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Feature Article - May 2016

Building Bridges

The New Age of Multipurpose Recreation Facilities

By Rick Dandes


Modern multipurpose recreational facilities are rapidly becoming social hubs that can embrace a number of diverse community needs, whether they be located within a city center, on a college campus, or in smaller, suburban settings. In many cases, those who are investing in new facilities are finding ways to partner with others outside the realm of recreation, sports and fitness to offer an even wider variety of options within one multipurpose structure.

One up-and-coming trend creates a perfect fit between recreation and fitness, and healthcare and wellness. The trend, said facility designer Steve Blackburn, principal, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, Denver, is to build or renovate a structure that can accommodate the expansion of the sports and recreation programs into a wider audience of uses and users, while encompassing current health and wellness concerns.

"The idea for this kind of facility is nothing new, it's been around for a decade," Blackburn explained. "But as a trend, it is only now gaining traction, and momentum. And it all makes sense, since recreation and healthcare are a natural fit."

What's held this natural partnership back for years was the uncertainty of healthcare delivery regulations. That is changing now, and partnerships between healthcare providers and fitness operators have become the catalyst for a genre of multipurpose recreation facilities now often labeled as "Wellness Centers."

"I know a number of building projects that have, or are seriously thinking about creating partnerships with healthcare providers who want to have some kind of presence in a recreation center," said Stephen Springs, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, of Dallas. "I think this arrangement is more common in the private sector than the public, where there is actually a storefront within or in front of a recreation center." In the public sector, it is probably more common in a campus environment.

Several years ago, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton designed a university project that combined the student recreation center and the student wellness center under one roof in a new building. "It seemed like a pretty logical step at the time, especially for a smaller campus as opposed to a mega university," Springs said. "It is very beneficial for some communities to have quality-of-life facilities combined. For a small community, it makes sense to have it all in one place. Mom and Dad and other caregivers, grandparents, kids, can all go to one building and do separate things and not have to run all over town. You get exposed to programs that you might not ever be exposed to otherwise. It's almost a cross-pollination that is very natural in those kinds of groupings."

From an administrative point of view, a multipurpose recreation center makes a lot of sense as well. Rather than operating multiple centers and having redundant programs, and a redundant staff, you can put it all under one roof and deliver the same or better quality service for less money.

Once a user comes into the facility, the idea is to have a choice of what they want to do or need to do on that day. "I call it shopping for activities," Springs said.

Other examples of suitable partners for fitness and recreation include sports performance/training venues, an event/convention center, commercial enterprises (such as a spa, restaurant, retail shop or gymnastics academy), educational ventures (supporting curricula for preschools or even higher education by providing physical education facilities), amusement, entertainment spaces (a performing arts theater, art gallery or library), or a nonprofit entity dedicated to specialized recreational programming (a Y or a Boys & Girls Club, for example). Another idea is to use a part of the center as affinity group headquarters for everything from cyclists, runners, walkers and climbers to book clubs, sewing circles, cooking classes, art classes and dance groups. Some new recreation centers, Springs said, even double as municipal administrative offices, with workout rooms that can quickly convert to night council meeting spaces.

Regardless of what makes up such partnerships, they do have to be compatible, flexible and willing to adapt for what promise to be long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, such as you find with senior centers, active aging, libraries and childcare.