Feature Article - May 2016
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Building Bridges

The New Age of Multipurpose Recreation Facilities

By Rick Dandes


How to Succeed

"I believe that there are just two fundamental keys to successful design of multi-partner buildings, such as healthcare, fitness and higher education, for example," said Hervey R. Lavoie, president, Ohlson, Lavoie Collaborative, of Denver.

The first key, he said, is to avoid the initial preconception that every function needs to be in its own room, surrounded by walls with a locked door labeled with the function's name.

"If there is good reason for diverse functions to coexist under a common roof," Lavoie explained, "there is also good reason to question conventional assumptions about need for doors and walls. This is what we call the 'Open Planning' approach, and it can be contrasted to the 'hallways and rooms' approach to facility design, which invariably delivers a building that can feel more like a traditional junior high school than a center for community recreation."

One example, regulatory and code considerations aside, is when fitness and rehabilitation choose to live side-by-side in a "medical/wellness/fitness center," where the synergy of that coexistence does not thrive under the presence of doors and walls.

The second key, Lavoie said, is for designers to invest in a single enhanced arrival experience for the building and to give this arrival experience meaning, spatial impact, wayfinding cues and visual excitement.

In other words, he emphasized, "'Wow factor' matters. It is also important to understand that a single arrival experience does not mean a single entry."

It often works well to configure several entry options into a single arrival lobby. Each entry can serve a separate user population, and its designated parking field. In this way, each user group enjoys the shared partner investment in an enriched arrival experience and begins their enhanced wayfinding to their intended destination from this common arrival space.

"In this way," Lavoie said, "cross-awareness of other partner destinations within the building can be assured. Patients will learn of fitness offerings. Recreational users will learn of rehab offerings. This is just one significant way in which far-sighted architecture can ensure successful operations."

The Planning Stages

"Let's take a step back before the build even begins," said Sara R. Boyer, project architect, Moody Nolan, of Columbus, Ohio. "Our advice is to get the key players involved as early as possible. We designed the recreation center in Columbus, Ohio, and met with one of the local hospitals and their physical therapy group to accommodate their physical therapy program in our hybrid pool. It's not a lap pool, or just a recreation pool. It can address both functions, and by making some minor tweaks to the pool design, which involved changes in the floor slopes and adding some handholds, we were able to accommodate that function for them."

Getting key players involved from the beginning in that case was important, because changes are much more expensive the further down the road into the project you get, Boyer said. As part of your feasibility study, you note who might be your partners. "Often we do see hospitals being interested in at least being able to have some kind of function occur in the community center."

Reaching out to the community prior to the design process is essential, Springs said. "At Brinkley Sargent Wiginton, we do an entire seminar on the feasibility process because 90 percent of our projects begin with a study, which is analyzing what the market demand is within the community for these kinds of facilities: What are the voids in the marketplace for certain facilities, and where should we locate it? We also want to know how big should it be, how much will it cost and how will it be paid for? And after it is paid for, what are the business plans for that center? How much will it cost to operate? How many staff will it take? And what are the potential revenue flows to cover that operational cost, the cost recovery?"

Cost recovery means that if it costs $1 million to operate that recreation facility and your revenue flows are $800,000 dollars a year then your cost recovery is 80 percent. This means there is a 20 percent subsidy that has to come from somewhere. For those municipal governments doing this to keep their constituents healthy, that 20 percent will usually come from their general fund—no problem. But for districts that don't have a general fund to draw from, those officials might have to float a bond, and go to their electorate for permission to do so.

"We call it a hybrid facility when you are sharing the resources," Boyer said. "And when you can do so with partners, you get more bang for your buck, since space is expensive. Sometimes our collegiate work has the same sort of design requirements, where the community might be coming to a university building. At Purdue University, for example, we have a multipurpose facility designed with a yoga studio and other exercise classes for students and the public."