Feature Article - July 2012
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Beyond Fitness

The Evolution of Multipurpose Facility Design

By Brian Summerfield

These are just the beginning. Blackburn is working on multipurpose facility projects that target youth in interesting ways. One is a production studio that allows young people to work on audio-visual projects. "With this emerging trend of YouTube and kids taking their garage band online, if you create this space, that might be something special," he said.

The second involves creating spaces for "exer-games," akin to the virtual athletics experiences provided by the Nintendo Wii. "We're trying to reverse childhood obesity in America by getting them to come to the recreation center instead of playing video games in the living room," Blackburn said.

Troy Sherrard, partner at Moody-Nolan, sees all of these new programs, services and spaces as meeting a rising demand for a more social recreational milieu.

"There's a large social aspect to recreation," he said. "Some people aren't individually motivated to be fit. Group exercise can get people more engaged. And we're all more connected today, and we all want to take that connectedness to our fitness facilities. That attracts younger generations."

As multipurpose facilities seek to boost membership and revenue by focusing on more non-traditional, group-oriented features, though, the resources devoted to some fitness activities have been reduced. Blackburn cited racquetball courts, which house a sport that's less popular than it was a couple of decades ago and take up quite a bit of space for just a handful of people, as an example of this.

The broadening array of offerings has led to a generally acknowledged need for a reclassification of sorts. And multipurpose facilities, while an accepted industry term, doesn't exactly capture the public's imagination. "That nomenclature has really drifted," said Blackburn, who added that they're typically called something that involves the terms "community" or "center," depending on the organizations involved, with variations such as "recreation," "funplex" or "sportsplex."

The Great Outdoors (and Indoors)

Not all of these offerings are under the building's roof—and sometimes they're not even on the campus at all. Several activities have moved outside.

Many facilities now have outdoor playing fields for organized youth sports, and they aren't just empty lots. "The explosion of soccer has created a tremendous amount of demand for field space, and the old approach of having a simple grass field and striping it doesn't cut it anymore," said McKenna, and added that these fields often have the latest, safest turfing solutions and lighting for night events.

Having that kind of state-of-the-art field provides more flexibility with scheduling games and other events, because there isn't really a time when it can't be used, Sherrard said. "The direction is toward more turf fields because they can be played on all day long, and it takes weather out of the picture," he explained.