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

Faciltiy Models that Work for the Masses

By Mitch Martin

The community center

If multi-use recreation got its start in the ancient world, perhaps its modern apotheosis is the community center. The jack-of-all-trades for the places they serve, community centers almost by definition are multi-use.

The need to provide everything within a single building, or set of buildings, is no where greater than in small communities.

At the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, an Air Force hangar was converted into a rec and wellness center.

For example, the City of Monticello, Minn., has a population of 7,868 according to the 2002 U.S. Census. Yet its decidedly multi-use Community Center supports a fitness area, childcare, meeting rooms, birthday parties, a banquet hall, a pool and water slide, climbing wall, teen center, and an indoor track. An adjacent bike and skate park is scheduled to open this summer. City hall also takes up part of the facility.

If that weren't enough, the Monticello Community Center also serves as a training center for the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard. Monticello is one of four Minnesota communities that have combined community centers with National Guard armories.

One weekend a month, the National Guard takes over the 2-year-old facility. In exchange, state and federal defense funds paid for approximately a tenth of the $10.5 million facility.

"The important thing was the idea of needing an armory helped jump-start the idea of having a community center," says Community Center Director Kitty Baltos.

Baltos says there is little programming conflict, except perhaps in that one weekend in winter months when the guard is drilling on the same floor prized by hoopsters.

"My basketball guys do miss the court time in the winter through about March," Baltos says. "Other than that we don't really miss the space."

Ankeny, who's firm designed the Monticello facility, says he used a synthetic poured surface for the athletic floors in the facility, to accommodate athletics as well as military drills and ceremonies.

"Because you don't have college competition basketball going on, you can have a surface that accommodates both uses," Ankeny says.

Baltos says her operation is pretty diversified even without the military. She says two keys to a smooth running operation are a handy maintenance staff and a full-time event coordinator.

"Probably 40 percent of what my maintenance staff does is just turning rooms around," she says.

Still, the community center has been able to meet every community expectation except one. The center tried to accommodate Saturday night weddings and a Sunday morning church group, but found it was simply beyond the ability of the staff.

"It would have meant hiring a Saturday midnight person, and we just found we couldn't do it," Baltos says.

She says the community demand is already outgrowing the space in the relatively new building. Ankeny says this is a common problem for cash-conscious local governments. He says he tries to design facilities that are extremely flexible, but space issues often occur.

"Community center are particularly prone to heavy use, and I really try to recommend a community fully explores the needs it will have," Ankeny says. "It's a lot easier to build it now than come back and add on. But sometimes it's very difficult to know exactly how successful you are going to be."