Feature Article - November 2008
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Versatile Venues

Collaborate to Bring More to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Having partners—particularly those related to law enforcement—also enhances safety at a joint-use facility. The Modesto project will sit in a bit of a troubled neighborhood, and "it's great because the fire house is designed with the park as its front yard. The firefighters are around all the time. They'll look out as they're eating and relaxing, so it's a new set of eyes on the park," said Niskanen. The on-site police precinct will have a similar effect, as a "full set of police officers will be changing over three times a day. We'll have a built-in level of safety we've never had before."

But more—or at least equally—important for these collaborative projects is the improved use of the space the partnerships bring. The community center previously located on the Infinity Park rugby project's space "was not used very much," Vasani explained. "It didn't have the right amenities that constituents were looking for." When it came to revitalizing the space with a new facility, they were determined to remedy that situation. "If we had to build a large stadium that will be unoccupied for many hours of the day, to have a support facility next to it that functions on a daily basis as a community recreation center and doubles as a sports facility for large events"—the space will house amenities for fans on game day and rugby players will work out alongside members of the community in the fitness center—"that's killing two birds with one stone," Vasani said.

The police and fire departments will share park district meeting rooms at the park/city services complex, but Niskanen noted Modesto's long-standing parks and rec partnership with local schools as an even better example of maximizing space use. As a rule, parks are located near schools whenever possible, and "at the high school level, we try to design facilities with coordination," he explained. "Softball fields are built on the park side, and baseball fields on the school site, then the two get used based on school and community needs." In the case of a specialized facility, such as a competition swimming pool or multipurpose building with a gymnasium, "we have co-developed the cost of building those, and under that agreement the school uses them during the school year for competitions and PE classes, then we have them for lessons and recreation during the summer." And there's sharing during the school year as well, as the park district manages the multipurpose spaces during after-school hours. "So we get a higher level of use for our initial 50-percent investment in capital," said Niskanen.

The way the joint-use building is designed can also be an added benefit to the partners involved. "We are finding that when you can integrate with other activities, the synergy between having those multiple uses converging in one venue makes a more attractive space and more successful venture," said Vasani. "It's much like an urban city—the downtown has multiple things to do, and that makes the core city an interesting place."

Practically speaking, having more than one activity in a particular location can help each organization "cross-pollinate" and gain new participants. "You've got certain users who come on a regular basis, and some come to see an indoor track event as a spectator," said Bob McDonald, a senior principal with OLC. "Then they're exposed to the recreation center. They see the activities and can be enticed to come back."

This situation works particularly well if the partners have constituent groups that wouldn't necessarily overlap—such as a hospital or other medical practice that joins a city or parks and recreation department to create a fitness center. "Members are made aware of the hospital group and what that brings to the community, and the community learns what's out there in terms of fitness," said Vasani.