Award Winner - May/June 2004
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Community Recreation Center at Reunion
Commerce City, Colo.


S u b m i t t e d    b y:

Combs Dethlefs in Denver

36,000 total gross square feet construction

Construction cost:
$5.28 million

Quick tour:

  • 3,600 square-foot pool area including an outdoor lap pool, splash pool and leisure area with an interactive water spray feature, 100-foot water slide, outdoor volleyball courts and several porches
  • 2,725-square-foot fitness center
  • Full-court gymnasium
  • Aerobics/dance studio
  • Locker rooms
  • Meeting rooms
  • Community lobby
  • Game/party room
  • Childcare services
  • Outdoor playground

Just how do you attract families with a pioneering attitude? That was the puzzle posed by Shea Homes, which is developing a planned community in a fairly rural area north of Denver. Wanting to capture that Colorado spirit, planners were riddled with one key question.

"What's going to get homeowners excited about moving to this area?" explains Christopher Kastelic, project manager and designer for Sink Combs Dethlefs architects in Denver. "The concept is the new American West—'a new hometown for the age-old pursuit of happiness.' What better than a big red barn?"

Of course. But forget the bales of hay, pitchforks and wooden stalls, this 22,500 square-foot bright-red barn—affectionately dubbed "Big Red"— is really a community center, boasting everything from a fitness center and aerobics studio to an outdoor splash play area and water slide.

"The challenge was accommodating the normal recreation amenities and integrating them into a building without appearing out of place," Kastelic says. "There was also an idea of nostalgia. So we added small touches that recall this sense of the past."

Those little touches are evident in the building's details like the galvanized steel fixtures, cozy front porch, the wood siding in the gymnasium and the wainscoting in the locker rooms.

Although the community center was designed to look like a farmstead complete with barn and outbuildings (even a metal water tower), designers wanted to avoid creating just an old-timey replica.

"It was always an abstract interpretation not a literal one; this is still a modern facility," Kastelic says of the pastoral theme. "Instead of an old barn on the prairie we created a modern operating community building." The closer you look, the more elegant and contemporary thefacility appears.

When residents and prospective buyers approach the development, the first thing they spot is the agrarian-style recreation center perched on the water's edge as a gateway to a 50-acre central park. Once inside, the goal is to treat visitors to a warm, friendly environment, fully integrating the panoramic views of the mountains, with the park as foreground.

As cliché as it may seem—especially with the farm theme—this community center was truly built with that good ol' hopeful economic game plan: If you build it, they will come.

So far, there are about 300 households in the development, Kastelic says, with projections to top several thousand in the decades ahead.

"It's like a second sales center," Kastelic says of Big Red. "It was really meant to entice people to live in this community."

J u d g e s '   N o t e s

"Excellent use of bright, interesting colors in key places. Good combination of exposed wood trusses, corrugated metals, stone, etc. I love this barn/farmhouse look. This is fun and cutting-edge for a fitness facility. This is very original. I haven't seen anything like this before."

Christell Leonard

"The barn theme is fun and is continued maturely on the inside."

james kemper

"Very charming—nice accomplishment with scale and materials."

mark wentzell

"The use of different materials provides soft interior spaces rich in color and texture. The multilevel roof lines provide for a lower, less-boxy look of a large recreation center and more like that of a working farm."

Kenneth Ward

"A clear reflection of the community's philosophy. A very rural character is conveyed in a state-of-the-art facility."

tom poulos

"Only themed facility in the bunch. Fun to look at. Great example of a smaller community facility."

erik kocher

A s s o c i a t e d    F i r m s

Structural engineer


Civil engineer

Nolte Associates

Landscape architect

Norris Dullea


Design Mechanical

Electrical engineer

Merit Electric

pool builder

Associated Pools

general contractor

Saunders Construction, Inc.

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