An indoor playground in downtown Columbus that has entertained children for nearly six years is starting to show its wear, prompting officials to consider making upgrades.

The playground in The Commons is a popular destination for many families during any given week. Commons officials do not keep track of how many children use the playground each month, but it is most busy during the weekend, said Shanda Sasse, Commons manager.

The amount of use at the 5,000-square-foot playground has resulted in some equipment showing wear, requiring repairs or replacements to be made, Commons Board members said.

Several pieces of broken equipment were recently replaced, said Erin Hawkins, a board member.

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Three broken pieces in the toddler area — the round divot area, the red wave wall and the yellow bridge cushion piece — cost about $17,000 to replace. Two of those pieces have already been replaced, while officials are still waiting for the third part from the manufacturer, Sasse said.

“I think one of the challenges with the playground — and it’s not a bad problem to have — is that it’s loved by many families,” Hawkins said. “It takes a lot of wear-and-tear and The Commons Board is aware that some repairs and upgrades need to be made.”

The playground is divided into three play areas:

Toddlers (6 months to 2 years)

Preschool (ages 2 to 5)

School age (ages 5 to 12)

The open-space playground includes several slides that children can play on and features the Luckey Climber, an enclosed climbing area that is surrounded by mesh netting.

No major upgrades have been made to the playground, but the Luckey Climber gets maintenance work performed on it every other year, Sasse said. Maintenance was last done on the Luckey Climber in June 2016.

Next steps

The board will have to determine what appropriate replacements are necessary as it develops a long-term vision for the playground, Hawkins said.

“I think the first priority is, of course, safety, and second of all is maintaining the design, integrity and legacy of the building to the community,” she said.

Concerns about safety features tied to the playground were also brought to the board’s attention by a pair of mothers a few months ago, said Sherry Stark, a lifetime board member. However, Stark said the unique design features of the playground can cause difficulties whenever maintenance work or repairs are needed.

Further discussion about the playground and how to proceed will be discussed during the board’s April 19 meeting, Sasse said. Officials also will have to determine how to pay for any desired improvements, although Sasse said she is leaving all options on the table for consideration.

The playground, which was dedicated in April 2011, was part of the new Commons building when it opened two months later that year. The playground was named after James Henderson, the former CEO of Cummins, after he helped raise money for the building, Stark said.

The $18 million Commons building was made possible through a public/private partnership, she said.

Stark said the board wants to develop a master plan for the playground that would identify appropriate equipment and features that are easy to maintain. It also hopes to solicit public feedback as part of the process, she said.

Plans about how to receive input from the public have not yet been determined.

An exact dollar amount on how much the upgrades could cost remains unknown at this time. Commons staff members and the city’s parks and recreation department also plan to assess the entire playground area to determine whether other improvements, such as new flooring, may be necessary, Stark said.

“What we need to do is find the best solution for what equipment is fun for the kids, safe for the kids and the most easy to maintain,” Stark said.

Some suggestions

Several recent visitors to the playground offered their own ideas for improvements.

Columbus resident Barbara Newman, a mother of four boys, visits the playground once or twice per week with her children: Hudson, Bentley, Ethan and Keagan. She suggested having educational playground features in the toddler area that children can touch and feel.

Fishers residents Randy and Nancy McGriff also are weekly visitors to The Commons playground with their 3-year-old granddaughters Lydia and Grace. Nancy McGriff said a ball pit for children to jump in would be nice to have, while her husband said he would like to see the addition of a climbing apparatus built with toddlers and young children in mind.

Overall, Randy McGriff said he’s pleased with what the playground has to offer to the public.

“A lot of communities would kill to have something like this for sure,” McGriff said.

Consultant’s input sought

Tracy Souza, president of the Commons Board, also noted that the indoor playground is an important asset in Columbus for parents and children. She said design changes to the playground could be implemented as a way to decrease maintenance costs.

A consulting firm has not yet been selected, but is expected to occur in the second quarter of this year, Souza said.

She did not identify any specific timeline for the improvements. However, Souza said a determination wouldn’t be made until consultants come back with a report that could provide several options to consider.

Souza said she anticipates the remainder of 2017 will allow the board to sort out its options that will include looking at the financial costs involved. Obtaining alternative funding sources or grants will be explored since The Commons’ budget likely wouldn’t be able to pay for all of the work, she said.

“We’ll have to weigh our way through them and see what makes sense and see what we can afford,” Souza said.

What's next

The Commons board plans to meet at 11:30 a.m. April 19 in the facility’s Xenia Miller Conference Room to discuss possible playground upgrades. The meeting is open to the public.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com