NORTH LIBERTY– Kids in North Liberty don’t have to go far to cozy up inside a tent, slide down a slippery log or swim with the frogs and fishes.
The North Liberty Recreation Center has it all, right inside the door.
Kids’ Campsite is the center’s newest play place, installed as part of the facility’s renovation to its library and entrance areas. In July, 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 by Playtime Play Area Systems. The new equipment is much like that found in the children’s play area at Coral Ridge Mall; large, colorful foam structures that invite climbing, exploring and jumping in a safe, soft environment.
The area officially opened Sept. 30, and it’s getting a lot of use so far.
“Everything we have heard from users is good,” said North Liberty Recreation Director Shelly Simpson.
The recreation department used to offer an indoor playground in the facility’s gymnasium five mornings a week, but it consisted of portable, plastic climbing and riding toys that had to be moved in and out of the space regularly. The new playground is in a glass-walled room of its own, which provides good visibility for the on-site supervisor, and the climbing and riding toys are permanently installed over soft rubber flooring.
The new playground area is open from 9 a.m. until noon and again from 4 until 8 p.m. weekdays, and from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekends.
“Having that afternoon and evening time really helps,” said Simpson. Many parents who bring older children to swimming lessons or other activities can hang out with their younger brothers or sisters in the Kids’ Campsite while waiting.
But it’s not for just everyone. There is a 48-inch height restriction, which helps to ensure the safety of the younger, smaller users. And the rules are strictly enforced, Simpson noted.
That’s one of the things parents Chris and Mary Luedtke like about it.
“We like the restrictions,” said Mary. “There is no food allowed, and it’s cleaned every day, so you know it’s clean. Parents have to accompany kids, so you know it’s safe and supervised.”
A staff person monitors the area at all times while it’s open, and in addition to the no-gum-no-food-no-drink rule, there are no shoes allowed inside the room, and no diaper changing except in the restroom.
“The bigger kids can get rambunctious and run over the little kids,” Simpson said. “This is more controlled chaos.”
It’s also a free activity. Previously, patrons were charged $1 per child to participate in the center’s indoor playground.
“At this time, we are keeping it free for everyone,” said Simpson. There is a capacity of 49 people– which includes both kids and adults– so entry is not guaranteed, especially for large groups who want to use the playground all at once.
“It’s just a first-come, first-serve basis right now,” Simpson said. The staff is considering whether to organize rental opportunities for people who want to use it for parties, but that is currently not an option.
Meanwhile, the Luedtkes and others are happy for the chance to watch their children engage in active physical and social interaction with other kids of similar age and size.
“We just love that it’s so close; we don’t have to go to the mall for an indoor playground,” said Mary Luedtke. “And since our daughter doesn’t go to daycare, it gives her a wonderful opportunity to learn how to interact with others.”
As their daughter Zoe tumbled to the floor from atop a large foam frog, Chris agreed.
“It’s also good for her coordination,” he said. “It wears her out, that’s for sure.”