Nothing brightens up a day like the sound of children squealing with joy as they play and have fun. Costa Rican woodworking firms offer playgrounds in all shapes and sizes, built to order using sustainably harvested wood. These companies offer everything from traditional seesaws, swings and slides to more complex, customized tree houses and forts.
Recently enacted legislation requires that new playgrounds in Costa Rica be made of wood, rather than the traditional metal, which is prone to overheating on sunny days, rusting as a result of the torrential rains that fall eight months of the year and, over time, developing sharp edges that can cut children.
This legal change has created great opportunities for woodworking firms to move into the playground design and construction business and cater to the needs of schools, municipal parks, residential developers and families.
Representatives of firms involved in playground design and construction say great progress has been made in making playgrounds safer. The move from metal to wood greatly reduces danger levels. Slides have gone from being made of metal to being made of plastic or fiberglass, both of which are safer. Designs now ensure that there are no exposed screws that could hurt playground-goers.
A major safety issue remains under parents’ control – the playground’s location.
Design and construction firms recommend that playgrounds be placed over grass or sand and not concrete. If concrete is the only option, parents should consider placing mats and padding around the playground to soften the blow of a potential fall.
Better safe than sorry seems to be the industry’s motto.
“We pay great attention to children’s safety,” said Yorleny Abarca, general manager of Ecoplaygrounds. “With children, you can’t avoid accidents, but you can prevent them by improving safety.”
However, that today’s playgrounds are safer is no excuse to leave children unattended.
“Supervision is essential,” said Vanessa Picado, sales executive in charge of playgrounds for Xilo. “A lot of times, parents will leave kids by themselves because there’s a playground. It’s essential that there always be an adult to supervise how the kids are using the playground.”
Parents also need to be aware that playgrounds are not one-size-fits-all. Children of different ages require different playgrounds.
“It’s very important when someone is going to make a decision that they get professional assistance regarding the design and the specifications to make sure they are compatible with the child’s age,” explained Luis Javier Bedoya, general manager and designer of Maderas y Construcciones Exclusivas Bedoya.
Xilo (2279-7985, www.grupoxilo.com) designs, builds and personally installs a wide range of wooden playgrounds and playground accessories, from benches and sandboxes to complete playgrounds.
All Xilo’s products are made using pine. Playground designs are unpainted, leaving them a treated-wood color, but what does get painted is done using lead-free, anticorrosive paint. Items offered include swings, slides, monkey bars, platforms, hanging bridges, tunnels, climbing walls, “spiders” and ladders.
“Our most popular items are still swings, slides and seesaws,” Picado said. “We recommend that the client add a bridge or a tunnel to make it more fun.”
Prices range from ¢50,000 ($100) for one item such as a seesaw to ¢3 million ($5,800) for a full set.
Ecoplaygrounds (2282-3313, www.ecoplaygrounds.com) specializes in all kinds of playground items, but most recently has met with great success designing and building Indian forts and tree houses.
Ecoplaygrounds uses certified Chilean pine treated in Costa Rica, free of arsenic. Its products have a 20-year warranty. The company offers a standard line for homes that includes five models ranging in price from $1,000 to $2,500.
“We also do exclusive designs that adapt to local surroundings, incorporating available trees,” Abarca said. “The biggest trend right now is adventure. Customers are asking for canopies, climbing walls and nets.
Kids and adults really like things that go up and down. Tree houses are also in, because kids are reading the ‘Magic Tree House’ book series.”
With eight years of experience in the country and four decades in Colombia, Enmaderas (2225-1118) specializes in modular playgrounds, allowing clients to buy a couple of pieces and gradually scale up to a complete playground.
The company uses wood harvested from its own pine forests in Panama. Prices range from ¢29,000 ($55) for a seesaw to ¢2.2 million ($4,200) for a complete, 121-squaremeter set with five swings, two slides and hanging bridges. In all, Enmaderas has more than 30 designs. Its products have a 25-year warranty.
“Our advantage is we own our own forests,” said Patricia Gómez, designer and sales manager for Enmaderas. “We can guarantee the excellent quality of what we produce and the age of the wood we use. We don’t cut a tree before it has been growing for 25 years.
That guarantees it will be strong. We then replant those trees.”
Maderas y Construcciones Exclusivas Bedoya (2290-8941, www.maderasyconstruccionesexclusivas.com) also produces modular playgrounds that can be scaled up. The company uses pine imported from forests in Argentina, Canada, Chile and Colombia. Prices start at ¢60,000 ($115) for one item. Products have a 20-year warranty.
“The most important thing is we think like children,” Bedoya explained. “This is my favorite hobby. We’re a family firm that has been doing this for many years. My 10-year-old son tests them out and gives me ideas on how to design them.”