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Facility Profile - May/June 2002

The Apex of it All

The Apex Center
Arvada, Colo.

By Margaret Ahrweiler


PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTH JEFFCO PARK AND RECREATION DISTRICT

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood." The Apex Center, crown jewel of the North Jeffco Park and Recreation District, may be located in Arvada, Colo., but its philosophical roots belong in turn-of-the-century Chicago, where city planner Daniel Burnham uttered that famous directive.

Opened in September 2000, the $28 million, 168,500-square-foot complex is one of the nation's largest public recreation centers. Rather than asking what it offers, it may take less breath or space to answer the question: What doesn't it have?

Even so, a not-so-brief laundry list of its facilities—all visible from a multistory central atrium and highlighted by a Colorado mining theme—include:

  • Two NHL-size indoor ice arenas, one with seating for up to 900 people
  • Three full-size gymnasiums
  • A 23,000-square-foot themed aquatics complex, featuring an activity pool with two 150-foot slides, tethered floating logs, water basketball/volleyball area, and vortex area; a four-lane lap pool; adult-only spa; family spa; and central play pool with a zero-depth area and one-of-a-kind indoor water playground
  • A 30-foot-high climbing wall
  • Apex Clubhouse Adventure Center, a 2,300-square-foot, multilevel indoor play area
  • A 1,000-square-foot child-care room
  • A 1,200-square-foot adult and senior lounge/meeting room with catering kitchen
  • A 1,200 square-foot party room between the aquatics and ice areas, with kitchen and water-tolerant design
  • Blue View Café snack shop
  • The Ice Box, a concession stand
  • The Edge, a 1,200-square-foot family and teen center
  • A 3,400-square-foot cardiovascular/weight training center overlooking the climbing wall
  • A four-lane running track
  • 3,500 square feet of locker rooms, including family locker rooms
  • Registration/guest services area
  • Admissions area
  • and last but not least

  • A 2,500-square-foot administrative office area

"Our intent was to build a facility that would meet all the needs of all our residents," says Faith Gregor, North Jeffco's marketing director. "And it's unique not only for what's in it, but that it's so visually appealing."

After marveling at all it offers, an obvious question arises: How in the heck was North Jeffco able to pull this off?

The answer lies in the creativity of its staff (who took Burnham's words to heart), the district residents' affinity for recreation, and the talent of its design and construction team.

The seed to build Apex was first planted in 1995 with the hiring of Rob Robinson, North Jeffco's executive director. He brought a vision of consolidating the district's widely dispersed facilities and activities, for its 115,000 residents, under one roof. The board and staff began evaluating its facility needs in 1996. Topping the wish list were two new indoor ice rinks to replace a 25-year-old rink that was over capacity and overdue for an overhaul. Next, the district began a dialog with residents. Through two surveys, followed by a dozen town meetings, residents provided ideas on everything from site selection to details of the building's design.

As with any large public facility, a will to build it means nothing without a way—funding and land. After identifying what the building needed, the district set the proposed bond issue at $25 million and began a themed campaign, "What's In It For You?" to sell the tax increase to voters. With such a large population, the district felt it could raise the $25 million without too large of an additional tax burden on voters. Its campaign showed how the Apex would benefit different users: families, youth, seniors and sports organizations, among them. They responded well: North Jeffco passed its bond issue by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Apex team identified almost 100 potential sites before winnowing them to three possibilities. The chosen site, 13 acres of farmland surrounded by city-owned land, worked best because of its central location. And the original landowners still live on the site—North Jeffco agreed to preserve the house for the rest of their lives.

While the bond issue provided the funds for construction, the Apex had to support itself to survive. Betting on high usage, the district set affordable user fees. A combined annual family pass, which includes aquatic center and ice rink usage, costs only $950. Daily passes for the center, excluding the ice rink, start at $2 for resident children under 6, and top out at $5.50 for nonresident adults. Daily ice rink passes cost $3.75 for resident adults and children over 6, and $4.50 for nonresidents.

Their instincts proved correct: The Apex has turned a profit since it opened. In 2000, it posed revenues of $1.4 million against expenses of not quite $1.2 million; projections for 2001 are $3.2 million in revenues against $2.8 million in expenses. An average of 38,765 people visit the facility a month—that's 1,292 people every day.

Creating the right climates

While bigger often means better in terms of user appeal, huge recreation centers bring their own unique set of challenges, including the mechanics of heating and cooling a building with diametrically opposed environments—pools, two ice arenas, fitness areas, locker rooms and meeting spaces, to name a few. And while a good indoor environment is taken for granted, a poor one can drive users away and create decades of frustration.

"The mechanical aspects don't always get a lot of attention from facility owners, but they can make or break a building in terms of comfort, function, and just getting the whole thing to work right," explains Dave Hammel, principal in Denver-based architects Barker, Rinker, Seacat & Partners and lead designer for the Apex Center.

The Apex Center needed cold and low humidity for the ice arenas, heat and high humidity for the aquatic center, and a people-friendly, neutral environment for the rest of the building.

To accomplish this, Hammel and engineers ABS Consultants broke the building into separate areas, with separate types of rooftop HVAC units to service each area. In the aquatic center, the design team worked to ensure that zone was hermetically sealed, with a negative air pressure, to ensure the chlorine smell and humidity didn't leach to the rest of the building. Special sealing of roof and wall joints helped separate that "atmosphere" from the other parts of the building as well. Elsewhere, two separate systems, plus a desiccant dehumidifier, keep the ice rinks cold and dry. And a central boiler, cooling tower and chiller, which circulates cold water, heat and cool the rest of the building. With the Denver area's dry climate, the team was able to pump in outside air to control the humidity inside the building as well.

"We really worked hard to get the best design and equipment possible," Gregor says. "The systems are really high-powered stuff, and everything works great. This is a huge step up from your typical rec center."

Next issue, in Part Two, we will explore the unique aquatic facilities at the Apex Center.

For more information
North Jeffco Park and Recreation District: 303-424-2739
or visit www.apexcenter.org

Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture: 303-455-1366
or visit www.brsarch.com

ABS Consultants: 303-623-6200