Feature Article - November 2008
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Versatile Venues

Collaborate to Bring More to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

A big component of ensuring you can generate the funds you need to operate your facility is creating it to be the leisure destination your particular community is looking for—and having the ability to adapt as the community's desires change. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods in Modesto, Calif., maintains a variety of multipurpose venues with the "same good level of service" they always have, explained Director Jim Niskanen, "but if we had more health- and lifestyle-related facilities, which require different programming and equipment, people would use them."

So, for the new venues this city is building, these types of interests are definitely a consideration. "We have seen a huge shift toward walking and biking and active lifestyle facilities," he said. "We have tremendous support for our trail system. Even at the neighborhood park level, the number-one interest is a walking trail. It's interesting that that has taken such a prominent role in facility development."

But the real item of interest here is the park district's willingness to respond to the community. "Each community is unique in what it needs," noted Cezar Gonzales, executive director of the Lake Houston Family YMCA, a truly multipurpose facility with amenities and activities from splash pool to teen room to child care to Pilates.

But this Y also operates branches in Kingwood, Texas, and Splendora, Texas.

"Go into the community and ask what their needs are, not what your needs are," he said. "Splendora is a lower-income community that needed programming for kids and families. The Y can do it."

The Lake Houston Y is also planning a facility for Summerwood, Texas, a newly developing area. "That's a small, plant community, which lacks the amenities of an older, established community, so the Y brings community recreation services that they wouldn't have otherwise," Gonzales said.

Meeting the needs of the community applies not just to the features you choose for your facility, but also to the way they are designed and built. In other words, make sure the options you have are as multipurpose as possible. "The Y as most people think about it has two big boxes—a gym and a pool," noted Atlanta's Munster. "But we've designed our latest pools to accommodate zero-depth entry, and they have low-level water for very young children with parents. There's an area in the pool that's for exercise classes, an area that serves lap swimming and one for swim instruction, so we have four activities in the pool at once." In addition to multiplying the pool's uses, these special features also make the water accessible to both the very young and the aging population, a component of many communities that grows larger all the time.

Also, more activity-oriented pool settings (and other recreational areas) can have a financial impact. "It's hard to charge more than 50 cents or a dollar for admission to a competition pool," reported Modesto's Niskanen. "People don't stay too long."

But in a more family-oriented aquatics setting, with splash pools and water playgrounds and slides, in addition to regular old places to swim, "you can stay the whole day and add concessions and other things to make it useable and enjoyable—more of a destination," he said. And also more of a revenue generator, which keeps cash flowing into that all-important operations fund, and keeps your building and the community it serves in good shape (literally!) for years to come.