Playgrounds aren’t just child’s play these days.

The era of a seemingly thoughtless smattering of swings and slides is largely over. Now cities, recognizing that playgrounds and parks have become a suburban city center of sorts for young families, take resident surveys and hire consultants. They examine accessibility for the disabled, safety, sight lines for parents watching children, adult and child socialization areas, how well the area blends into the environment and, of course, the wow factor for kids.

Golden Valley is doing just that as it re-envisions its most heavily used playground at Brookview Park.

The city will spend more than $200,000 to replace its play equipment, said interim parks director Brian Erickson. Before it does, it’s surveying residents and has hired a consultant, Hoisington Koegler Group.

“This is something that’s new. We are trying to gain some community input,” Erickson said.

Leaders in the city of Coon Rapids, which will undertake a major parks makeover if voters approve a referendum this fall, say they too will seek community input and expert help when reworking some of its 38 playgrounds.

“Designing a playground is a little more complicated than back in the day when there were monkey bars and teeter-totters,” said Coon Rapids Parks Superintendent Gregg Engle. “The industry has changed. Recreation has changed. You look at creativity, and is there interaction between parents and kids?”

Playground design may seem trivial at first blush, but Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris, the father of three children ages 11, 9 and 6, knows the value a quality playground can add to a community.

“I really do think it represents what a community supports,” he said. “If I have a young family and I am looking to move, it does matter to me. It sends a very loud message to families looking to relocate.”

The Harris family frequently plays at Brookview, for which Harris has a wish list: “I want something that sizzles, that pops, that kids will think is really cool, but that parents will find is safe and will have an educational component to it.”

The current orange-and-tan playground equipment at Brookview is 18 years old, with outdated materials and a sand play surface.

“It’s showing its wear. Things have faded. The equipment isn’t as fun as some of the new options,” Erickson said. “People get tired of the same old items — slides and swings and diggers.”

Some options include adding a theme, or water features such as a splash pad, a series of sprinkler features for summer water play.

“Years ago they had a ship theme,” Erickson said. “People want to bring it back.”

Eager for something new

Amanda Meents said she and her other young-mom friends aren’t complaining about what’s there now but would welcome a makeover.

The playground is “definitely dated. It’s faded. It could use some updates,” Meents said as she watched her 3-year-old daughter, Stella, skip around.

She said the playground could use more shaded areas and perhaps a more modern play surface than the sand now underfoot.

A water feature also would generate some buzz, she said.

“I’ve heard several of my mom friends asking about a splash pad,” Meents said. “That would be really exciting.”

A place for all children

A growing trend in playground design is creating spaces that accommodate children with disabilities, Engle said.

A group of parents with autistic children approached the Coon Rapids park board a few years back asking the city to remodel a playground with those needs in mind. The city hasn’t had the money, but it will pursue the project if the referendum is approved.

“They brought it to our attention that we should be looking at this issue,” Engle said. “We were very receptive to that.”

Drawing residents into the design process is key to creating a successful play space, he said.

“It is an important factor to have the neighborhood and community involved in the planning,” Engle said. “It does bring a value to the neighborhood.”