After two years of growth in membership and variety of new activities, the Kids' Imagination Discovery Space has filled to the brim with things to do and trickled out its back door with a shiny new outdoor play space.

After two years of growth in membership and variety of new activities, the Kids' Imagination Discovery Space has filled to the brim with things to do and trickled out its back door with a shiny new outdoor play space.

And just in time for nice weather and summer vacation.

A grand opening of sorts is set for 10 a.m. today. The facility will host special activities and serve cake and refreshments.

The new outdoor digs include a large playground; sand and water play area, picnic space, obstacle course of crawl tubes and balance beams, a dome to crawl on and a series of play houses.

On the lawn, giant checkers and chess boards will soon give kids a chance to play the game on a life-size scale.

The largest component of the outdoor phase, the playground structure was built through donated labor, materials, and fundraising efforts by some four-dozen leadership class members of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

The group raised some $35,000 for the project, completed excavation work and helped plan and construct the structure. KIDS spokeswoman Sunny Spicer called the outdoor phase a much-needed and long-hoped-for addition to the growing facility.

"We're extremely happy. This is something that's been in the works for a long time," said Spicer. "The chamber group came to us last fall to ask what project we'd most like "¦ . We have a great outdoor area and this is the first part of what we'll ultimately do. Outdoor play is important. There's so much more for the senses in the great outdoors; this continues the work that we're doing inside."

In addition to the play structure, First Horizons Home Loans donated two playhouses, and a geodome climbing structure, bubble area and sand/water tables round out the offerings.

The idea for KIDS as a regional play space was conceived by a core group of volunteers nearly a decade ago. The 16,000-square-foot former Moose Lodge on Ross Lane was purchased two years ago for $2.5 million and the center opened months later for a sneak preview.

Despite plans to close after that first summer vacation preview ended (to focus on fundraising), demand was so great that KIDS coordinators kept the doors open for good.

On the inside, KIDS offers a host of interactive exhibits, from a pretend pizzeria and pint-sized construction loft to a kid-size stage packed with costumes and a hospital area for tending to sick stuffed animals.

A coffee shop and Internet access round out the appeal for parents and the facility offers birthday parties and special events each month.

Medford resident Sarah Trussell, who visits the Discovery Space regularly with her two sons and a nephew, said the outdoor area would make for a well-rounded attraction.

"KIDS has always been a good place to go when the weather was bad, or when it got too hot outside. Now we can go and enjoy the playground, too," she said. "There was already a lot to do. This is going to be a great resource this summer."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.