Feature Article - May 2014
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Flexible Facilities

Trends in Multipurpose Facility Design

By Deborah L. Vence

The word "multipurpose" implies versatility and flexibility, making it the ideal type of recreation center for municipalities that desire a single location to appeal to youth, adults and seniors alike.

"We are seeing that … multipurpose centers are starting to make a lot of sense. You can get operational savings. Say, you have a senior center, rec center and aquatic center scattered around town, all independently operated. If they were all in one place, they would be [less expensive] to operate," said Stephen Springs, AIA, Brinkley Sargent Architects, an architectural firm based in Dallas.

For sure, operational savings are a big reason why more multipurpose facilities are being built, a growing trend where pressure is being put on municipalities to have more cost recovery.

With "Older cities, they typically heavily subsidize the recreation programs. And, some cities may not have a recreation center, yet. People are building them for the first time," Springs said. "They don't have that history of heavy subsidizing. [It's about] cost recovery when they talk about building their first center.

"We still see more and more pressure, understanding operation costs, and so once that becomes important, then it starts setting up what your programs should be," he added, "because some programs bring in revenue and some don't. [It's about] figuring out how to align and serve your community needs."

As new multipurpose facilities are created, the design of such spaces, in turn, continues to thrive with design elements centering on more openness and brighter colors.

"There is so much more to choose from with material choices," Springs said. "You don't have to spend as much to get a great tile, same cost per foot. We spend a lot of effort in finding those … but it doesn't have to cost more."

And, when it comes to color, shades that are the most timeless are earth tones and naturals, "But, there are greens and brown and blues, too, [that are earth tones]. With plums, there are a lot of natural colors that blend very well together, that don't date a building. An accent wall can completely change a room entirely," he said, adding that the quality of the lighting is just as important and can make a big difference in a facility.

The following article highlights the trends in multipurpose facility design today, including senior and multigenerational components, and a rundown of some of the latest and greatest multipurpose projects.

Senior, Multigenerational Focus

One of the trends in multipurpose facilities puts the focus on seniors and baby boomers.

Seniors "Having their own entrance [in a multipurpose facility] is the most important thing," Springs said. "They have their own space. They have their own territory."

You "need to be able to go in and out of a space without going to another space and rec center. And, depending on how the fee structure works, it can be a challenge," Springs said. "Architecturally, from a design standpoint, when you are going from one space to another, the signage or look and feel [is important], realizing that you are going into a different space."

Besides that, furniture choice is important, too.

"[It can make] the biggest difference … making sure that it's senior-friendly. Such essentials as lounge space furniture, subtle things where you don't want to have chairs with wheels to accidentally roll away from them," Springs said. And, "It's all about the efficiency … as simple as the firmness of your lounge seating and chairs. For seniors, it has to be easier to get in and out of. It has to be hygienic, but not have that sterile or institutional feel."

The impact of baby boomers is yet another influence on new multipurpose facilities. "We did a senior center that billed itself as America's first baby boomer center. I call it a rec center for grownups. That was a really interesting project," Springs said.

The facility, called The Summit in Central Park, Grand Prairie, Texas, designed for active adults 50 and older, is the first of its kind and dubbed the first "baby boomer center."

The facility accommodates the programming needs of those over age 50, combining activities typical to traditional senior centers with fitness and entertainment—with an indoor leisure pool, spa, walking track, theater and ballrooms located on a lakeside boardwalk as just some of the facility's highlights.

"The center is reconceived, rather, as a facility for two generations, instead of one—for both baby boomers and seniors," he said.