The first thing you should do is have a list of features you want on the playground and assign them a level of importance. When you playground bids come in, make sure to compare what they are offering to what is important to you, do this even before looking at the price. If one of the bids is severely lacking the elements that are important to you, then let the company know and ask them to provide another proposal. Once you have selected the bids that you feel meet all of your playground needs, its time to compare them.
All playground bids will essentially contain the same basic elements, so we will focus in on how to analyze and interpret those elements:
1. PLAYGROUND SITE PLAN
In most cases, you will have provided the bidders with a site plan that shows the overall layout and dimensions for your playground area, if not, they should provide one for you. This should be the first thing you look at, before the price and before the fancy three dimensional drawing they have included that shows you what they plan to offer. The first thing you want to look at on the site plan is the scale. Is the site plan to scale? In many cases it will not be. This is a common trick used by playground companies to win bids. They will intentionally provide you with a site plan that is not to scale. They do this so that when they place the equipment within the confines of the playground area, it looks much, much larger than it will actually be. If the site plan is not to scale, there is no need to investigate the bid any further. Ask the company to provide you with a plan that is to scale so you can properly review it and make an informed decision.
2. SIZE OF PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT AND COMPONENTS
Most playground companies will not include much in the way of size for the equipment they offer. Make sure that they have the dimensions for every major component they are pricing for you. The reason for this is that pictures can be very deceiving. For example, two playground structures may look very similar and seem to offer the same activities, however the dimension may be completely different. Ask for sizes. This is particularly important with shade structures as well. Many companies will include a shade structure in the request. What they do not tell you is they included the smallest shade possible, the one that is the cheapest and easiest to install. Details are everything, ask for the specifics, the hardware connections, everything.
3. QUALITY AND ORIGIN OF PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT
This is the most important aspect of evaluating a proposal. There are tremendous price differences between playground equipment and components, in many cases (not always) this translates to a quality difference as well. To give you an example. Let’s say that you are evaluating two proposals, both of which contain a swing set with four swings. One proposal has arch post swings, the other has bi-pod swings. The bi pod swings are going to be about half the cost of the arch post swings. However the arch post swings are going to be twice as strong and last much longer. It is important to make quality comparisons on as many aspects as possible, but most important on the main structural features such as posts, decks and connections.
4. PLAYGROUND SURFACING
This is another area where playground companies find clever ways to fool customers. Most playground companies will quote you for the minimum amount of surfacing required for the equipment they have offered. Maybe you had planned on having an entire area covered with surfacing. Make sure to ask the total square footage of the surfacing they have offered. Investigate what type of surfacing and border they will be using and why.
5.AUXILIARY PLAYGROUND ITEMS
Many playgrounds have features other than equipment and surfacing. Perhaps you had plans for a nice concrete picnic area under a shade structure, or a grill area. Most playground companies will not include this into their price. Make sure that you are getting everything you want, and if there is something you want that is not on the proposal, get the price up front.
6. THE PLAYGROUND COST SHEET
After you have looked at the site plan, and the fancy drawings, the next thing playground companies want to do is amaze you with their unbelievable low price. The cost sheet is where the details are. Make sure again to look at the dimensions and pricing. At the bottom of most cost sheets you will see a huge “discount”. This discount is actually not a discount. It is a clever sales trick by playground companies to make you believe that you are special and as such, you are receiving a special price. What they are actually doing is just marking up the prices of everything, then creating a fake discount at the bottom of the page. Pay no attention to this tactic. Underneath all of this pricing information, you will most likely find a huge paragraph full of tiny text that explains to you how the price can, and most likely will go up once they begin work. This “fine print” is important, and make sure you read it carefully. The bottom line is you should tell the playground companies that the quoted price is all you are willing to pay.
7. PLAYGROUND WARRANTIES
Most playground equipment will have the same warranty. The important warranty is the one offered by the contractor. Most will tell you they provide a lifetime warranty on all of the equipment. Well, actually that is the manufacturer and what the installer is telling you is that if something breaks, he or she will arrange to have a replacement part delivered to you. In most cases, you will have to find someone to install and repair broken parts. If you want a company that is willing to also service the playground with the warranty, make sure you ask for that and get it in writing.
Buying a new playground should be a fun and hassle free experience, unfortunately it does not always pan out that way. As long as you pay attention to the details and ask questions you will be making an informed decision.