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Around the Playground

Compiled by Stephen Kelly, editor

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The synthetic turf at the Boston school uses coconut shells and cork as infill material instead of rubber.

“Green” Synthetic Turf for Cambridge School

Synthetic turf is something of a two-edged sword: It has gained some popularity as a low-maintenance recreational surface. On the negative side, some point to its heat absorption qualities that can make the surface too hot, and the presence of lead and other possible carcinogens in its rubber infill material.

When the International School of Boston considered a synthetic turf for its sports fields, its green committee sought to find a natural infill material that would provide improved safety through reduced incidence of “burns” and injuries, while complying with an environmental resolution passed by the school board.

“We quickly concluded there was nothing currently being used in the U.S. that would meet that mandate,” explains Jonathan Austin, principal of Austin Architects, which developed the school’s master plan and designed the new play area in collaboration with Ray Dunetz Landscape Architecture.

The design team identified a new product and then conducted a rigorous review with the school’s green committee to ensure the product was the right fit for the school’s needs.

The artificial turf under scrutiny was manufactured by Limonta Sport in Italy and had been used there for almost a decade on professional soccer fields.

This artificial turf, supplied stateside by New York-based Geo Safe Play, eschews rubber for coconut shells and cork as infill material. These natural materials allow rain to be absorbed, thus producing far less rainwater runoff.

The natural infill product costs about 10 percent more than a field made with rubber infill, but the International School of Boston decided it met their needs. It is the first site in the U.S. to install this artificial turf.

Domenic Carapella, managing director for Geo Safe Play, says the product is a lead-free synthetic turf. The “natural infill material retains humidity, contains no harmful metals or chemicals and adds no heat to the system,” he asserts.

City officials in Sderot, Israel are designing community parks with bomb shelters that look like a playground structure from the air. These large concrete tube shelters are painted to resemble a “caterpillar.” When the rocket alarm sounds, the children know they have just about 15 seconds to get to cover—the time it takes a rocket fired from Gaza to reach Sderot.
Photo: Courtesy of Rick Burres

What Have We Wrought? Playground Bomb Shelters

We’ve presented a few articles about playgrounds in war zones: “A Playground in Bethlehem,” Sept. 2003; and Big Toys shipping a playground to a girl’s school in Basra, Iraq

LASN saw a news item on the website of Murray State University (Murray, Kentucky) that gave us more than a moment’s pause.

The article, written by Rick Burres, states in part: “In the town of Sderot, Israel, located one mile from the Gaza Strip, children live under threat of instant death. … Three-year-olds know where the nearest bomb shelters are. They are taught to run to the nearest shelter when the neighborhood ‘rocket alarm’ sounds. The children of Sderot have 15 seconds to save their own lives.” (A rocket fired from Gaza takes about 15 seconds to reach Sderot, according to Israeli Defense Force officials.)

“Sderot began enduring these rocket attacks since October of 2001, according to Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center.

“We teach our children to run to the shelters while the Arabs teach theirs to run to the rooftops in order to act as human shields,” Bedein said.

“City officials have started designing community parks with integrated bomb shelters. These new shelters are designed to blend in with the park’s other features. Giant concrete tubes with blast walls at each end are made to look like caterpillars.”

The news item adds: “According to the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, since 2001 there have been 3,484 rockets fired from Gaza, 988 of which were fired in the first five months of 2008.” Various “cease-fires” are frequently violated.

“Basically, we see it (the playground) as a good germ transfer point,” says Prof. Gerba. The research says playgrounds had more urine, sweat, mucus and saliva than all but day care centers.

Microbial Menaces on the Playground: Urine, Fecal Matter, Sweat, Mucus, Saliva …

Playground safety is not limited to falls, running into a swing, dangers of strangulation or other potential physical mishaps. There is a safety issue you can’t see, not because you’re unobservant, but because they’re microscopic.

The recent findings of a four-year germ study of public places across the country headed by microbiologist Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona is getting some attention and certainly ratcheting up the fears of hypochondriacs.

As a preamble, it should be pointed out that Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU and author of The Secret Life of Germs, writes: “Of the 60,000 types of germs that people come in contact with on a daily basis … only about one to two percent are potentially dangerous to normal people with normal immunity.”

In regard to playground safety, Prof. Gerba’s research says water fountain spigots have twice the amount of bacteria as a toilet seat, more than 2,000 microbes on a water fountain compared to less than 1,000 microbes on an average toilet seat.

