Feature Article - July 2013
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Multipurpose Means Healthy Living

How Flexible Facilities Promote Community and Wellness for All

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Creating the Space

So, what should this fantastic multipurpose recreation and community center that's bursting with excitement and engaging activities and healthiness look like? Fortunately these experts have a few additional guidelines and ideas that may be helpful as you plan.

Physical features. Flexibility once again takes center stage when it comes to creating space for fitness and recreation. Many of the designers consulted for this story suggest you can never have too many group exercise rooms (which may be used for everything from meetings to tai chi to dance to yoga to Zumba). And while you want them to be multipurpose, do pay special attention to the flooring. Hardwood works for many activities, but those doing gymnastics or aerobics will appreciate a springier, matted surface, so consider some of each. Be sure these rooms are also equipped with extra fans and sound systems to maximize their potential.

Cardio equipment and space is also something you'll probably never have too much of. "It's like storage," Springs said. "You can never build it big enough." However, cardio's growing popularity also means a potential diversity of preferences among those using the equipment, so be creative in the way you arrange the machines. Not everyone wants to be out on a big floor, all watching the same TVs, noted Sprague. Many machines have their own video component now—and some are even like full-body video games—so they can be placed in smaller spaces or even tucked into an odd corner.

Speaking of tucking things away, rather than hiding your saunas in the locker rooms, consider a co-ed sauna with a glass front right out on the pool deck, or between the pool and the locker rooms. Seeing something in use may encourage others to use it, and the glass front takes away the mystery, as well as adding security to the situation, Thrailkill said.

Visual feel. The way these multipurpose spaces look is also a big factor in making them appealing to a broad audience. "Rec centers are becoming less compartmentalized and more open," Springs said. "There's a trend toward being able to see other spaces, not just being in the gym or cardio room or multipurpose room."

And the lobby is no longer wasted space, Larson added. It's a space for people to hang out, and if done with a degree of transparency, it can offer an instant snapshot of the different activities going on in the building. High ceilings and lots of glass lets in natural light and a view of the outdoors, as well as showcasing what's happening in the gym, the cardio room and the pool from a single vantage point.

Consider the sophisticated materials and finer finishes you'd expect in a health club, these pros suggest—though you'll also want to keep an eye on durability. And those new to exercise may be self-conscious and concerned about their privacy, so opt for individual shower stalls in the locker room and make sure there's enough space to maneuver comfortably. Even outside the locker room, frosted glass on some windows and walls in multipurpose rooms may be a nice compromise between openness and a bit of privacy while twisting yourself into a pretzel shape during yoga or spinning until you're ready to fall over, Thrailkill said.

Plan carefully. As you've likely noted by now, having lots of options and activities in one location can yield a bevy of benefits, but it has to be carefully planned and organized to avoid chaos and a situation where no one is happy—your staff included.

Before Cannon Design starts the design process on a fusion building, they read over the mission statement of the organization (or organizations) that will be part of the completed space, McKenna explained. What are their goals and objectives? Will they be sharing equipment or segregated in their own spaces? How many people will be trying to enter and exit the building during times of peak use? "Design is a response to [all of] that," she said. "Talk through the opportunities and make an educated decision about what will or won't work. Choose the best combination [of participants and features] to meet your goals."

Plan to make at least parts of the building very accessible—perhaps even a day or two when the fitness center is open all night, Ross suggested. But be sure you can control access as needed as well. "Think about what areas might need to be locked down since they're not just for one purpose." Sometimes it may be helpful to have access to the pool straight from the lobby, but other times you may want to funnel everyone through the locker room. And if parts of the building are open shorter hours than others, make sure they'll be securely closed when no staff is on duty. Will you have one main entrance or will there be access points for each area within the building? "Think about how people will move around the space," Ross said. "How will you keep them safe? How will they flow through?"