By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Where else but North Liberty– a community voted one of the country’s most playful by the national nonprofit KaBOOM!– could you find a kids’ canoe, a rock climbing pile, frogs and turtles right beside the city’s library, swimming pool and public gymnasiums?
On July 23, the North Liberty City Council approved the purchase of $95,000 worth of indoor play equipment to be installed near the south entrance of the North Liberty Community Center, an offshoot of the city’s recent expansion and remodel of the library. The equipment, to be purchased from Playtime Play Area Systems, will be much like that found in the children’s play area at Coral Ridge Mall; large, colorful foam structures that invite climbing, exploring and general horsing around in a safe, soft environment.
The funds will likely come from the library expansion budget, once all items and contingencies on that project have been completed, said North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
“We do a number of programs for young children already,” Heiar told the council. “Right now, our indoor playground consists of putting some plastic or inflatable-type pieces of equipment in the gymnasium.”
The recreation department has historically offered indoor play days for toddlers and preschoolers, supervised by their adults, during weekdays for a fee of just $1. North Liberty Recreation Director Shelly Simpson said the new indoor playground will better serve an increasing need at the facility than the former indoor playground arrangements.
“We used to offer indoor playground in the gym, but gym space is always at a premium,” said Simpson, and some of the pieces of portable equipment were marking up the gym floor. Attendance at indoor playground varies, with an average attendance of between 15 and 20 kids, but sometimes reaching 40 to 50 children when local daycare classes would come as well, Simpson said.
“Between gym scheduling and wear and tear, we moved the indoor playground downstairs to a room in the Gerdin Conference Center as a temporary fix. Once the construction on the library and the community center’s front entrance began, that’s when we started thinking about what we’d do with that front area. It’s a gathering place for many people,” Simpson said.
Therefore, she said, it made sense to use the room next to the entrance– with its glass walls that provide good visibility and keep the noise of rambunctious little ones contained– as a place where caregivers and their children can congregate, especially while waiting for older siblings who are engaged in other activities elsewhere in the center.
“Often, parents who have one kid in swim lessons are walking around with younger siblings, so hopefully this space will be a place for them to wait,” Simpson said. It’s the same concept as the former indoor playground, with a fee of $1 per child and adult supervision required, but now with its own permanent space and some evening indoor playground times also available.
Simpson said the sculpted foam equipment and accompanying spongy floor and wall safety surfaces are on order, with a targeted installation date of late September or early October. The recreation department will likely host a grand opening of the indoor play area as soon as it is installed and ready.
“I would definitely say this is a unique thing for a city recreation center,” Simpson said, as similar play features are more typically offered at large malls and some larger chain restaurants. “I think it’s a great fit for our facility. It’s something we saw a need for, a place for parents with little ones to wait and meet up with others. I think they will be well-served.”