Guest Column - October 2010
Find a printable version here

Design Corner

Enhance Your Rec Center's Quality of Life

By Steve Blackburn


There are many inefficiencies in older recreation centers that, when corrected, can significantly increase revenue or lower operating costs. For example, the replacement of antiquated mechanical equipment and lighting fixtures with new, energy-efficient technology can significantly reduce operating costs and pay for itself in a surprisingly short period of time.

As it is with building a new recreation center from scratch, the key to accomplishing a successful renovation is thorough planning. There must be a clear process established for making decisions and adequate information generated to make those decisions.

A recommended first step is a fresh look at your market in order to evaluate what changes may have occurred since the center was built. What demographic changes have there been? Has the demand for youth activities diminished and the need for more senior activities increased with the aging of the baby boomers? Have average annual income levels changed significantly?

Next, take a look at how your facility compares with other recreation service providers in your area, both public and private. Determine what services and amenities are being offered and how much is being charged to use them.

It's also helpful to research the latest trends in recreation facility design and program management, both regionally and nationally. From cabanas with private showers and fitness assessment rooms to climbing walls and warm water exercise and therapy pools, there have been plenty of changes in recreation centers in recent years.

Once a market assessment is done, it is time to take a close and comprehensive look at your existing facility. Begin by reviewing any existing information, such as master plans and customer surveys, operating budgets, fee schedules and maintenance and marketing plans. This may seem like overkill, but it is essential to obtain an accurate snapshot of your existing condition in order to persuade others that changes are necessary.

Every recreation center is different and has its own unique ties to the community. You want to identify what is working particularly well at your center. Are there special elements, including those of historical significance, that give the center identity and character that should be preserved, highlighted or expanded?

Next, you need to consider what may not be working so well, and that includes a comprehensive look at the center's overall physical condition. The results of this review may very well determine whether or not a renovation is feasible. Therefore, it can be money well spent to hire outside specialists with experience in auditing recreation centers to assist with the building analysis.