Feature Article - July/August 2002
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Mutli-Use and Multiple Users

Faciltiy Models that Work for the Masses

By Mitch Martin

Within the colonnades of the Palaestra, one of the buildings of the Ancient Olympiad in Greece, the Olympic athletes practiced in a courtyard used not just for wrestling but boxing and jumping as well. Surrounding the open area were rooms for bathing, oiling and even benches historians believe were used for lectures.

Rendering of the Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center Expansion in Duluth, Ga.

Likewise, the ever practical Romans didn't just use the Coliseum solely for gladiatorial matches. It was also used for wild animal hunts and public executions. The Amphitheatrum Flavium, as the Coliseum was called, also could be flooded for mock naval engagements.

In many ways, recreational facilities have been multi-use as long as they have existed. However, as the modern public's appetite for recreation, entertainment and education increases, recreational organizations are stretching the boundaries of "multi-use" in innovative ways.

Once largely confined to different recreational pursuits, multi-use facilities over the last decade increasingly have branched out to provide space for entertainment, banquets, food service, corporate hosting, social programs and even military purposes.

Multi-use facilities are proliferating for several reasons. They have several advantages over single-use facilities. Perhaps the biggest is that a multi-use facility both widens and diversifies revenue for its respective organization, be it public or private.

Similarly, multi-use facilities broaden the constituency for a new facility or increase political and social backing for an existing facility. These buildings also can increase staff efficiency, as they give added outlets for staff member's energy, keeping them busier and more engaged.

Multi-use facilities such as community centers also can serve as the social glue in suburban environments, says Ronald W. Ankeny, principal-in-charge of Ankeny Kell Architects in St. Paul, Minn.

"To an extent they can replace the traditional downtown meeting points that don't always exist in suburbia," Ankeny says. "And the more diverse the activities that are offered, the more types of people you can draw together and have them interact with each other again."

There are, of course, problems and challenges associated with multi-use facilities. Poorly run or designed "multis" can be expensive to run, and constant room changeovers can drain staff and financial resources. Further, multi-use facilities can dilute programming focus if a facility pulls staff away from their core missions.

Nonetheless, multis remain a predominant facility configuration for the near future. And in that near future, the uses that facility managers pour into their multi-use buildings will continue to evolve and grow.