Feature Article - November 2006
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Magnificently Multipurpose

Managing all-around facilities

By Kelli Anderson

From decathletes to the champions of the Ironman racing series, we place a high premium on doing many things well. So too with our facilities. What does it take to create a recreational space that can be all things to all people? Unfortunately, the answer to that doesn't begin with the latest über-product or sound-bite solution—it begins with an investment in thorough and time-consuming planning.

Set a strategy

Many of the most common problems with multipurpose spaces can be avoided by careful planning. Knowing who is going to use the space and what programming and events will occur there, you can determine the key factors of size and materials. Small thinking often results in small spaces with insufficient square-footage, ceiling height or both.

"The size of the room is foremost when planning," said Mark Keane, project designer of Hastings & Chivetta Architects in St. Louis. "Make sure it can perform for each thing—fencing, aerobics, whatever. Make some flexible-sized rooms, which can be a different size for different groups."

Taking the time to identify which groups and activities will use the space may seem like an obvious step, but it is critical to get it right. Shortsighted vision will shortchange the design. The tendency is to build around a specific sport rather than around core sports supplemented with other activities.

Overbuilding—creating unnecessary specialized spaces—is a direct result of nearsighted planning that doesn't carefully consider the creative possibilities of multipurpose spaces. "Don't think of what you want your facility to be. Instead, think of how people will use your facility," suggested Rob Grundstrom, senior associate with KKE Architects of Minneapolis. "By framing the idea in this way, one can find overlap in space needs, prioritize your core clients and don't overbuild."

Asking yourself what activities you already have that can share a recreational space is one way to get started. Asking yourself to think outside the box and imagine other future possibilities—perhaps hosting meetings, home-school groups or shows, for example—is another.

After listing the functions of the space, prioritize the uses so that the most important functions can determine essential sizes and materials needed for the area. Identifying a priority might involve recognizing those activities performed most often or those that cannot function without certain materials or square footage.