Guest Column - September 2008
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Painting a Canvas

Design Corner: Incorporating Community Preferences

By Tom Poulos


ommunities that are beginning to think about building a community/recreation center might wonder how to define the scope of such a project—that is, making the determination as to what the building's overall size will be, and what types of spaces and amenities it will contain.

Getting community buy-in to determine and prioritize facility components will be an important part of this discernment exercise as well as the subsequent process to plan the facility in a way that is responsive to community needs and wishes. Applying a methodology for gleaning public input, drawing conclusions and ranking preferences accordingly can assist in the exercise to determine a realistic project scope.

A feasibility study to find out what is realistic from an affordability and approval standpoint starts with stakeholders. These community members could be elected or appointed officials, such as a city's mayor, members of a municipality's board or council, or representatives of community service organizations. Such a group can be a "lightning rod" of the community, and typically provides a pool from which to draw people to serve on a steering committee to direct the feasibility study from the client's and community's perspective.

Setting the Stage

The steering committee will generally work hand-in-hand with an executive team comprised of city/village and/or park department senior staff, from which a project contract manager is appointed. These two groups will likely interact in a series of meetings to establish general project goals that are in concert with the design consultant's contractual requirements as they discuss opportunities and challenges of the project, setting the backdrop for the public input process, which includes:

  • Input
  • Findings
  • Alternatives
  • Test the concept

In an early first step preceding public forums, your design team will want to conduct a data collection effort to better understand existing conditions, whether of a building that is to be part of the project, a site or a neighborhood in which the project will or could occur. Existing documents, previously developed site or facility master plans, maps, geographic information system data and soils reports are among informational resources that could help the team. Department heads also are polled about operational concerns, such as storage and other functional space needs, and sites are examined for suitability based on such criteria as size, access and how such development might complement a community's strategic plan.