I often get asked how much it costs to build a nature play space. This is a very difficult question to answer as every space is so unique and each school and service want something slightly different that suits them. I have tried to compile below a list of considerations for building a nature play space and an estimate of how much you may expect to pay.
- You need to decide if you are wanting a very natural nature play space or a playground constructed of log elements. ‘Nature play’ is a spectrum with pure bush or forest spaces at one end and log playground equipment and not really any nature at the other end. Be clear on what it is that you really want for your children. What opportunities do you want them to have? How do you want them to play? You could plant a small native forest/ bush area for less than $1000, or you could build a small piece of log/ rock/ rope equipment for around $5000.
- Remember what needs to go under the ground. What you see when you look at a nature play space is like the top of the iceberg. Under any planting, needs to go good soil and a reliable watering system and mulch to protect the soil. Under and equipment over 60cm high, needs to go 30cm deep of some kind of approves soft fall and this needs to be generally to a radius of 1.5 to 2 metres around the equipment. This can be where most of the expense goes in play structures. Allow about $30 a square metre extra for gardens and about $70 extra per metre of soft fall. To prepare the space with a digger or bobcat is also additional, as is the disposal of the excess dirt/ rocks removed.
- Good design is vitally important. There are often many people invested in a nature play space and a design can help everyone get on the same page, be in agreeance and make sure the project runs smoothly from the start. A good designer (like myself) will take input from the children, educators and families and look at the site and soils and what is existing and weave this together with knowledge of child development, age appropriate play and nature pedagogy to create something that everyone is very proud of. A good designer also will let you tweak the design through consultation until everyone involved is happy and excited to move ahead. Having a master plan ensures that if someone leaves the organization, the project lives on. A good design can be built in phases over time if needed. Often you will also need to design approved by a government department and architectural designs are perfect for this. Expect to pay between $800- $3500 for a design with Childscapes depending on the size and complexity of the space. Some architectural firms will charge up to $30,000 for drawings, but check they have the child development knowledge and are happy to consult with you and change the plans if you are not happy. Also be weary of offerings of free designs of you build with that company as they will feed the design cost into the construction cost anyway.
- Are you wanting a whole space transformed? Depending on the size of the space, a whole transformation with a combination of planted areas, paths, log structures, water and sand play generally starts from $30,000- $60,000. Smaller areas with one or two of these elements can start from around $10,000. For whole brand new early learning service, with several play spaces generally allocate $1200- $1500 per licensed space for the centre. This formula has worked for many previous clients.
- Can you do some of the work yourself or with volunteers? We have worked with many early years services and schools who have had their design completed and moved forward as a community project. This is a great way to save money if you have the skilled people to do it. There are a few things you need to consider though: Are you insured if a volunteer injured themselves with a power tool for example? Is the work insured if it breaks and a child is seriously injured? Can you be guaranteed the work will meet the Australian Playground Standards? It might be a good idea to use volunteers for less risky work such as planting and spreading mulch or oiling the timber.
- What finish/ style are you wanting? Some people like very rustic and raw timber and logs, some people like highly polished and shiny. Some people like thin, square poles, some people like thick, chunky 40cm poles. These choices all make a big difference to the final cost of your space. Thicker logs are harder to source sustainably and can cost an extra $200 per metre. Even the type of rocks you choose can change the price of a space. Have a good look at photos and examples of other play spaces and decide together what finish and style you like.
I hope this been helpful for you. I am happy to answer your questions free via email if you are looking at gifting a nature play space to your children. I am always more than happy to help in anyones journey to connect children with nature and adventurous play. firstname.lastname@example.org. Best wishes with your space.