Feature Article - February 2016
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From Simple to Stunning

Trends in Nonconventional Recreation Structures

By Chris Gelbach


From Temporary to Permanent

Another type of structure once thought of as temporary, but that now is engineered for and found in a wide variety of lasting permanent applications, is tensioned membrane structures. Jim Avery, vice president of a company that manufactures these structures and is based in West Jordan, Utah, sees them used most often in applications such as athletic pavilions, fitness facilities, community pool enclosures and ice arenas.

"Because of the advances in the architectural exterior of the membrane and the way it's tensioned, you can get 30-plus years out of that membrane, and then all you do is replace it, just like you would the roof on a building," Avery said. "But on the inside you get a much taller peak height, it's bright, it's white on the interior, and it's exceptional from a sound and lighting perspective."

The structures are available with a variety of options, including energy-efficient insulation as well as color options that can match any team's colors. The solution also normally comes in at a lower cost than a conventional building. Avery noted the example of the Collingwood Community Pool and Ice Arena in Collingwood, Ontario, where the town had received an original bid of more than $35 million for the arena and pool project. "We did the whole thing for $12 million and they couldn't be happier," Avery said. The company was also able to complete the project in under 10 months, far faster than the norm for an equivalent conventional structure.

The tensioned membrane structures also offer the flexibility to be installed over existing facilities. One such example is the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns, Utah, where a structure was installed over an existing Olympic-sized 50-meter swimming pool. This enabled the Oquirrh Recreation and Parks District to considerably enhance the programs, activities and events it could offer during the winter months. At the same time, a series of roll-up doors maintain the ability to create an outdoor environment in the warmer months.

"They have made it possible for swimmers inside the structure to see the beautiful mountains, trees, outdoor pools and other swimmers outside the structure," said Brent Sheets, executive director of the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, in a reference letter for the project. "We have clearly created an atmosphere where our patrons feel like they are outdoors, with shading overhead!"

The structures are also relocatable, providing a benefit for certain applications such as ski areas, where Avery estimates that his company has worked on roughly 40 projects. "Ski areas often have a master plan whereby they want to utilize space, but in 10 years they might want to build a giant condo tower," Avery said. The quick install potential is also attractive for these applications, since the projects can be completed in the off-season. "You don't want to build through the winter. So you get it up in the winter, they like the space it delivers, and if you want to move it later, so be it," Avery said.

Bringing the Outdoors In

For an even greater feeling of being outdoors in the indoor environment, some facilities have opted for retractable glass roofs and skylights that can provide open air in warm weather and full sunlight during the colder months.

Dave Bolwerk, vice president of sales and marketing for a manufacturer of these products based in Oakville, Ontario, sees these structures used mainly in pool applications in the recreation sector. "The idea is that this is a building where you can get the best of both worlds between having an outdoor facility and an indoor facility at the same time," Bolwerk said.

While the glass roof and sides can be opened to let in natural air, this solution also lets in an abundant amount of natural light even when closed. "So even in the winter time when you've got everything closed up, you still get that outdoor feel because there's so much light in there," Bolwerk said.

Bolwerk claims that despite the increased heating costs over the winter, people are surprised to learn that in many applications this solution can actually result in lower overall operation costs. Because it's an all-glazed building, lighting isn't needed during the daytime. The ability to let in open air can eliminate the need for air conditioning in the building during the summer. The open roof and sides also creates a chimney effect that improves air quality and eliminates the need to run the dehumidification system in good weather.

"Many people look at the open roof and think it's a luxury item—so many times they ask how much it is if I don't have an opening roof," Bolwerk said. "And the answer is that it's not as much of a difference as you think because I've still got a hole to fill. All your glazing is the same. For what you get and save on the operational costs, the opening panels will pay for themselves in the long run."

For an even greater feeling of being outdoors in the indoor environment, some facilities have opted for retractable glass roofs and skylights that can provide open air in warm weather and full sunlight during the colder months.

At Zehnder's Splash Village, a waterpark in Frankenmuth, Mich., the resort chose a retractable glass roof-and-door structure when installing an expansion of the existing waterpark. The original waterpark had been constructed inside a timber building. While the air handling units in the original park need to run 24/7, 365 days a year, Zehnder's can turn the air handling units completely off in the summer months in the new waterpark. The open-air structure also creates a completely different look and feel than the older facility.

"I will say it is a more dramatic environment than the existing waterpark," said Al Zehnder, CEO of Zehnder's. "We wanted to create a sense of, 'Wow, this is different,' and I think we've accomplished that." The new facility has also been a big hit with visitors. "I think what they're drawn to is the bright indoor/outdoor feel even in the wintertime. Even in January, when it's sunny outside, it's a really beautiful environment," Zehnder said.