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Published May 10, 2011, 12:00 AM

Indoor playground plans take shape

FARGO – Parents looking for a place to take their kids to play in the wintertime may soon have an indoor alternative.

FARGO – Parents looking for a place to take their kids to play in the wintertime may soon have an indoor alternative.

The Fargo Park District is looking at building an indoor playground – complete with areas for climbing and bouncing, tunnels and a plastic ball pit – at Courts Plus in south Fargo.

Fargo Park Board member Joe Deutsch says installing an indoor playground at Courts Plus would be a “win-win” for both the public and members of the fitness center, which is owned and operated by the Fargo Park District.

Deutsch, who began pushing last summer for an indoor playground to give children a place to play when it’s cold outside, said pairing it with Courts Plus will allow the playground to remain open year-round and also make Courts Plus a more appealing facility.

“I think it’s a perfect fit,” he said.

The playground would occupy about 3,000 to 3,500 square feet inside what is now tennis court No. 7, said Kevin Boe, general manager of the fitness center.

“We’ve got seven tennis courts, and we can go down to six without disrupting operations at all,” Boe said.

The playground would be similar to those found at some McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants and the Fercho Family YMCA in downtown Fargo, Boe said.

It would open Nov. 1, based on the proposal.

The Fargo Park Board will review the proposal during its meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at 701 Main Ave. Members also will decide whether to hire an architect to design the space, which also will feature two party rental rooms, a child care room and a group exercise room.

The playground and other improvements would cost an estimated $386,000. Courts Plus would borrow money to fund the project.

Children ages 12 months to 12 years would be allowed to use the playground at a cost of $2 per day, per child. Courts Plus would use the revenue to pay back the loan. The park district also would pay $75,000 per year from its general fund to Courts Plus to operate and maintain the playground.

Courts Plus members with fitness memberships would have to pay the $2 fee to use the playground, but those with premium court memberships would have free access.

Courts Plus currently offers members a drop-in child care service for up to two hours a day. The proposal calls for moving that child care center from the front of the facility to the playground area, Boe said.

Child care staff would oversee the playground, reducing the need for additional staff – another benefit of pairing the playground with Courts Plus, Deutsch said.

Putting the playground in a standalone facility would likely make it too expensive to keep open year-round, Deutsch said. At Courts Plus, it would be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, including weekends, with modified hours on certain holidays.

While Courts Plus isn’t centrally located in Fargo, Deutsch said the facility at 3491 S. University Drive “is becoming more and more central every day,” especially with Davies High School slated to open in August at 70th Avenue South. If the playground comes to fruition and sees strong demand, the district may look at adding a northside indoor playground, he said.

Boe and the district’s recreation director, Clay Whittlesey, toured several indoor playgrounds in the Twin Cities area, including ones in Eagan, Shoreview and New Brighton, where users pay $5 per day.

“We’re making it very, very affordable,” Boe said.

Courts Plus would be in charge of marketing the playground to the public, Deutsch said.

“The one thing I’m very adamant about is that this doesn’t become Courts Plus’ playground,” he said. “I think this is a good fit, but this is the general public’s playground, and we want them to feel comfortable going there.”

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