The city’s popular indoor playground is being considered for an upgrade, which would be the first since it opened in The Commons in April 2011.

Columbus Park Board members have hired the Hitchcock Design Group for a design study and to evaluate what the public wants when using The Commons playground downtown.

The parks board will pay the Indianapolis-based design firm $32,000 to conduct the study, which will evaluate the offerings in the indoor playground, visitor traffic flow through the facility and customer feedback from families who frequently use the indoor playground.

Hitchcock was chosen over Context Design of Fortville, which submitted a higher bid of $54,700 to do the study.

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The playground is named after James Henderson, the former CEO of Cummins Inc., who helped raise money for the $18 million Commons building through a public/private partnership.

The playground’s main feature is the 35-foot-tall Luckey Climber, an enclosed climbing area intended for children 5-12 surrounded by mesh netting. It was designed by the late Thomas Walker Luckey, an artist, sculptor and architect known for creating one-of-a-kind pieces.

The Commons has budgeted $300,000 for design upgrades to the 5,000-square-foot playground area, said Pam Harrell, director of business services for the parks department. The study of the design and current use of the playground is expected to take two to three months.

Once the study is completed, public input sessions will be scheduled to talk about the conclusions and possible solutions, Parks director Mark Jones said.

Concern about the condition of The Commons playground has been ongoing for more than a year, after Commons and parks maintenance staff reported they are spending increasing time repairing playground equipment there.

Increasing use is causing the need for more maintenance of the indoor playground, said Casey Ritz, manager of park operations.

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, in an earlier interview.

“We’re the free Chucky Cheese,” Ritz said, drawing laughter from the parks board when describing the large number of families who take advantage of the Luckey Climber facility and play equipment.

An increasing number of families are using the facility as a free birthday party venue, park board members said.

Two restaurants, Subway and the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt, are located inside The Commons on the perimeter of the playground.

“It’s just our great, big, giant community living room,” Ritz said. “Even on some good sunny days, we’ve got more kids in there than out in the parks.”

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)

Maintenance workers have theorized much of the damage to the playground is being caused by older children breaking play structures in areas intended for toddlers and smaller children.

Earlier this year, three broken pieces were replaced in the toddler area — the round divot area, the red wave wall and the yellow bridge cushion piece — which cost about $17,000.

Commons Board members want to develop a master plan for the playground that would identify appropriate equipment and features that are easy to maintain, said Sherry Stark, vice president of the Commons Board, in an earlier interview.

It also hopes to solicit public feedback as part of the process, she said.

About the Commons playground

Location: The Commons, 300 Washington St.

How big: 5,000 square feet

About the playground: 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.

Admission: Free

History: 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.

Additional expenditures

In addition to allocating $32,000 for a study of The Commons playground, Columbus Park Board members also approved spending:

  • $50,000 contract with ClearSound Design, Inc. for audio visual upgrades in the Nugent-Custer Performance Hall upstairs at The Commons, to improve the projector quality. The quote includes a new laser projector, new screen and upgrading wiring to go entirely digital.
  • $17,217 contract with Robert Jackson/Excavation Plus Inc. for a new pickleball court shelter at Donner Park. The company will put in a pad, shelter and a connecting sidewalk near Donner’s pickleball courts.
  • $7,125 contract with Midwest Trailer Sales & Service LLC for trailers for park operations.
  • $20,970 contract with Spear Corp. to provide a leisure pool sand filter for the pool at Donner Center.
  • $17,250 contract with The Republic to design and provide the 52-page parks department annual Fun Guide and an electronic version posted on the department’s website.
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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.