Guest Column - July 2011
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Design Corner

Vibrant Centers of Community Identity

By Dan Zeller, AIA

While municipalities endeavoring to fund community centers have historically been challenged with financing their construction and operation, in today's difficult economic climate those challenges are even more daunting. Community centers—long important components of civic life—provide a sense of community for activities such as sports, fitness, meetings and education, and are visible expressions of public activities that benefit young and old alike. An innovative, adaptive response to the financial challenges is the advent of joint-use facilities—community centers that are financially and operationally shared by two groups.

The planning challenges of a joint-use facility necessitate careful consideration. Community leaders must seek design solutions that allow the facility to serve both as a community icon and as a source of enrichment of the human experience through attention to programming. Both are vital if a center is to fulfill its potential to give a community identity.

Three Areas of Focus

As with any community center, but especially with a joint-use facility, three areas require attention:

  • Building design: The design of the facility will likely incorporate standard community center features—aquatics, fitness and gymnasium—as well as space for meetings, education, vocational training or other uses that may be deemed relevant.
  • Programming: Programs that are offered will span a variety of ages and populations. Families, seniors, students and adults may all be offered a variety of programs: athletic competitions, fitness/wellness, education, public meeting space. The possibilities are limited only by the desires of the community and the ability of the facility to house them.
  • Operations: Although the joint-use community center is a shared facility, one entity ultimately must be responsible for the building's overall operation. Financial responsibilities for operations may be shared—typically the managing entity "rents" the space to other user groups.

These three areas should be defined at the inception of a joint-use community center project. A memorandum of understanding or other similar document should set forth the relationships between municipality, university/school and other entities regarding facility design, program services, and operations and maintenance.