There’s an old joke politicians like to tell: place all the economists in the world end-to-end and they will still all point in different directions. Fortunately, churches wishing to buy playground and recreational equipment don’t have that same problem with equipment manufacturers. Instead, manufacturers and suppliers line up in agreement on virtually all important requirements for buying the best equipment for church recreational areas.
The first area of agreement is safety. Without a doubt, all makers of playground and recreation equipment emphasize safety as the first requirement for playground equipment. “Buy good equipment that is safe to use,” says Ron Ensz, president of Future Pro, Inc., a provider of sports equipment. “And buying safe equipment isn’t necessarily obvious. For example, a soccer goal might be of a very good quality, but what if it’s in use without padding? Is it still as safe as it can be? A running hit [into] equipment that isn’t as safe as it can be may have tragic consequences.”
The next important consideration is the space that’s available and how it’s configured. Is the space appropriate for the activities and equipment you have in mind? Fortunately, products are available that will accommodate nearly any type of space. “Basketball hoops are a good example,” says Terry Coffey, media relations manager for Draper, Inc., also a provider of sports equipment. “Hoops can be purchased that fold forward, backward, or sideways, depending on need. Equipment can be purchased for just about any area.”
Buy equipment designed for the space you have available. “If you purchase equipment that might be good for a large area, but you’re dealing with a small area, you might be in trouble,” says Coffey. “Carefully select the type and amount of equipment that fits the space allotted. If you have space for six basketball courts, for example, and you buy equipment for six courts, you have the making of a lot of happy players. Otherwise, the space is wasted.”
Because many churches don’t have an area dedicated solely to recreational use, equipment must be moved and stored when not in use. In these cases, the church also needs space to store equipment. Be sure to look closely at the portability features of the equipment. Can it be easily moved and efficiently stored? Consider who will do the moving. “Sometimes, all you can muster are the ladies who are about to use a room,” says Kelli Mollett, creative director for Sport Court, a maker of indoor and outdoor sport surfaces. “Can they move the equipment to make room for their meeting? Not always. Buy appropriately—having a bunch of burly men around to move what might be a very heavy piece of equipment, despite being well made, is not always possible.”
If you plan on hosting league or tournament play, make sure everything measures up. “It’s fine to have a church be the site of a local school’s games, but when school athletic requirements come into play, the [space] limits can also be their own downfall,” says Wendy Norris of Upward, a sports league ministry. “Allowing a school to use your grounds for a tournament game can earn a church tremendous goodwill. But if it turns out that a game was played on a field or court that isn’t to regulations, you will have earned yourself a lot of bad public relations.”
Don’t forget spectators. There are many options for accommodating an audience. Place chairs on the floor or on portable risers, remembering to designate storage space for these chairs and risers for times when they’re not needed. Or install permanent bleachers. And if your recreational area is outdoors, remember to also plan for adequate lighting for evening activities.
After the Sale
Be sure to ask about maintenance requirements for the playground and recreational equipment under consideration. Portable or retractable equipment will have some moving parts. Will components eventually wear out, and if so, are they easily replaced? Outdoor gear will suffer from the effects of weather and need additional maintenance. “Purchase equipment that isn’t a lot of work to take care of,” says Mollett. “And be sure you carefully consider where you’re planning on using a piece of equipment.” Don’t be tempted to take your indoor equipment outside in the dead of winter.
One very important criterion to consider is the service you’ll receive from the manufacturer or their local dealer. “It’s important to have a good dealer who is knowledgeable about equipment and how it is purchased and installed,” says Terry Robertson, president of International Play Company, a maker of soft modular playground systems. Look for a dealer or installer who has a lot of experience with the equipment you’re buying. What good is high-quality equipment if it’s improperly assembled or installed?
Warranty service is equally important. Make sure you’re dealing with a company that will honor their warranties. Get and check references. You need to be comfortable in dealing with the company you’ve chosen. Will they be there for you when you’ve got a problem? It’s easier for a company to say they stand behind their warranties than to actually do it. Like every other product, you really do get what you pay for. Keep these points in mind when planning your next recreational equipment purchase. Make a checklist and rate each option. Don’t make impulse purchases—do your research. “You won’t regret it,” Ensz says. “People will be safer and happier for it.”