Guest Column - April 2009
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Design Corner: Control Central

The Control Desk Can't Be Ignored

By Keith Hayes


t's an exhilarating time to be involved in the planning and design of community recreation centers. From mammoth climbing walls and spacious atriums to elaborate aquatic areas with private cabanas, the rapid emergence of innovative features has been remarkable.

But in the fun and excitement of considering the latest bells and whistles, proper attention to one of the recreation center's most important features—the control desk—is sometimes overlooked.

As its nerve center, the control desk sets the tone for the entire facility. As the first point of contact, a negative experience at the control desk can tarnish a customer's enjoyment of the entire facility. Conversely, a positive encounter reinforces the center's commitment to quality activities and efficient, friendly service. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a positive first impression.

There is no cookie-cutter design for a control desk that will work well in every recreation center. Each center has its own needs, customer base and culture. There are, however, basic principles and questions to consider when planning a new control desk or redesigning your current one.

Obviously, even the best-designed control desk is worthless if the people hired to staff it are perpetually rude and unpleasant. But, a well-designed control desk can reinforce a generally pleasant person's welcoming personality by making his or her job much easier and more enjoyable.

That said, the temptation to design a control desk specifically for the current staff should be avoided. They should certainly have input in the planning process. But the goal is to design a desk that best suits the needs of the customers and will also be adaptable to future staff members.

As in real estate, the first consideration in control desk design is location, location, location. For security and convenience, it is essential that the control desk have clear views of the front entrance and as much of the facility as possible. There is nothing more aggravating to a first-time customer than having to search for a control desk tucked away in some obscure corner of the lobby.

After determining the desk's location, it's helpful to consider the size and makeup of your customer base and the ways in which you will be interacting with them at the control desk.

Most recreation centers today serve a diverse community, from families with toddlers and teenagers to working men and women, retirees and people with disabilities. That means a one-size-fits-all control desk probably won't work very well.

For example, you'll need a desk with counters of at least two varying heights to accommodate adults, children and people in wheelchairs. The number of staffing stations will, of course, depend on the size of your customer base, as well as their particular needs. Within reason and your ability to staff them, it's best to err on the side of too many stations. Eliminating another time-consuming wait in line will be greatly appreciated by your customers. And your staff will welcome the additional workspace.