Feature Article - February 2016
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From Simple to Stunning

Trends in Nonconventional Recreation Structures

By Chris Gelbach


More Daylighting Without Glare

Other nonconventional structures can offer the benefits of additional daylight in a more diffused form through the use of translucent paneled walls or skylights. According to Mark McNichol, director of sales for a manufacturer of these products that's based in Bow, N.H., these solutions are being used in a variety of recreation applications, including natatoriums and skylights for large entry areas of recreation facilities.

These translucent solutions are also a popular choice in facilities that want the benefit of additional daylighting without glare and without sacrificing privacy. For this reason, McNichol has seen translucent paneled wall solutions being used in pro and college indoor practice facilities such as those for the Denver Broncos and for Colorado University. "They want to be able to get natural daylight in there, but still retain the security so people can't look in and film their practices," McNichol said.

The 120,000-square-foot Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, N.J., uses the translucent daylighting structures in several areas of its fitness and recreation facility to create a more open effect and provide more natural lighting. These areas include the main entrance, which features a large lounge area that can seat 300 to 400 people. "It has a raised ceiling and then that type of structure on top, and it definitely provides a great atmosphere upon entering the building," said Kroc Center Administrator Major Terry Wood. The daylighting structures are also employed to create a more open effect in entrances to several other areas of the building.

For other applications, particularly those that aren't for pools or in other environments requiring a non-corrosive material, pre-engineered steel buildings are also being used in more applications.

In addition, the translucent daylighting structures also appear over both the competition lap pool and the waterpark pool, where they create a more open effect. "You don't feel like you're outside, but you also don't feel like you're in an enclosed space," Wood said. "I think it gives you more flexibility to make it look like you're in a much more expansive area than you're actually in."

These kinds of solutions can also provide long life if cared for properly. According to McNichol, some of his company's panels are still in use after 30 years or more. "There are so many skylights out there where they've replaced the roof two or three times and they've never replaced our product," McNichol said.

Quick, Spacious and Cost-Effective

For other applications, particularly those that aren't for pools or in other environments requiring a non-corrosive material, pre-engineered steel buildings are also being used in more applications. While they may not necessarily be non-conventional, they can provide the option of a more cost-effective solution that can fast-track the building process for a permanent installation. They are also suitable for applications requiring large, open spaces without interruption from columns or beams.


"We can build wide up to 300-foot clear spans across building lights for indoor arenas, indoor football, practice facilities and other athletic applications," said Jim Peckham, manager of marketing for a manufacturer of pre-engineered steel building systems based in Memphis, Tenn.

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) in Hays, Ky., went with this approach when it built the 50,400-square-foot indoor practice facility it completed in March 2013. "You have to evaluate every project based on what system will best serve your end need and what makes the most economic sense in your budget," said Dana Cunningham, director of the office of facilities planning for FHSU. "I would guess that this is about the most efficient, perhaps the most economical approach to large open-span buildings such as this."

Because the building has heat but not air conditioning, the facility includes large overhead doors at each end and exhausting that can help circulate air. Because the facility is a backup for practices during inclement weather for all sports, it also features plywood up to a certain elevation and netting above that to protect the lighting fixtures, wall surfaces and insulation.

In the end, many of these solutions offer long life and benefits for a variety of applications. They may not always be the proper choice over a conventionally designed and built structure. But all of these approaches are proving their worth in specific applications where factors such as budget, quality and quantity of light, seasonal flexibility, and high ceiling heights and wide-spanning open spaces are considerations.

Given the cost advantages and functional benefits they can sometimes provide, recreation managers should at least investigate these options when considering a major recreation facility project. If nothing else, it can pay to investigate the potential results firsthand. "If you're recommending a course of action, you need to go see an example," said Avery. "If you're ever going to consider a membrane structure, go see one." The same could be said for other nonconventional structures.