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Feature Article - May 2018

Everyone's Welcome

The Latest Trends in Sports Facility Design

By Chris Gelbach


More Multifunction Spaces

As public schools diversify in their student populations, more girls continue to participate in sports, and interest in sports like lacrosse and soccer continues to grow, a demand is growing for spaces that can be used for multiple purposes. Designers are also seeing requests to accommodate additional sports such as cricket, girl's rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, Quidditch and other sports that were rarely asked about in years past.

But architects stress that this needs to be done in a strategic way after carefully considering what the top programmatic priorities will be. "One of the things we tell our clients is that there's a fine line between a multiuse space and a 'multiuseless' space," said Andy Barnard, a principal within Perkins + Will's sports, recreation and entertainment practice. "If you try to do too much, you get to a point where you're really compromising the value, functionality and usability of that space for just about any of the users."

Barnard noted that a variety of technologies can help schools that don't have much staff to facilitate the turnover of a facility from one sport to another. These include electrically operated curtains and netting, portable basketball hoops, volleyball standards that drop from the ceiling and hoists for wrestling mats.

"There are a lot of things that we can do as architects to help these schools to be able to transition these facilities very quickly and cost-effectively," Barnard said. "There's a little capital cost that comes when you're doing the project, but it pays huge dividends on the operational side."

As school districts try to accommodate an ever-growing array of sports, they are continuing to turn more and more to synthetic turf. "Even in districts that don't have a lot of resources, they're trying to figure out and do whatever it takes to get synthetic turf in," Baker said. "Because what it does do is it makes it instantly more usable, a lot more practical, so they can use the facility all the time. The issue is the replacement cost and the upfront cost."

As part of this trend, Baker has seen a growing interest in smaller indoor turf facilities at both the K-12 and collegiate level that serve as practice facilities for multiple stakeholders in inclement weather. He cited an installation MSA Sport worked on a few years ago at Wilmington College as a typical example. It's a 15,000-square-foot turf facility with a 30-foot clearance.

"It's not a full field, but they can do baseball work and sprint work in there, they can do specific skills and stretching work," Baker said. "And it's directly connected to a partial outdoor field, so athletes can run in and out."

Facilities at both the K-12 and collegiate level are also placing more of an emphasis on function even in the recruiting arms race. "What we're seeing now are programs that are really trying to distinguish themselves, not in the eye candy of facilities, but in the functionality of facilities," Barnard said. "And it is similar to the student rec side where the term of the day is human performance or sports performance."

Barnard is increasingly seeing staple facilities such as locker rooms, weight rooms and sports taping areas being augmented by sports assessment facilities that assess athletes regularly and nutritionists who design sport-specific meal plans. "It's become this personalized environment in athletics where there's this support network behind every student-athlete trying to help them perform their best," Barnard said.

Future-Proofing Fundamentals

As they focus on building multipurpose spaces, sports facility designers are also approaching their designs with an eye on the future by creating facilities that are prepared to accommodate change over the longer term.

This includes building open exercise areas with an eye toward future potential expansion. "When we go back and do post-occupancy reviews, no one is ever bemoaning the fact that they built too much, particularly in fitness areas and multipurpose rooms and exercise spaces," Larson said. "They always seem to want more."

Larson recommends designing these popular spaces with an open end to them so that they can grow gracefully without having to go back into the existing building and redo elements that are already in place. "That goes into site preparation and planning where you want to make sure that the expensive underground utilities are not hugging the building so those don't have to be moved and dug up and relocated in the future," Larson said.


Baker's firm MSA Architects is currently working on a 160,000-square-foot building for Xavier University that is being designed as a 100-plus-year building. It will feature a robust concrete infrastructure, large floor-to-floor height, circulation that's placed logically for future expansion, and multiple open fitness studio spaces that can be adapted for other uses in the future.

"We always look at the design of the building to say, if this does change or this does expand, or if this use is going to change over time, how might you add onto the building? Where is that?" Baker said. "And how can we design the building and the site infrastructure to allow that to happen?"

These same considerations should also be applied in opting for flexible ceiling and flooring materials throughout fitness facilities to allow for future adaptability. "One of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make is in the fitness area, when they don't make the flooring all the same thickness," said Casai. "Allowing for that thicker floor everywhere allows them not to be locked in to a certain equipment position."

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