Feature Article - November 2006
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Magnificently Multipurpose

Managing all-around facilities

By Kelli Anderson

It's Elemental

Elements of design to plan and equip a multipurpose space don't differ so much from the usual considerations of a facility, but they do differ in how we think about what gets priority, what has to be compromised and what can be shared. It's a puzzle. It's about overlap and common ground. Here are just a few necessary considerations for the planning process:

PROGRAMMING: active or passive, sports, non-sport
    (meetings, education, arts and crafts, etc.)

USERS: seniors, children, families, teens, professional groups

ACOUSTICS: noise control or sound systems

LIGHTING TYPES AND LEVELS: natural, incandescent, fluorescent, dimmed or strategic

VISUAL SEPARATION: glass, movable dividers, hard walls

FLOORING: maintenance, user frequency and type, cover alternatives

MECHANICAL CONTROLS: ventilation and temperature

STORAGE: essential vs. rental options

SEATING: sport-event bleachers, auditorium, stacking plastic/padded

VIDEO: retractable screens, fixed screens, TV monitors

DURABILITY: identify high-abuse materials and consider wear and tear

MAINTENANCE: floor, equipment

Store it

Whether you've got protective floor coverings or mats for wrestling, multipurpose rooms, as the quick-change artists of the facility, will invariably need a lot of storage. Thinking through all the room's uses and listing the various pieces of equipment that will be required for programming and operational needs will help you estimate storage requirements.

Unfortunately, however, even when storage needs are finally determined, they are the first in line for compromise or elimination when budget girths tighten.

"I would be surprised if any manager says we have more storage than we can deal with," Rivers said. "A common request in business is crying out for more storage, and it's often cut by designers to save money."

One way to cut back on those storage needs is to consider what must be housed on site and what can be housed by someone else.

"I've seen owners rent instead of owning equipment if they only need it once or twice a year," Grundstrom observed. "If you have banquets only a few times a year, don't store tables and chairs, just rent. To build the square footage to house all that? It's just more cost-effective."

Even renting maintenance equipment sometimes can be a better solution than buying. Consider the lifts needed to change out light bulbs in high-ceilinged areas like gymnasiums. Renting them for the once- or twice-a-year change-outs makes a lot more sense for some facilities than buying and storing such infrequently used, bulky equipment.

Like rabbits from a magician's hat, virtually anything can be pulled from walls, floors or ceilings, including seating, electronics and room dividers. Storage-saving designs that produce seating out of the walls or pull video screens down from the ceiling will help lighten the storage load.

Or think small. Reduce the need for storage by choosing multitasking equipment like interactive white boards that can do the job of three or four pieces of expensive, bulky technical presentation equipment. Even thinking through the placement of outlets between multiple courts or around court perimeters can impact storage by eliminating the need for an unsightly and unwieldy spaghetti of wires and extension cords. Less is, well, less.