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Crafting a Creative Multi-Generational Playground Experience

By Tod Stanton, ASLA, President, Design Perspectives, Inc.

The old park playground had traditional play equipment, with no rhyme or reason. The pavement (foreground) is the remains of the skate park that was removed due to vandalism.

Regal Teak LAF

Play structures should physically challenge our children. In planning for the modular composite play structure the emphases was on climbing and physical play. The Wacky Log, for instance, is an excellent test of balance.

The journey to transform Bremen Heights Park in Midlothian, a small suburb of 10,000 residents only 17 miles southwest of Chicago, began in 2006 after Design Perspectives, Inc. had successfully completed another Midlothian community park.

The 13-acre Bremen Heights Park, home to the Don Preston Recreation Center, was a high priority to receive a complete renovation. Its traditional park elements had little recreational value and also suffered from vandalism. The park district had constructed a small skate park in the park years ago, but did not entice the broad range of children and adolescents. A fresh, creative design approach was needed.

After securing a $326,830 matching grant from the Illinois Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program, master planning and public input began with the idea to go beyond the static playground experience. The goal for the new 20,000 square foot playground was activities for children of all ages and break the traditional mode of thinking about playgrounds.

The award winning multigenerational playground offers 20,000 sq. ft. of play: the NEOS play area (right), the 5-12 year old play are in the middle and the tot-trike area to the left. Behind the playground is a looped asphalt path that connects the park elements. This playground design approach had not been tried in the local area.

Design Approach

The play area design approach was for three primary age groups. For children under three, a tot transportation theme was developed with a tot trike area. Three creative play pods weave through the pods with a path of concrete and safety tiles that included playhouses, a bus stop shelter, spring riders and a fire truck play structure appropriate for 2-5 year olds. The design focus was on letting small children ride bikes and trikes in a safe and inspiring environment, but have opportunities for interactive play on selected equipment.

For the second area, a more traditional playground, the community had a big say in selecting the play structures for the 5-12 year old playgroup. The main piece emphasizes climbing, a big hit for that age group. We then added custom themed banners. The swing bank includes four buckets, four belts and one accessible swing.

The NEOS is an interactive series of electronic scored games. The action is fast and furious. The design includes an integral color concrete pad, benches and a litter can. The goal was to create a comfortable environment to keep children and families playing for extended periods.

The third area is geared to young adolescents. The life-size electronic game, NEOS, fits this niche perfectly. It has the capacity to keep these ages active by a series of games played out on a series of panels. We are the first design firm in Illinois to have specified this departure from static play pieces. The interactive nature of the game is heart-pounding fun and has been well received. This type of interactive electronic game equipment will help keep older kids in the parks, playing and having fun while doing something they like. It has also been a hit with families, with parents having a chance to play with their kids.

The three play areas give the community a destination outside the norm for a typical suburban park. The renovation was completed in October 2008. Other park elements include a walking path, a custom pavilion, innovative storm water basins and bio-swales for abatement of constant flooding, an 80-space parking lot, an all-purpose athletic field, and site restoration by native seed mixes and trees.

The tot-trike area, geared to letting youngsters get lost in imaginative play, illustrates the playhouse component complete with driveways of varied colored rubber safety tiles.

The Bremen Heights Park redevelopment project was awarded the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) Outstanding Facility and Parks award. According to IPRA, the park “scored the highest total points from across the state.”

The project was great fun and illustrates that even small communities can dream big. The use of creativity as a secret weapon to craft a different play experience that can touch multiple age groups is possible. Try looking at your next playground project as an opportunity to challenge your creative edge beyond the basics.

The tot-trike area comprises multiple free-standing play pieces and is designed as a safe haven for young children to ride and play in a fun and creative play environment.

2008 Bremen Heights Park Renovation Midlothian, Ill.

Size: 13 Acres

Landscape Architects: Design Perspectives, Inc., Naperville, Ill. Tod Stanton, ASLA, president; Sarah Huth, landscape designer

Services Provided: Grant writing, park design and engineering, construction documents, bidding and permitting assistance and owner’s construction representation.

General Contractor: Sunset Paving, Inc.

Playground Installer: Kay Jay Construction, Inc.

Civil Engineer: Eriksson Engineering Associates, Ltd.

Electrical Engineer: William Hoekstra Engineers


2009 IPRA Outstanding Facility & Parks award winner! The 13 acre park project was redeveloped with an Illinois Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development. The project involved the development of a 80-space parking lot, 10-ft. wide multi-use trail, a multi-use athletic field, multi-generation playground, including a, tot-trike area for ages 2-5, an innovative outdoor electronic gaming system (NEOS), native landscaping, park pavilion, site furnishings, and construction of bio-swales and storm water ponds for abatement of constant flooding.


  • Benches, bike rack, litter receptacles: Paris
  • Picnic tables: Wabash Valley
  • Shelter: Icon Shelter Systems
  • Tot play equipment: Little Tikes
  • 2-12 playground equipment: Playworld Systems
  • Rubber tile play safety surface: SofSurfaces


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December 10, 2019, 7:11 pm PDT

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