Feature Article - May 2016
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Building Bridges

The New Age of Multipurpose Recreation Facilities

By Rick Dandes


Partnerships That Work

The Natatorium in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, designed by Barker Rinker Seacat, is a multipurpose recreation facility that illustrates how a major project can work seamlessly with partners and make money. A $27 million project that opened in 2004, it is 116,000 square feet, and when you walk in the door you get the sense of all the opportunities that are available. On the left is the welcome and registration desk. But on the right is the Summa Health Rehab center, a long-term tenant.

The Natatorium has a combination of more than 100 land and aquatics classes each week. The main floor houses a main gym, auxiliary gym, two racquetball courts, weight floor, the Fit Kid Experience, Kids' Castle babysitting, and the aquatics area with three pools and a 21-person spa. An upper-level fitness floor is equipped with more than 200 cardio and fitness machines, a 1/8-mile walking track, and a fitness circuit.

"It gets to that question of medical and wellness, and how does that play together with other facilities in a community," Blackburn said. "In the Natatorium, we built a wellness center. The reason we placed it right at the front door was that Summa Health Systems, who was a partner of the city of Cuyahoga Falls, was at the planning table from the very beginning. One of their requests was to have a front door. They didn't want their clients to have to wander around to find them. That's what we did. We placed it right at the front door."

Because of the partnership, the health center also can offer aquatic therapy. If someone comes to Summa for massage therapy, they can be introduced to the fitness center, which is right out the back door of the wellness center. Not too many steps from there is the natatorium, which is the complete aquatic offerings of the building. The rest of this part of the building contains everything else you could imagine a community needs, including a true government seat one night a week. There are caucus rooms in the building. And for food, there is a Subway operation in the middle of a grand atrium.

The Natatorium is a facility where parents can check their 5-year-olds and younger in and have the Cuyahoga Falls staff watch them. It is not daycare. It is not a licensed program. It is a customer service that allows mom and dad to go off to a fitness class and work out or swim and leave their kids in the able view and care of staff.

The Natatorium was not a renovation. It was originally an old building that didn't work very well, didn't flow. "We did a financial analysis of renovating it versus building new, Blackburn said. "How much would it cost and what could be the return on that investment? After the analysis the city council voted 11-0 to build new. It was a difficult build because it was right downtown, in an urban center, strategically located between their government center, city hall and courts and the high school. It was quite the project. And now they are reaping the benefits of some really wise decisions."