Feature Article - June 2007
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Building Active, Involved Communities

Trends in Park Facility Design

The main trends architects and consultants agreed were taking a firm hold in park facility design included an increased focus on family participation, as well as a greater emphasis on sustainable, "green" design practices.

Teresa (Teri) Hendy, board member for the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association's (IPEMA) Voice of Play Initiative, and president and owner of Site Masters Inc., a design and safety consulting company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, said that developing places where the entire family can take part in recreation has been an essential goal of the recreation industry. "That's something that we as an industry have been trying to promote over the years—developing community spaces that bring all kinds of people together," she said. "We have to look at how we're developing communities."

Much of the added pressure to get entire families involved is coming from the baby boomer generation, as well as their children, said Craig Bouck, president and CEO of Barker Rinker Seacat, a Denver-based architectural firm that has designed more than 100 community centers nationwide, including facilities in more than 20 national parks. "There's a lot of great stuff going on," he said. "The baby boomer generation is between 60 and 70 million strong. They are moving into retirement, and they are very active, so the services they're going to need will be focused on things like indoor walking, fitness and aquatics. But what people forget is that the baby boomers' kids are graduating from college and beginning to have families of their own. So now the demands are going to be for services and facilities for families too—older people, as well as families."

These changes, Bouck explained, will add to a growing need for innovation in terms of making spaces available for multiple uses, as well as creative programming to get more people involved.

"You have the two biggest demographics looking for recreation and activity together," Bouck said. "This makes the whole idea of multi-use and multifunction spaces more imperative. You're going to see more innovation in terms of getting more people involved in activities at the same time—more programming opportunities as well as free-play opportunities in those spaces—trying to be everything to everybody."

"I think we're seeing more trends for families," Wallover said. "I think in the future that's going to be even more so. In Pennsylvania with the turnpike you can now go into a women's restroom, and they'll have one stall that has the toilet for an adult, one for the toddler, as well as the fold-down changing table. They're making things more convenient, and the more convenient they make it, the more people will expect that. Comfort is everything."

Patrons' expectations for facilities that provide a comfortable setting for families will play out in many ways in terms of facility design. Bouck said that locker rooms, in particular, will be heavily influenced by these changing demographics and expectations.

"I wouldn't be surprised in a noncompetitive setting if traditional locker rooms diminished to the bare minimum," he said. "We're already doing centers where we have no traditional locker rooms. The only demand for traditional locker rooms is where you have teams moving in and out. Otherwise, everyone wants the cabana-style wet and dry lockers—the changing rooms, family style, whatever you call it. But it's not just families. It's seniors, people with alternative lifestyles, and so on."

As environmental headlines abound and energy costs increase, the trend toward greener designs is also starting to gain a stronger footing, particularly among parks and recreation clients, Atilano said.

"The big trend I'm seeing that's starting to pick up momentum is green design," he explained. "Certainly in the parks and recreation industry, you're going to have a client that's receptive to the idea and understands the value of protecting our environment."

Atilano believes that parks and recreation will become a leader in buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. He explained that because we spend so much of our time indoors, it's important to ensure that the indoor environment is as healthy as possible—particularly in these facilities where we go to improve our health. With a LEED-certified building, he said, "you have a building where you're not going to have adverse health effects, you're being good to the environment, and you're saving energy costs."

Atilano sent out a survey in 2003 asking people if they were familiar with the benefits of green design. Sixty-eight percent answered yes. But when he asked if they were familiar with the U.S. Green Building Council, only 23 percent said yes. "I bet if I asked that again today, it would be about 50 percent who would say yes," he said. "I think there's a consciousness, particularly as energy costs go up. You do pay more up front for LEED buildings, but you can end up saving 25 percent minimum on energy costs. You have to look at lifecycle costs."

When Atilano asked his survey respondents whether they would be willing to pay 5 to 10 percent more for an energy-efficient green building, just 45 percent said yes. "They liked the idea, but didn't want to pay for it," he explained. "Now, as energy costs are skyrocketing, people will be more willing to do it. It's also related to global warming and recognizing its effects."

Bouck agreed that sustainability is becoming a more prevalent concern when designing community recreation centers. "Just the fact that the recreation centers, because of the kinds of spaces and hours of operation they have, they're just energy hogs," he said. "It's about really buckling down and figuring out what kind of investment we can put toward energy conservation. There's a lot of passion out there for solving that. You're going to see a lot more projects doing the best they can to try to preserve resources."

This conservation approach will not be limited to park buildings, either. According to Jim Figurski, a principal with GreenWorks PC, a Portland, Oregon-based landscape design firm with a focus on sustainable landscapes, green approaches will be incorporated more and more into landscape design in traditional parks as well. "For example, in many of our parks, both neighborhood and even urban," he said, "we're incorporating stormwater features into them. All of that water that falls on the park stays in the park."