Guest Column - October 2010
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Design Corner

Enhance Your Rec Center's Quality of Life

By Steve Blackburn

Two important areas of focus during your building inspection are the swimming facilities and the mechanical components such as lighting and heating and air conditioning units. If a renovation includes little more than replacing antiquated equipment, it may be well worth the effort in energy savings alone.

Recreation centers with their long operating hours, large volumes, water pumps and multiple uses are huge energy hogs. Mechanical systems, particularly those serving the swimming area, account for nearly two-thirds of the total energy use in an average 60,000-square-foot center. Adding new energy-saving technology can reduce a recreation center's annual energy bill by as much as 30 percent or more.

In addition to reducing costs, identify areas that will increase revenues and membership, such as fitness centers, aerobic, dance and spinning studios, leisure pools, community room/events halls, indoor playgrounds, multi-activity courts and party rooms.

Remember, the more bodies using each square-foot of the recreation center, the more revenue potential is possible. That means that some areas that are expensive to build and maintain may produce relatively little revenue, such as racquetball courts and competitive swimming pools. On the other hand, spaces such as fitness centers and warm-water family-oriented leisure swimming pools with waterslides, lazy rivers and therapy pools are expensive to build, but their popularity generates considerable use and revenue.

Possible savings in staffing levels is another important consideration in your planning. For example, a well-designed and located control desk that offers sight-lines into adjoining activity areas can reduce the need for additional supervisory personnel.

Also, to avoid a disconcerting patchwork look to your renovation, use visual connections, wayfinding, color and light to tie the old with the new and give the center a pleasant unified appearance.

The final keys to a successful renovation include developing master plan options that include funding alternatives for two or three preferred courses of action. If you have done your homework, the final result will be an enhanced, exciting remake of your recreation center that is enthusiastically embraced by the community.


Steve Blackburn, AIA, is a principal and LEED accredited professional with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture in Denver. BRS has assisted more than 160 communities across the country in the strategic planning, master planning, programming, design and construction of their community recreation facilities.