Bettenhausen Rec Center Keeps Kids and Teens Moving

Located in Tinley Park, IL, the Tony Bettenhausen Rec Center serves between 25,000 and 35,000 people every single month. As part of its mission to help the community stay healthy, the center has installed a brand new play area for young children as well as The Pit Stop, a custom-designed retreat where teens must ride bikes to power video games, among other amenities.

“We want to keep kids moving but we also want to provide amenities that keep them coming back,” says John Curran, Director of the Tinley Park Park District.

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Toward that end, the center recently decided to replace its 15-year-old preschool play area.

“Our indoor play area serves a dual purpose,” explains Curran. “Part of the day, it is used as drop-in daycare for parents who are working out or attending a class. When it’s not used as daycare, then it is open to the general public.”

Located just inside the center’s front door, the play area gives visitors an instant glimpse of children having fun. Curran says that he hoped to create a new play area that capitalized on that first impression while also providing the maximum amount of activity for children that the space would allow.

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After a competitive bidding process, Bettenhausen Rec Center chose PLAYTIME to create their new play area. One of the first challenges that the two new partners faced was the space where the play area would be located.

“Our ceiling is about 14 feet high but in some areas it’s as low as 12 feet because of duct work,” explains Curran.

The center’s leadership had their heart set on a contained climbing structure, themed like a fort and called “Camp Tinley.” They challenged PLAYTIME to come up with designs that would make their dreams come true.

Jon Norby, co-founder of PLAYTIME and the company’s Creative Director, says, “We had to develop a unique climbing structure that was themed to look like a frontier fort, but would fit the space requirements of the room. It also had to offer plenty of interactive activities inside.”

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Jeff Williamson, PLAYTIME’s Business Development Manager for the fitness market, says PLAYTIME’s creative team went through at least nine design iterations before feeling satisfied, pushing the space to the maximum play potential available.

“They were able to get the fort to the maximum height, just an inch below the top of the ceiling,” says Curran. “And they located it right next to a bank of windows so that people outside can look into the play area. A slide comes right down out of the fort in front of the windows so when people arrive, they see smiling, happy kids.”

Norby says that PLAYTIME’s artists also challenged themselves to create a façade for the fort that kept children safe but also allowed parents the ability to see into the play structure.

“We decided to see if we could print our own netting in the pattern of stacked logs,” explains Norby. “We did several tests before we came up with netting and a print that we were happy with.”


Curran says, “Working with PLAYTIME was great. We felt free to share our ideas with Jeff and he’d email me back with designs. We gave them the freedom to design the carpeting and they nailed it from beginning. They designed it with a creek running through the play area and a campfire alongside. The carpet is a neat feature; it’s not just rubberized flooring.”

In addition to the fort, the Bettenhausen Rec Center play area features a large tree, a bear, log climbers and a musical keyboard. It also includes a PLAY ME video game console on the wall for older children to play two-person, interactive video games.

Curran says, “Parents and our daycare staff love it. They like the theming, the newness, the attractiveness and the cleanliness.”