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Feature Article - July 2012

A Wealth of Options

Getting Programming Right for Multipurpose Facilities

By Dawn Klingensmith


In 2007 the Parks and Recreation department in Boulder, Colo., produced a document that would capture the attention of recreation professionals across the nation. The division's first-ever Recreation Program and Facility Plan made it easier going forward to make decisions about program offerings, facility management and allocating financial resources. It provided a model to systematically and consistently determine whether to offer a new program, and whether existing programs should persist or perish.

"Everyone does master plans, but they're not so much geared to determining how you're going to offer programs and which ones you're going to subsidize," said Teri Olander, recreation administer for the City of Boulder.

By and large, "We're trying to get it so each program carries its own weight," Olander explained.

She expects more and more cities to do the same as tax bases decrease across the nation; indeed, after the plan went into effect, she started getting calls from near and far. After all, a good Recreation Program Plan enables departments to make programming decisions that are defensible to the public.

Guiding Principles

According to Recreation Management's June 2012 "State of the Industry Report," the most popular programs at facilities of all kinds include holiday events and other special events; fitness programs; educational programs; day camps and summer camps; youth sports teams; sports tournaments and races; and mind-body/balance programs such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates and martial arts.

However, one of the more prominent trends in recreation programming is to look not only at the types of programs offered, but also at how they are offered.

"Service provision strategies are a trend to watch," said Stacy Turner, a consultant with the Lafayette, Colo.-based parks, recreation and open space consulting firm GreenPlay.

For example, "We're seeing more creative ways of providing services through partnerships with universities, the YMCA and other organizations," she said.

Community assessment is an important precursor to programming. Before jumping on the bandwagon, "It's really important when you're looking at trends to look at your community profile—how it's made up and what the issues are—in order to identify which trends are applicable," Turner said.

Reviewed annually and fully updated every five years, Boulder's Recreation Program Plan presents critical issues and trends in the community, and identifies guiding principles for programming decisions.

To assess community needs, desires and opinions, the recreation department in 2009 conducted a Recreation Plan Survey, convened public meetings and focus groups, and considered program evaluations and other input. Survey respondents placed special emphasis on recreation offerings for youth and indicated the department should also serve disabled and low-income residents who might not otherwise be able to participate in recreational activities. Respondents also placed a high priority on active physical recreation and introductory-level programming.

The plan requires each program to address a "demonstrated community need" and align with the department's Guiding Principles:

  • Champion diversity.
  • Contribute to personal health and wellness.
  • Ensure that youth are a priority.
  • Maintain and protect our facilities and programs.
  • Prioritize available subsidy to introductory-level classes and programs.
  • Pursue a sustainable financial model for recreation programs and facilities.