More Bang For Your Bark Park

By Andrew Bruun

Municipalities face a large number of financial, logistical, and political challenges when establishing a dog park. Some of the most difficult financial challenges include high costs from installing infrastructure, utilities, and landscaping. Estimating and budgeting for these costs can be equally challenging. Thus, parks and recreation operators search for solutions to achieve the best possible price and accurate estimates.

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For the past nine years, The Stanton Foundation has been supporting the construction of dog parks in Massachusetts. It has helped fund 18 parks and is actively working with 34 municipalities to build more. These parks range in size from 3,183 to 87,000 square feet in both suburban and urban areas. The foundation requires three park amenities:

1.       Potable water
2.       Shade
3.       Dual-gate entry.

The communities determine all additional features, material, and park size.

Using the projects’ construction contracts, the foundation has modeled the costs of different factors and can estimate the overall expense of a dog park. An analysis shows there are three driving factors determining the base costs:

1.       Timing
2.       Population density
3.       Park size.

Timing Matters
The time of year that construction bids are solicited greatly predicts the final cost-per-square-foot. In Massachusetts, the cheapest months to solicit bids are during the winter, specifically January, and the bids are progressively more expensive until peaking in May.

This monthly price discrepancy may be because landscaping and outdoor construction in Massachusetts do not happen in the winter when the ground is frozen. During these months, construction companies are planning their spring and summer schedules and might be placing lower bids to fill their schedule. This information is not only useful for communities in Massachusetts but any states that have seasonal construction periods due to the winter months. For states that are warm year-round, municipalities should check for any other seasonal price discrepancies in their region.

The table below represents the added cost per square foot when opening construction bids in each month. January is the base case that all other months compare to, which is why it is equal to zero.

Month          Cost Per Square Foot
January                      0.00
February                    2.09
March                         2.33
April                           3.69
May                            7.31
July                            3.11
September                2.36
October                     1.63

Table 1. Missing months are because The Stanton Foundation does not have data to predict the costs.

For example, if a municipality is planning to solicit bids in January but instead is unable to until February, the cost is expected to be $2.09 more per square foot.

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A High-Population Density Is Expensive
The second factor driving dog park bids is population density; the denser the population of the community, the more expensive it is to build a dog park. For example, building an identical dog park in low-density Mashpee, Mass. (599 people per square mile) is cheaper than in high-density Chelsea, Mass. (14,071 people per square mile).

How much, one might ask? Each person per square mile increases the cost by $0.000639 per square foot. This may not seem like much, but in a city with a population density of 10,000 people per square mile, this would mean an additional cost of $6.39 per square foot.

These results support the preexisting theory and practice of building a dog park in a less dense area of the community, as it may be less expensive than building in the town center. These costs must be weighed against park accessibility, as traveling too far for residents may restrict the number of visitors.

Bigger Is Better
Lastly, the data show that the bigger the park, the cheaper the average square-foot cost. Stated differently, each additional square-foot added is cheaper than the last, so the more square-feet, the lower the average cost. The likely cause of the decrease in cost per square foot is that dog parks of any size have certain fixed costs, such as design. Spreading the fixed costs over more square feet will therefore lower the final cost per square foot.

The analysis shows that each additional square foot decreases the average cost by 0.000177 per square foot. For a park that is 30,000 square feet, that would mean a decrease in cost per square foot of $5.31.

An effective way to utilize this information is the following example. If a town cannot justify building a 15,000-square-foot park because it costs too much, the town should look into sharing the cost of a dog park of 30,000 square feet with a nearby town. This would be cost efficient because the larger park would cost less if shared. Additionally the two towns might utilize the information of building a dog park.

How To Estimate The Cost
To understand how to use this information to predict the cost of a park, here’s a hypothetical scenario. One note before doing this is that, regardless of where the park will located, how large it is, and when a bid is placed, there is a constant starting cost of $10.26 per square foot. This is the expense before the specific variables of time, location, and size come into effect.

Suppose a town with a population density of 2,000 people per square mile in a cold-weather state is planning on opening bids in February for a 27,000-square-foot dog park. It is possible to estimate the cost by filling in these town characteristics and using the table demonstrating cost per month into the equation below:

Cost per ft2 = $10.26 + Month Cost in Table 1 + $0.000639*(Population Density) - 0.000177*(Total Square Feet)

Cost per ft2 = $10.26 + $2.09 + ($0.000639 x 2,000) – ($0.000177 x 27,000)

Cost per ft2 = $10.26 + $2.09 + $1.28 - $4.78

Cost per ft2 = $8.85

Multiply the cost/ft2 by the total park size to determine park cost.  In this case, the total cost is $8.85 x 27,000 = $238,950.

How To Use This Information

  • When planning a dog park, it is important to look at the information and data available that can be leveraged before deciding to decrease the number of play features or park size.
  • If your municipality is not in a rush to get a park built, it is best to wait until the winter to bid on a construction project.
  • For big cities where it will already be expensive because of size constraints and high population density, it is especially important to bid in winter months.
  • For towns that cannot quite afford building a dog park, they should explore different scenarios, such as looking at new locations and communicating with surrounding neighbors to see if there is interest in sharing a dog park.

Andrew Bruun is a Research Analyst for The Stanton Foundation. The foundation works on behalf of canine health and welfare supporting research and traditional grant programs to promote the welfare of dogs and strengthen the human/dog bond. Reach him at intern@thestantonfoundation.org.