Feature Article - April 2009
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Reaching Out

Recreation in Underserved Communities

By Stacy St. Clair

Reach Out to Oakland

The City of Oakland first began dreaming of a new community recreation center more than two decades ago when the Bay Area announced its intentions to vie for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The structure would have played an important role in the Games, so when the region lost its bid, the world-class facility—and its funding—suffered a massive blow.

Councilman Larry Reid, however, was determined to keep the project alive because it would serve one of the most challenging areas of Oakland. The original plan called for a 155,000-square-foot, two-story sports complex that would contain an Olympic-size swimming pool, library, gymnasium, bowling alley, dance aerobic studios and additional activity areas. But the city could not afford to build such a lavish structure without Olympic-sized grants and gifts, so officials made the difficult—but necessary—decision to pare down the project.

"The city had to rethink how to build a recreation facility without the help of the Olympics," said Clarence Mamuyac of ELS Architecture and Urban Design, the principal-in-charge of the project.

As part of their rethinking, officials eliminated the 50-meter pool and the diving well. The gym space was halved, while the locker rooms and administrative space were significantly pared down.

Despite the revisions, the project is expected to become the crown jewel of a neighborhood plagued by drugs and gang violence. The East Oakland Sports Center will include a 25,000-square-foot building housing a natatorium with an indoor recreational pool, aerobic studios and a fitness center.

The project also has been designed in phases, so the community can expand the facility as its budget allows. Future phases will include the construction of soccer and baseball fields and a competitive swimming pool. The project will also include a learning/media center, a childcare facility and a senior center.

"At the end of the day, this is going to be an amazing facility," Mamuyac said.

Once-built, the $17-million facility undoubtedly will prove that impoverished communities do not need to break the bank in order to provide recreation services. It just requires careful attention to selecting amenities that benefit both your patrons and your budget. For example, when choosing which features to eliminate from the project, officials very quickly cut the diving well, which would not attract enough users to justify its cost or the space it consumed.

They also scrapped the 50-meter pool because planners doubted it would recoup its operating costs. However, plans for an indoor aquatic center with playful amenities remained in place. The spray guns, water cannons and waterfalls attract patrons and make any recreation center a must-visit facility, experts said.

"The fun water features actually pay the freight," Mamuyac said. "It's just good recreation business to keep a component like that."