Whole Hog

When the Navy decided to re-surface 56 playgrounds on two bases in the Jacksonville, Florida area landfills everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) is used to big jobs. These are the folks responsible for heavy-duty construction projects ranging from structures, bridges, and utilities to public works and recreation facilities for naval bases around the world. So, when funding finally came through for re-furbishing all 56 playgrounds at the Mayport Naval Base, Yellow Water Housing Complex and Naval Air Station Jacksonville (all in the Jacksonville, Florida area), nobody thought too much about it.

It was just another day at the office for Garry Murphy, Director of the Construction Division, Public Works Department for Facilities Team Southeast.

The Problem

According to Murphy, the folks in the housing department had been fighting a losing battle trying to maintain a reliable/safe surface under and around some of their existing playground structures.

“Initially, they had sand in the playground areas,” says Murphy, “but there was always a deep pocket under the sliding boards ands swings. So, they switched over to a mulch type product, hoping that would be better. The only problem with that was when it rained the material would wash to the lowest point of the playground. And, there were other issues as well. They had problems with cats being in and around the material and so on.”

Murphy says the housing department went through an extensive process looking for a solution that would solve their maintenance problems and provide a safe surface for the kids and other users of the playgrounds.

“They came across a product (Environmental Molding Concepts’ Kid Kushion Playground Surfacing Tiles) that appeared to be very efficient, highly safe and very, very low maintenance,” says Murphy, “which, in this time of tight budgets is always a plus.”

The particular qualities the housing department was looking for included: safety, wear, and color. The last choice not being aesthetic design criteria, but comfort criteria.

“The client picked the colors based on what would be the coolest deck colors. In Florida, you’re talking about days of 90 to 95 degrees, so when children are out at lunch time you don’t want them playing on a black surface and burning their feet,” says Murphy.

The housing department, Murphy’s client, was also impressed with the opportunity to replace tiles or worn sections in the years to come without having to replace the entire surface.

As Murphy says, “as a section wears, say under the sliding boards or the swings, you just get another one. It really minimizes and improves efficiency and makes it easy to keep the playgrounds at a full working level.”

The Procurement Process

With the product decided upon, Murphy’s staff set about finding and hiring a contractor to prep the 56 sites and install the new surfacing material.

“This procurement was a little bit unique in that we went to the Small Business Administration (SBA), in what’s called their 8(a) program,” says Murphy. “This program usually includes minority owned, small and/or disadvantaged businesses.”

In this particular case it was a win-win for both government agencies.

“The contractor who won the job had done very good work for us in the past,” says Murphy. “They were a participant in the 8(a) program and they were large enough to handle this level of work.”

The Install

The work, which is ongoing, is fairly straightforward, but the sheer quantity of sites, their remote locations (difficult to access) and the amount of prep work that had to be done was an organizational nightmare. Luckily, communication between all parties involved was solid.

“This is a long drawn out process,” says Murphy. “One of the reasons is there’s a demolition process involved in removing the sand, any wood chip fill or whatever and then prepping the site. Then the contractor had to determine how to get concrete to these playgrounds sites while minimizing contact with people.”

For that reason, a lot of the demolition and preparatory concrete work was actually done over the Christmas holidays while a lot of residents were traveling.

With the sites prepped and the concrete poured to the exact density recommended by the manufacturer, the next step was to install the interlocking rubber tiles – which was an organizational and communication challenge all of itself.

“I forget how many truckloads they were going to bring in,” says Murphy, “but they were going to get all of the material at the same time and stage it so it would be available to put down as they went along.”

By the time the approximately $2.9 million project is finished, Murphy’s contractor will have laid approximately 13,107 Azure center tiles (varying from 2.5 to 3.5 inches thick), 6,784 Terra Cotta center tiles (varying from 1 to 3.5 inches thick) and poured an amazing amount of concrete.

The good news? The safety surfacing tiles are made from recycled tires, which means this project will have recycled approximately 51,782 used tires. Landfills everywhere are breathing a big sigh of relief.