Feature Article - July 2012
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Beyond Fitness

The Evolution of Multipurpose Facility Design

By Brian Summerfield

Sharing Spaces, Finding Efficiencies

Another important way in which these facilities are changing is in the expansion and enhancement of both indoor and outdoor aquatic activities.

New activities attract new revenues, but that's only part of the financial picture for fitness and recreation centers. They also have to manage costs, and one important way they've done that is by sharing spaces with other institutions. McKenna said she sees this frequently with collegiate multipurpose facilities, and offered her company's recent work for Northern Arizona University as an example of this.

"Initially, all of these entities were looking at doing these improvements individually," she said. "But these groups came together and decided to have all of their services in one facility. It's a very unique approach, but it's becoming more commonplace."

The university has housed its fitness, athletics, education, health and counseling services departments in a single facility. By taking this approach, it not only saved money, but also reduced redundancies in services, said McKenna, who added that combining fitness and wellness services in a single location can help facilitate a "sound mind, sound body" experience for members. "Anything we can do to facilitate the preventative side is going to improve people's physical states," she said.

This move toward sharing spaces has necessitated a shift in the mindset of management and personnel in these facilities. In the past, there was often the notion that a particular individual or department "owned" a physical space within the fitness center, but those days are over, McKenna said.

"One of the concepts that has gone away is, 'This is mine. This is my room and no one else can touch it, even if I only use it one hour a day,'" she said. "There's a much stronger openness and ability to be collaborative, for the good of all. There's also too much demand for space and financial pressure [to take that approach].

"What we're hearing from our clients is that the operational model is as important as the design response," she added. "Who's going to manage and operate the building? Where are the janitorial services coming from? Who's paying for utilities? Who has priority at what time? Who is responsible for maintaining particular spaces? The operational model is different."

Another way in which they're controlling costs is by finding efficiencies via smarter technology and design.

"Everyone wants to do more and more with less and less," said Sherrard, and added that automation could control things like building temperature, blinds and lighting to get the most optimal energy use.

However, a downside to the technologies that make buildings smarter and greener is that it can be difficult to scale them down to make them affordable and practical for smaller multipurpose facilities. Also, they change so often; today's cutting-edge solution is tomorrow's legacy system. "It seems like we're always chasing technology," Sherrard said.