Back in the day when most of us were little kids, playgrounds largely consisted of swing-sets, teeter-totters, some monkey bars, and maybe a metal slide or two, along with the requisite basketball hoops and tetherball set-up.
Since then, playground equipment has come a very long way—gone are the colorless pieces of welded metal set up on merciless black asphalt. Kids today get to play on all kinds of cool, interactive equipment, and if they happen to take a spill, chances are their fall will be broken by several inches of industrial-grade foam padding instead of concrete or pea-gravel.
Imagine offering the little tykes the opportunity to play on a custom-made nautical-themed playground, a huge rocket ship, or the biggest dinosaur. “HOAs and other residential facilities are very much interested in playground equipment as an amenity to attract and retain residents,” says Kevin Cook, sales director of Playworld Systems that distributes playground equipment in Fort Myers. “In fact, the playground is often viewed as ‘the center of town’ for the community. The sculpted features bring whimsy and magic to the playground to entice and engage in an unprecedented way—whether it’s a sky-high flower, rocket ship, tree fort or pirate ship.”
The New Wave
Cook says the trend toward offering more interesting playground options really started in the early 1980s. “Advances in materials and technology have led to a huge expansion in opportunities for commercial playground equipment,” he says. “In the ‘90s, this was driven by federal and state regulations to eliminate pressure-treated wood and by requirements related to safety.” Children can be exposed to arsenic through skin contact with pressure-treated wood, or from touching the wood and then touching their mouths, ingesting the poison and risking illness. It has also been found that over time, arsenic leaches from the wood into the soil, presenting an environmental hazard as well.
Another example of playground evolution is the shift away from the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), an environmentally-unsound material used as both a building material and sealant on equipment for many years, and which also poses health risks. “Our alternative to traditional PVC coatings is environmentally-friendly, long-lasting, thermoplastic Polyethylene (PE) coating that is 100% recyclable and durable,” says Cook. “Eco-Armor coating averages a 38% lower carbon footprint than PVC coatings and is safe to dispose of. Eco-Armor is also phosphate free, lead free, and cadmium free, making it safe for the environment and people’s health.”