive your Natural Playground design from us, it is based on very accurate data about your site, so it is a very accurate design that you will easily be able to follow if you decide to build your natural playground, or parts of it, by yourself (or yourselves). However, if you want it all built by a landscape contractor, or you want the most difficult parts to be built by a landscape contractor, they will be able to use that very same plan.
If they want more construction information, we have several different ways in which we might be able to help them with more detailed drawings of elements as well as installation instructions. We are also happy to answer questions and provide construction guidance over the phone. We can also help manage the construction process remotely using the same techniques we used with our crew.
Finding a good landscape contractor
There are at least 5 construction disciplines/skill sets required to build a Natural Playground, and most contractors won't have them all, so they bring on subcontractors to do some of the work. Obviously, therefore, you need to look carefully at how they manage their projects.
The other issue is the most landscape contractors aren't experienced with shaping land in three dimensions. It's technically not a hard thing to do, but there is technique involved, especially because the shapes of the three-dimensional hills have to precisely follow the design in order to work as intended.
If you would like help with finding the best contractor, because we know what to look for, we are very happy to provide you with some guidance, and even to vet the contractors for you so you get the best one for your project.
If you have lots of contacts within your school or religious community, such as with contractors, nurseries, or gravel pit owners, or with town/city transportation departments, you may be able to get at-cost pricing or outright donations of materials. Sometimes our customers are doing work on their own sites, and materials are generated from excavating, or from constructing parking lots, and so on, and this material is then donated to the playground project.
The point is, that donations can s-t-r-e-t-c-h your dollars considerably, so it is well worth seeking them, as about 50% of the cost for any playground project is in materials!
It always sounds so wonderful. "We have great community. Lots of people willing to help..." If the project is simple and short, volunteers are fabulous, and can save money! However, if the project is more than one or two weekend long, volunteers are not a good option. They run out of time, they have other things to do and can't make the necessary long-range commitment.
If you want to use volunteers, use them for short, easy to accomplish projects: installing raised bed gardens, planting shrubs, filling fall zones, painting fences, spreading loam, laying sod, fall and spring clean-ups, and so on. We can give you a long list of things that volunteers can do to help build your Natural Playground!