Guest Column - September 2008
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Painting a Canvas

Design Corner: Incorporating Community Preferences

By Tom Poulos

Unveiling (a Plan for) a Masterpiece

After the concept has been honed following a carefully considered progression of comparative evaluation, number crunching, public review and validation to determine a realistic set of stratagems for the facility's development, a final presentation of the plan in a public forum is in order. With community and project leaders as well as stakeholder group representatives on hand to field questions, a presentation delivered by the A/E team can offer a glimpse of the future facility, and provide a platform for public discussion and questions about the plan.

It is important to have this dialogue when public funds are being spent or sought for an initiative of such significance. If funding is yet to be raised, the consideration of options to do so—from bond issuance to referenda to levy a property or sales tax—will likely generate debate, which is best addressed in an open, public discussion of the anticipated costs and benefits to the community of a new community/recreation center.

With a plan for funding in place, and facility components determined through this important public process to prioritize "wants and needs" and reconcile them with budget constraints, the community is ready to move forward to further develop a facility design to lead to actual construction of an exciting new facility that will open up new recreation opportunities for its members.

In preparing to build a new community/recreation center that will appeal to patrons, it is important to gain through a public input process a solid understanding of preferences among the plethora of programs available. You have to start painting your canvas, so to speak, and in doing so create a facility that promotes "filling the calendar" with active and passive recreation opportunities for a wide spectrum of the community that your department or agency was established to serve.

Picking Partners, Finding Funding

In conducting a feasibility study for a public community/recreation center, it is critical to accurately assess funding sources—and often beneficial to identify funding opportunities previously not thought of. Are there any local, public or private organizations, such as hospitals, YMCAs or schools that might contribute to create a win-win situation for them and the city or park agency spearheading the project?

To get a clearer picture of project costs, an operational and pro-forma review can draw scenarios that outline fees for potential program offerings, as well as provide projections of personnel and other operational costs involved in running a new community center. This forecast of revenue and expenses often serves as a springboard for fine tuning a program and space plan, and can spark action to seek additional funding—perhaps in the form of grants—to offset anticipated funding shortfalls.


Tom Poulos, AIA, is a registered architect and a principal with Williams Architects Ltd., Carol Stream, Ill., a leader in recreation facility design in the Midwest. During his career serving public recreation agencies, Tom has worked on a variety of community and recreation center projects. For more information, visit