Feature Article - June 2007
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Campus Recreation

Recreation on a Budget

Blumenthal pointed to a January 2007 article in The Oregonian, where author Randy Gragg writes, "…today, a university's most important building is its student recreation center."

"How many people are willing to say that?" Blumenthal asked.

John Miller, an associate professor of Sport Management at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, likened the trend toward building bigger and better recreation centers on college campuses to an arms race.

"I think what you're seeing more and more of is that colleges are building these outstanding facilities. They're beautiful, just architecturally gorgeous, and they're offering everything from aerobics to tae kwon do," he explained. "It's getting to a point now where you have to have it. You have a room for Spinning classes, you have an aerobics area, you have TVs on treadmills-you have all these things to entice people to work out."

Among our survey respondents, those from colleges and universities were less likely than the general survey respondents to be planning to build new facilities, add to their existing facilities or renovate. However, those who were planning to build were planning to spend more on average than nearly any other constituency covered by the survey.

Nearly one-third of respondents representing colleges and universities said they had no current plans for new facilities, compared to just a quarter of general survey respondents with no plans. Those colleges and universities that do plan to add on, renovate or build new tended to favor renovations and additions to new facilities. Still, just under 30 percent of colleges and universities are planning to build new, which is a substantial number of new recreation facilities going up over the next few years. In addition, nearly 35 percent are planning to add to their existing facilities, and 44 percent are planning renovations.

There are a lot of issues that drive the need for more space for recreation on campus, from competition between various user groups to the need to deal with increasing usage.

"We have space constraints with our facility, which is a multi-use situation used by the Fitness Center, Physical Education Department and the Athletic Department, as well as community groups," said a Wisconsin-based respondent. "We have long-range plans to renovate our current facility and add on."

Citing similar concerns, one Oregon-based respondent said the main concern was sharing space with academics and athletics. "Their increasing/encroaching needs are forcing our programs into worse and worse hours."

On average, colleges and universities plan to spend significantly more on their facilities and renovations, with an average planned spending amount of $6.1 million—59.7 percent more than the average across all facilities.

Nancy Freedman, a principal with Sasaki Associates, an award-winning architectural firm with offices in Watertown, Mass., and San Francisco, said one of the reasons the costs skew higher among colleges and universities is because they typically build bigger facilities. And those facilities, she said, have a big impact on campus.

Before getting started on planning the new facility, it's important to determine what should be included. "You don't build it for yourself," Blumenthal said. "Find out what the people want, and you build it for them. That brings success."

Freedman mentioned several ways colleges and universities can reconcile the high costs of building new with worsening budget crunches.

"One, try to make the building efficient," she explained. "The rule of thumb is you can get 65 percent efficiency, but if you're careful about designing, you can get up to 75 percent efficiency. For example, if you can design the fitness area to wrap around the gym, you don't need a hallway. You kill two birds with one stone and gain a lot of efficiency. You're building less circulation space. You can do the same thing with lounges and juice bars. Make it bigger, but also have it serve a separate function. It can be more effective too, because people can see and be seen that way. You can kill those two birds with one stone and not devote a separate room to a lounge."

Sustainability is also an important factor to consider, especially when it comes to long-term operational benefits, Freedman said. "There are opportunities that might save you in the long term, as more people think about LEED and sustainability," she said. "For example, your typical recreation center is going to be a big building with a big roof, and you can collect your rainwater and maybe even use it to irrigate the sports fields. You're preventing runoff and saving water for irrigation, You can even use it as graywater. These things will become more prevalent as the cost of water goes up. There are other examples as well that should be considered beyond initial cost."

Another way to help cope with smaller budgets, Freedman said, was to plan for alternates in the bidding process.

For example, she said if you are considering adding some racquet courts to the building, you might design them as a wing, so the building can be designed and bid with the courts as an alternate piece.

"Then as the bidding comes in, if you don't have the money, you just don't build that part," she said. "There might be other pieces you could do like a third or fourth basketball court. The running track could be thought of that way, because it's a chunk of money and it might not be the highest-priority piece. From the time you start planning and programming a building, a couple of years can pass and the bidding environment can change, so what you think you can afford now might change."