“Basically, we see it as a good germ transfer point,” says Gerba, aka Dr. Germ. “If you were a germ, where would you want to be? You’d want to be where little kids are playing all the time.”

The research says playgrounds had more urine, sweat, mucus and saliva than all but day care centers. Fifteen of the team’s 42 samples tested positive for the bodily secretions, or about 36 percent of the time.

Some of Gerba’s previous germ studies found fecal matter getting transferred to children’s hands from playground equipment, especially the little playgrounds at fast food restaurants.

It’s not just about germs from people, either.

Gerba points out that birds like to roost on certain playground equipment, e.g., bars, and do their business.

“By the end of the day, you manage to have everyone sharing the same playground,” Gerba concludes.

Antibacterial wipes or rubbing alcohol will rid surfaces of most germs, which of course is not always practical. The CDC recommends frequent washing of the hands.

P.S. Gerba’s study also found the average cell phone has over 25 thousand germs per square inch, as opposed to the average toilet seat with a mere 49. Some cell phones now have anti-microbial coatings.

On April 10, 2008, KaBOOM!, in partnership with The Home Depot, built their 1,000th playground, this one in Marietta, Ga. Playworld Systems, Inc. is KaBOOM!’s Partner in Play for equipment through June 2009. Fibar Systems, Sof-Solutions and Zeager Brothers Inc. furnish safety surfacing for KaBOOM! on a playground-by-playground basis.

Home Depot Foundation & KaBOOM! Renew Partnership Will Promote Playgrounds and Sustainable Practices

The Home Depot® Foundation announced Sept. 12, 2008 it will continue its partnership with KaBOOM!, the national nonprofit play group, to build playgrounds and playing fields across North America.

The two have been working together since 1996, but will now focus on sustainable practices for a wide array of volunteer initiatives.

For 2009, the two plan to create 57 sustainable places to play and activate 7,000 Team Depot associate-volunteers and 4,000 community volunteers. Those new playgrounds, over their lifetimes, will benefit an estimated 570,000 children.

Three of the playgrounds will be “green” playground pilot projects using new types of sustainable manufactured equipment and reducing the environmental impact of the design, production, building and maintenance of the play areas. Each project will include an environmental education curriculum to teach community leaders, Team Depot associate-volunteers and children about ways to minimize the environmental impact of any community development project. The partners will also create and disseminate sustainable practices for any volunteer initiatives, plus undertake research, education and outreach initiatives to create, record and share sustainable volunteer practices.

Indianapolis is short on mulch for its playgrounds. The table details appropriate mulch depths for different fall heights.

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Mulch Ado About Nothing? Mountains out of Mole Hills?

Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” has its light and trivial moments to be sure, but it also deals with slander, revenge and the character assassination of dear, sweat and beautiful Hero. The play is a “comedy,” which let’s you know everything works out in the end.

There is another kind of comedy going on with Indianapolis Parks, and we hope it all turns out well. The new director of Indianapolis Parks reports there’s just not enough mulch at many Indianapolis park playgrounds.

Is this “Mulch Ado About Nothing?”

Not really, because all cities have to deal with liability issues, and injuries on the playground are among them.

While the P&R director called the dearth of mulch embarrassing, it could get embarrassingly costly to the city. Indy Parks recently paid out $16,000 when a little girl fell off a tire swing and cut herself on a bolt exposed by a worn mat beneath the swing. In an earlier incident, Indy Parks paid $300,000 for a swing injury (broken leg).

Over the summer, at least 30 city park playgrounds did not have enough mulch to make them safe, reports the Indy Star. Lack of mulch also produced puddling of water on some playgrounds.

So why not just put down more mulch? It all started when the city turned its mulch production over to a private contractor to save money. The city had grinding equipment that could make mulch, but the equipment was inadequate to produce the necessary volume, plus it made a low-quality mulch unsuitable for playgrounds.

So, the contractor starting making the mulch, and soon produced a 30-foot hill of the stuff. All well and good, so is this a case of making mountains out of molehills?

Turns out the contractor didn’t know there a difference between landscape mulch and playground mulch (a higher-grade). And that mountain of mulch is going to sit there until it undergoes testing to determine whether the wood chips are free of potentially dangerous debris.

Meanwhile the city has put itself in a precarious position and open to all sorts of liability. A side issue isn’t going to help matters. Indy Mayor Greg Ballard proposes $3 million in cuts for Indy Parks in 2009.


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December 14, 2019, 8:53 am PDT

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