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Emily Welker, Published March 05 2013

VIDEO: New Courts Plus indoor playground proves popular

FARGO - Birthday parties, with their cake and goodies, almost always sound like fun. Brand-new playgrounds, even more so.

But with the recent boom in business at the newly opened playground space at Courts Plus in south Fargo – which hosted 16 kids’ birthday parties on opening weekend – fun, like birthday cake, might be better in smaller doses.

“Probably if we had it to do over again, we wouldn’t have 16 birthday parties,” Courts Plus General Manager Kevin Boe said of the “controlled chaos” that resulted at the front desk, where not all three workstations were open.

“The parents would say, ‘I’m here for the birthday party,’ but they wouldn’t remember the kid’s name,” Boe said. “So you’re trying to get the name out of a 3-year-old.”

Before the new playground opened, he said, the Courts Plus Fitness Center at 3491 S. University Drive hosted perhaps two or three birthday parties in an average weekend.

Balancing battling birthday parties is just one of the emerging challenges brought on by the popularity of the workout center’s new playground facility, which has averaged about 300 kids a day since opening for regular business on Feb. 21. For some, its popularity shows the need for more indoor play places in a climate that makes outdoors out of the question for big chunks of the year.

Megan Boeddeker, a Minnesota State University Moorhead student who has been a nanny for a 10-year-old for the past three years, said she thinks the metro area needs more indoor options. The boy she watches asked to come back again Tuesday after their first trip Monday.

“He’s kind of a hyper child. With kids like this, it kind of helps calm them down,” she said. “We live in North Dakota, where it’s not exactly nice out most of the year – when it is, we go to the outside playground, use the trampoline, jump around.”

John Hendrickson, father of two young boys, was at the playground Tuesday on the family’s second trip there.

“It’s a good place to get the energy out. Especially when it’s subzero outside, which around here seems to last for a month at a time,” he said.

The indoor playground, a collaborative effort between the Fargo Park District and the Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead, is a first for Courts Plus. Before its renovation, Courts Plus had only a day care space for members.

The playground, which is connected to the day care, is open to the public at $2 a day per child. Boe said Courts Plus sold more than a thousand of its colored playground admission wristbands last weekend.

One of those enjoying the playground Tuesday while his mom worked out on weights in the fitness center was 9-year-old John Bohmer.

“I had a friend come over a couple days ago – it was crowded,” said Bohmer, who was being supervised by his older sister, Jennifer.

Bohmer’s mother, Janet, later watched his 3-year-old brother, who was playing on the giant stability balls on the playground’s lower level.

“I usually come here with friends,” John Bohmer said. “It’s best around 3 or 4, after school.”

That may be John’s recommendation, but Boe said for parents looking to make sure their kid’s experience isn’t too crowded, better times to come are weekdays before 4 p.m. and in the early mornings or late evenings on weekends.

The playground is open 17 hours a day, starting when Courts Plus opens and closing an hour before the fitness center closes.

The playground’s manufacturer says the 50-by-80-foot space, which is 36 feet high at its tallest point, can hold about 250 kids safely at one time, Boe said.

He said it only takes kids an hour, maybe an hour and a half, before they’re too tired to go on playing and need to be taken home.

“To get kids active is kind of the purpose of this place,” Boe said.

Hendrickson said he can definitely see the difference in his 3-year-old son, James, when he gets regular time to be active. Because of that, he envisions using the playground all year.

“Even in summertime when it’s too hot to play, you can get the kids out to play, exercise,” he said. “It’s a good habit to have.”

In retrospect, Boe said, he could have doubled or even tripled the parents’ waiting area because parents are responsible for watching their kids. There’s only one roving staff member, who is checking the facility and not serving as a babysitter.

With budget constraints in mind, Boe said he wanted to devote as much space as possible to the children’s play area. The center’s meeting spaces can be opened to accommodate parent overflow.

Boe compared the early popularity of the new Courts Plus playground to what happened when the park district opened its new swimming pool at Davies High School last June. It had waterslides, a climbing wall and a 300-gallon “dump bucket.”

During the “honeymoon phase,” Boe said, the pool was packed, just like at the playground.

He expects the novelty to eventually wear off, most likely around the time the weather shifts for the changing seasons – and it’s time to play outside.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541