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Published February 16 2013

VIDEO: Indoor playground opens Wednesday in Fargo

FARGO – Parents will have another cure for cabin fever at their disposal Wednesday when the Fargo Park District opens its first indoor park with a towering playground structure at the newly expanded and renamed Courts Plus Community Fitness.

The seven-level, $260,000 play structure measures 36 feet to the top of the blue wave slide that rewards children who reach the summit.

Its colorful tubes and slides beckon through the windows of the 8,000-square-foot addition to Courts Plus, and anticipation has been building for its opening, General Manager Kevin Boe said.

“We’ve had several calls since this was announced back in June … saying how, ‘This is great. I want my kids to be active, and this is a place for them to go,’ ” he said.

District officials hope the playground – the centerpiece of a roughly $4 million renovation and expansion of Courts Plus – will lead to healthier children and new members for the publicly owned facility, which has about 5,000 members.

“This was an extremely expensive project, but it was a project that we felt was very worthwhile,” Fargo Park Board President Joel Vettel said. “We think we’re going to get an incredible amount of value out of the investment.”

Private sector steps up

Park board member Joe Deutsch began pushing for an indoor playground in the summer of 2010 to give children a place to play during cold weather. District officials decided pairing it with Courts Plus would allow the playground to stay open year-round and make Courts Plus more appealing.

The Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead, a women’s service club with charitable and educational goals, got involved in October 2011. The group had been looking to take on a large community project and, with many moms among its members, identified the need for an indoor playground.

“Fargo, as you know, gets very, very cold, and it’s hard to find places to bring your kids in the winter,” said Christina Snider, the league’s community vice president.

League members and park district officials toured more than a dozen indoor playgrounds – some multiple times – in the Twin Cities area and elsewhere, including the 37-foot-high Adventure Peak in Edina, Minn., and the Backyard at the Community and Cultural Center in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

With input from the league, the district expanded its playground plan and bought the equipment from International Play Co. of Langley, B.C. The structure is 52 feet long by 36 feet wide by 36 feet tall. Together with an adjacent parents’ lounge, pirate ship-themed toddler area and interactive room with exercise-based video games, the total cost was about $300,000, Boe said.

The district footed $100,000 of the bill, while the Junior League is raising the other $200,000 from private donors. League members began soliciting donations in August and have raised $50,000 so far, including a $25,000 donation from Gate City Bank for the naming rights to the toddler area, Snider said. Naming rights are still available for the parents’ lounge and interactive room, Boe said.

The league will maintain the naming rights for the playground, which will be known as the Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead Community Indoor Park, Snider said. Individuals and businesses interested in donating to the park should visit the league’s website at www.fmjrleague.org, she said.

To cover the cost of the Courts Plus project, the park district is using $1.5 million of its reserve funds and financing about $2.5 million over 15 years.

Construction started in June. Officials hoped to wrap up the project by Dec. 31, but it took longer than expected, mainly because of supply delays, Boe said.

Other new features

The project marks the first major updates since the district took over Courts Plus in 1991.

In addition to the playground, which also features handicapped-accessible components, the new and renovated areas of Courts Plus include:

• A smoothie bar, which also will open on Wednesday.

• Two community education rooms adjacent to the playground, with a sliding wall between them that can be removed for larger events. The rooms, each with a kitchen, will be available for birthday parties, Boe said, and the league will use them for bimonthly nutritional seminars over the next 3½ years in keeping with its mission, Snider said.

• A 2,000-square-foot multipurpose room with a floating hardwood floor for group exercise. It also will be used for park district events, including Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

• A new walking/running track and cardio/weightlifting equipment.

“Every part of the club has been touched with a facelift,” Boe said, noting even the Courts Plus logo was changed.

‘A healthy lifestyle’

With childhood obesity still a major U.S. health concern, Vettel said the district’s role is to make play opportunities available to a broad spectrum of youths, and the playground – believed to be the first indoor park of its kind in North Dakota – is part of that effort.

“We want to be able to provide the means for them to continue living a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

What they don’t want is for the indoor playground to become a place where parents drop off their kids and leave. For safety reasons, Boe said, playground rules will require parents to remain in the Courts Plus building, whether in the parents’ lounge or one of facility’s exercise areas, for which non-members must buy a day pass.

Admission to the playground is $2 per child per day. Children covered by a Courts Plus family membership will have free access.

Boe said the district will follow specific playground cleaning instructions developed by the manufacturer, which includes daily cleaning. The district has interviewed four cleaning services and will have one hired by Wednesday’s opening, he said.

The playground’s south Fargo location is less convenient for north Fargo residents who also contribute to the park district’s budget, and Vettel said district officials have talked about the potential for building similar facilities in other parts of the community using the private-public funding model. They’ll discuss it again during their annual long-range planning meeting before Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting, he said.

The district has committed $100,000 annually to operate and maintain the indoor playground, but Boe said officials won’t know precisely how it will affect the district’s budget until after it opens.

“We hope to generate a lot of traffic,” he said.


Indoor playground opening

The Fargo Park District will open its new indoor playground at Courts Plus Community Fitness after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the facility at 3491 S. University Drive.

Some things to know about the playground:

• Children ages 12 and younger are allowed in the playground. There also is a pirate-ship-themed toddler area for kids 3 and younger and an interactive room with exercise-themed video games for teens and pre-teens.

• Admission is $2 per child, per day. There is no fee for children covered by their Courts Plus family membership.

• Playground hours run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

• Socks only – no shoes or bare feet are allowed in the playground.

• The playground’s capacity is 250 children at one time.

• Parents may sit in the lounge area (with wireless Internet service) next to the playground or use another area of Courts Plus (at a cost to non-members) while their children play, but parents must remain in the building. The child care room next to the playground is for Courts Plus members only.

• Courts Plus staff will not supervise the playground, but they will be in the adjacent child care room in case of emergency.

• Because the playground is open to the public at all times, it won’t be available for private rental.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528