Feature Article - July 2013
Find a printable version here

Multipurpose Means Healthy Living

How Flexible Facilities Promote Community and Wellness for All

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Reaping the Benefits

In many cases, improved health and wellness for people of all ages is both a goal and a benefit of this new flexibility-focused approach to multipurpose facilities. But it's not the only benefit those who have embraced this approach are discovering.

Save money and resources. Stephen Springs of Brinkley Sargent, based in Dallas, said that many of their clients are interested in aggregating their programming for financial reasons. When compared with having several different facilities around town, building one central multipurpose center saves on operations costs, he noted. They're likely managing less staff and perhaps even less square footage if the building is designed carefully. Plus, new buildings are more efficient and can save on energy costs.

Colleges are also turning to "fusion buildings" as a means of saving money, said Colleen McKenna, associate principal with Cannon Design. She cited increased use (fewer empty rooms to heat and cool) and a way to share financial burdens between departments as examples of a trend she believes we'll continue to see in both educational and municipal settings.

Create community. Although it may not be a primary driver, many municipalities are discovering a wonderful sense of togetherness and an opportunity to connect with others as a great byproduct of these combined multipurpose spaces. "When you have multiple generations and uses together, they can mingle in the lobby," Springs said. "You go work out and see another program you never knew existed. You meet someone you wouldn't otherwise." TMP's Larson agreed that fusion architecture feeds "society's primal urge to be social. This is a great opportunity to create a sense of place and belonging we all crave."

Collaborate with new partners. With so many lovely potential outcomes, a new multipurpose recreation facility probably seems appealing, but maybe also daunting. This much flexibility and broad scope means there's lots of programming work to be done and lots of space to be planned, created and maintained. But, another benefit of this new style of project is that you don't have to do it alone. Sprague reported seeing communities and facilities looking for partnership opportunities with groups they might once have been competing with. Municipal community centers and hospitals could join forces to provide wellness and rehabilitation services. Particularly with an aging population on the rise, the need for rehab services and exercise opportunities catered to seniors is growing, he added. "Hospitals [may not] want to be in that business, but they can partner with a recreation district to provide programming."

And more than just programming, service providers in the areas of fitness, wellness and rehabilitation can share equipment as well. Patients doing physical therapy will benefit from the pool or fitness equipment, and those seeking therapy for mental ailments may benefit from exercise and recreational activities.

Some collaboration even goes beyond these to include other public and community services, Springs said. A library branch might fit nicely into a multipurpose recreation building, as well as organizations that provide health screenings or a Meals on Wheels program. "By creating different alliances, [such as] library or retail or more sophisticated food offerings, it invites people who would be otherwise intimidated to come to a place where physical activity occurs," Larson said. "It's a Panera-ization," he said, referring to the oh-so-inviting and wifi-equipped restaurant chain. "They want to stay longer, and that's encouraged."