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 Y

The Young Men's Christian Association has long been known for recreational innovation. Both basketball and volleyball were invented at Ys.

Today's YMCAs are combining recreation and social outreach in interesting new ways. A few YMCAs, both literally and figuratively, are being joined at the hip with schools and corporations.

Julius Lee, executive director of the Centennial Place Branch YMCA in Atlanta, runs a one such innovative center. The Centennial Place Branch was built as part of one of the largest public housing renovations in the country.

Residents of the crime-ridden Techwood-Clark Howell Homes district were relocated just before the 1996 Summer Olympics. Much of the housing project was torn down. It was replaced by a mix-income, mixed-used redevelopment, including the YMCA.

The YMCA is attached to a public elementary school, Centennial Place Elementary School. The school uses the YMCA gym, including a climbing wall, for physical education classes.

"It's really a beautiful thing to see all those elementary kids climbing up and down that climbing wall," Lee says.

Multiple Points

George Bushey, a project engineer with Rosser International, Inc., offers a few tips for making a multi-use facility changeover friendly and lower maintenance.

Storage. Storage. Storage. Every person interviewed for this story says voluminous storage is a key to an easier to run multi-use facility. For example, the Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center in Duluth, Ga., will have storage room for a full-scale band shell.

Separation. Bushey says it is important to have separate entrances and work areas for food service and the various event set-up crews.

"You want everyone to be able to do their job without getting in the way of someone else doing their job," he says.

Finish level. Bushey says the Gwinnett facility will have better trim and appointments than many other arenas, including near wall-to-wall carpeting. The theory is that higher cost finish will lead attendees to treat a facility better, leading to less maintenance.

"I'm a big fan of carpeting," he says. "There's something about concrete floors—that basketball arena look that makes people treat a place differently."

P.E. is just the beginning, however, of the symbiotic relationship between the school and the Y. The school provides an afterschool program for the elementary students, including the use of students from the nearby Georgia Tech campus who help with homework.

The Centennial Y facility includes a video production lab where the young, disadvantaged students can learn how to produce their own videos.

Almost all the $4.1 million facility, with a design that won an award from the American Institute of Architects, was paid for by corporate sponsors. One key to the design is an openness and airiness that corresponds to the open programming of the Centennial Y.

The Y is an amazing, multi-layered sandwich of sponsorships and partnerships between Georgia Tech, the local school district, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, numerous corporations, and the Y. Lee says the Y is the center of approximately 15 distinct outreach programs.

"I am a very, very busy person," he says.

The secret to running such a multi-dimensional program is openness at the board level. All the major corporate sponsors, and the other partners, have true input on the local board.

"If you don't have real, substantive involvement of by the people on board, new programs can become a threat, a turf issue," Lee says. "We want to stay focused on improving the lives of kids."

The 25,000-square-foot Centennial Place Branch served as a model for the 65,000-square-foot East Lake YMCA, which is also connected to a local public school in Atlanta. The YMCA considers the $11.3 million East Lake Y to be a state-of-the-art health and wellness facility.