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Feature Article - May 2019
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Aiming for Versatility

Trends in Multipurpose Facilities

By Deborah L. Vence


Multipurpose recreation facilities offer a little something for everyone. Exercise classes for fitness buffs, water therapy for seniors, sports such as basketball and soccer for youth, and even a library for reading enthusiasts.

Over time, multipurpose facilities have grown in popularity, with design elements continuing to expand. You can often find exercise components, health screening, nutrition programs and social spaces in one facility.

Many interesting trends are emerging in multipurpose facility design today.

"With wellness, we're seeing more communities and colleges create recreation buildings that address wellness on all fronts: physical, mental, emotional, preventive health, etc.," said Colleen McKenna, principal, leader of CannonDesign Sports Practice.

"Where recreation buildings of the past may have been predominantly about spaces for weights, cardio and a gymnasium area, today's recreation centers can include areas for counseling, health screening, demonstration kitchens, nutrition education and much, much more," she said. "This is exciting for architects and designers, but also important as it translates to healthier individuals, families and communities. I anticipate even further integration of health, recreation and wellness in the years ahead."

In addition, more cities and colleges are teaming up to create recreation spaces. "We've had two projects recently open that were partnerships between a city and a nearby university," McKenna said. "They share the investment, and then share the space for programming and resources. This shift toward public plus private funding helps ease the financial burden for both parties and ensures these important spaces are built to advance health and wellness."

When asked if multipurpose design is changing, McKenna said, "definitely."

"Just as multipurpose design is evolving, so, too, is the world of architecture and design," she said. "Our team is currently creating a multipurpose facility for the University of Southern Indiana that blends recreation and athletics components, and we've used virtual reality throughout the design process. That's something we could never have done five or 10 years ago.

"So, given these shifts in how we design, and the spaces we're designing, the look and feel inherently evolves, too," she said. "We're pushing new boundaries with how we shape buildings. We understand the health and sustainability value of different materials, and that impacts what we use in the interior environments. We leverage environmental graphics and wayfinding much more than in the past—it all adds up," she said.

"Furthermore, the integration of new wellness components means it's not uncommon to walk by a kitchen space or a nap room on one's way to the treadmill in some of today's recreation centers. That's a new and exciting reality," she added.

Troy Sherrard, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, partner, practice leader, sports and recreation architecture, Moody Nolan, said that "recreation facilities will become more integrated, more diverse and more complex in the future. Future-ready facilities are now based on a hybrid functionality design mindset with the focus on 'holistic wellness.'

"'Opportunity and wellness' centers, as we refer to such facilities, are more impactful and alive when integrated with say, healthy dining, nutrition, academic, workspace, wellness, healthcare, social spaces, gaming commons, community meeting, events, etc., program spaces," he said.

Stephen Springs, AIA, senior principal at Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, an architectural firm based in Dallas, said "co-location has been growing in popularity for some time, but co-usage is a much more innovative idea. It takes progressive departments to be so willing to work together to share spaces, but it makes sense when it comes to saving dollars (both capital and operational)."

He said it's "also great for the community in that it allows 'one-stop shopping.'

"All members of the family can be served at the same location. They can also be exposed to programs that they wouldn't otherwise know existed," Springs said. "For example, a grandparent at the facility for water therapy might see a program that they would like to bring their grandkid to. Likewise, a teenager doing their homework at the library may discover a recreation program to sign up for. There are many examples of such synergies."

While the concept of having co-location isn't necessarily a new idea, what's different is having those "different entities cooperating together program-wise," Springs explained.

He noted a new project that his company recently broke ground on in Arlington, Texas, which combines a branch library, recreation center and a senior center.

The new East Arlington Recreation Center and Library at Bob Cooke Park is a collaborative project between the Parks and Recreation and Libraries departments. The co-facility will replace the existing Hugh Smith Recreation Center and the East Branch Library. The 47,249-square-foot facility is set to open in the fall of 2020, according to information from the Arlington, Texas, government website.

"With respect to recreation centers, the latest trends are that more often, every program space is being required to be multipurpose in nature. With facilities under pressure to bolster cost recovery, the more hours out of a day spaces are being used, the ability to reach that goal increases," noted David Sprague, senior design principal, Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, Denver.