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From Basement Into Playroom

Turning basements into playrooms for kids is all the rage nowadays.

By Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Brian Niklaus would be the first to concede that he and his wife Amy didn't need to finish the basement of their new house as a playground for their children. With about 6,000 square feet of living space and a 14-acre lot to run around on, Abbey, 10, and Andrew, 11, had plenty of places to play.

But then the couple got to thinking. Did they really want the kids playing ball in the house in the winter? And where would Abbey and Andrew hang out with their friends?

"We decided it might be easier to do something to keep them happy at home," says Amy.

Kids dance under the disco ball at a home in Bradford Woods, Pa. (SHNS photo by Robin Rombach / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"Something" turned out to be a 1,500-square-foot, unheated gymnasium under the Ohio Township, Pa., house's four-car garage. There, the children and their friends can play dodge ball, soccer and floor hockey. Andrew, a sixth-grader, occasionally sets up a baseball net on the red-and-gray checked floors for pitching and batting practice.

Abbey, meanwhile, can play pool, watch a movie on the big-screen TV in the adjacent family room or roll out the rubber mats stacked in the corner to practice gymnastics.

"It's great," says Brian, a builder and real estate agent. "We can close the door, and you can't hear them in the rest of the house."

He estimates the gym -- which is about 3 feet deeper than the rest of the basement -- added about $20,000 to the cost of construction.

Lots of parents want to keep their children close to home, especially during those turbulent teenage years. Most often, that means turning a basement or rec room into a hangout with a pool table or foosball table, television, stereo system, maybe even a computer to play games.

But some families go all out with cushy home theaters, elaborate sport courts, and special rooms for playing cards or board games. What matters most, it seems, is that the space truly belongs to the kids (i.e., no parents allowed), and that it's cool enough for their friends to want to hang out there.

Kids play fooseball and dance in the large finished basement of a home in Bradford Woods, Pa. (SHNS photo by Robin Rombach / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Consider the basement of a new 8,000-square-foot home in Bradford Woods, Pa. Designed specifically for the couple's three children, who range in age from 7 to 13, it's filled with all kinds of fun stuff. For the sports nuts, there's an ESPN game station with six sports, including foosball and basketball, as well as laser tag equipment. There's also a spacious TV area with plush couches and a cozy gas fireplace and nearby, two built-in bookcases filled with more than a dozen board games.

When the kids get tired of being couch potatoes, they can work up a sweat under a mirrored disco ball on the dance floor, which adjoins a full kitchen with a dishwasher, fridge and sink. Or they can lift weights or hop on the treadmill in the mirrored exercise room.

The biggest kid-pleaser, however, may be the state-of-the-art screening room, which is large enough for 30 kids.

"We figured that if there was enough stuff to keep the kids interested, they'd be happy to stay home with their friends and socialize," says one of the parents, who asked not to be identified.

Some people might consider such an investment of money and space extravagant (at 2,500 square feet, the basement is larger than some houses) but for the homeowners, it "just made sense."

"They feel like they have privacy and time to be by themselves, which is important," she says. "But we can still keep an eye on them, which is just as important."

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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