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Swinging, sliding, climbing fun for kids

It's called The Climbing Thing; a combination of swings, slides, platforms, nets, tubes, bars, ladders and other fun stuff. To an energetic 5-year-old, however, the components are liable to become something else: a pirate's plank, a wilderness fort or a bridge across a river filled with hungry crocodiles.

For Erin and Melissa, daughters of Brian and Karen Krenn, The Climbing Thing is a place to play house and have picnics, or play "wiggly-worm" down the slide.

For the children, the set appeals to the imagination; for the parents, it was a practical choice.

In the past, they had bought the typical metal playground sets. They didn't last and weren't really safe, Brian said. "They rusted out quickly and wouldn't stay put. This one's guaranteed for 20 years."

The Climbing Thing was created by Mike and Patty Works, who built the first prototype in their back yard. It was named by their children 15 years ago.

"They didn't know what else to call it," said Patty. "They just kept referring to it as "the climbing thing' and it stuck."

The Climbing Thing has evolved from a backyard family project into a business of the same name, and the Works business now has distributors of the patented play equipment throughout several eastern states.

Mike Works, who has an engineering background, combined his skills with his wife's educational background to come up with designs that are structurally strong, safe and accurately reflect the interest and abilities of growing children.

"Having four children of our own is like having our own testing department," said Patty. "We started out using our kitchen to draw the different designs."

"We spend a lot of time and effort to make sure that every possible safety feature can be incorporated into our design. We round the wood and sand it to almost furniture quality. All hardware is stainless steel and is recessed into the wood."

Now, about half of the sets are purchased for homes, and half for commercial uses, such as day care centers, Head Start programs, parks and restaurants.

The Works have designed systems for University of South Florida's day care center, which incorporates the center into their elementary education program. They have also designed components for special needs children for the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens. McDonald's also has been a customer.

The playground equipment is designed as components that are interchangeable and can be added on to at any time.

Patty points out that after a family has the basic pieces such as a platform and swings, it can be one-stop shopping for even grandparents who always seemed perplexed about gifts.

"They can call us up and say, "I think they are ready for their cargo net now' or "they're ready for the chin-up bars.' When people buy from us they are buying for a whole childhood," she said.

Although they appear permanent, the sets can be moved and reassembled.

After 15 years of design and production, the Workses are experts on what children like. "We do a lot with different levels, going from deck to deck," Patty said.

"We also like to do underdecks, where children can go underneath the space, with crawl options . . . kind of like little cubbies. Children like cubbies. They like that feeling of their own little special spot, you know."

The Tampa company now has two lines: one that is cemented into the ground and one that sits on the ground.

A basic set usually has a 3-by-6-foot platform attached to a horizontal ladder with swings attached. The cost: $349.

Patty says swings vary from belt swings, baby swings, trapeze rings or the old fashion tire swing coated with a special plastic coating to keep the black on the tire and off the kids.

The cost for additions vary as to item and size. For instance, a galvanized slide with a wood rail costs $165. A plastic barrel slide is $300 to $350. Other additions include a 3-by-6-foot sand box with benches that fit under the platform for $119, a 3-by-4-foot cargo net ladder for $149 and a colored steering wheel for $89.

All the components and accessories can be seen at their offices on Waters Avenue in Tampa, but the Krenns said they were impressed at how the Workses tailored the set to their children.

The cost for additions vary as to item and size. For instance, a galvanized slide with a wood rail costs $165. A plastic barrel slide is $300 to $350. Other additions include a three-by-six foot sand box with benches that fit under the platform for $119.

"They wanted to know how old our children were," said Karen. "They asked them (the children) questions about what they liked. They just wanted to make sure they built a system that was designed around the children's age, and something they could grow with, and that we would be happy with."

The Krenns view this as a long-term investment, an investment that would be utilized for at least the next 10 years. For their system, delivered and set up, the Krenns said they paid $3,753.

"We went around looking at other places, but when we saw this one we felt it was what we wanted," said Karen. "The kids love it, they enjoy the whole thing."

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