Feature Article - May 2015
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Lean & Green

Trends in Sports Facility Design

By Dawn Klingensmith


Roll Out the Green Carpet

Green space can be hard to come by in dense urban areas, but Philadelphia gained some green when the University of Pennsylvania completed Penn Park, featuring a stadium, athletic fields, tennis courts, jogging paths, trees and open space. University president Amy Gutmann called it a "beautiful, sustainable, green oasis."

"It also functions as a public park and a front door to the campus," making a positive first impression, said landscape artist David Nardone, a principal at the design firm Stantec.

One challenge was the limited size of the space, hemmed in by a railway, highway and other urban features. "It was complex getting everything in there," Nardone said. "You'll always have pinch points when dealing with tight spaces," but Penn Park does not feel cramped or crowded.

Nardone attributes the sense of openness to a "very organized" layout.

Indeed, the university's website describes the space as "a fabric of tightly interwoven recreation and athletic components," with formal and informal playing fields "framed and subdivided by patches of canopy trees extending the familiar landscape of the campus."

Stantec "selected appropriate materials and surfaces to provide NCAA-quality facilities that will withstand heavy use as an urban park open to and heavily used by the public," a company case study says.

That means synthetic turf for the athletic fields, but the runoff is collected and used to irrigate the natural turf and landscaping.

On the whole, the 24-acre park manages to "fully integrate the facilities into the intimate scale of a park setting," according to Stantec.

Steve Bilsky, the university's director of athletics, believes the $46.5 million project will benefit the athletic programs by magnetizing people to its facilities.

A Not-So-Square Deal

Cherry Gulch boarding school for boys is located in Idaho's Treasure Valley, but that doesn't translate to beaucoup riches. When school officials determined that an indoor gymnasium was necessary to expand recreational activity programs for the students, they were undeterred by their limited budget. And while just about anything was an improvement over the outdoor basketball court they had been using for every program, they weren't about to settle.

They didn't have to. After researching economical options, they decided on a tension-fabric, truss arch structure measuring 65 feet wide and 100 feet long.

The new gymnasium's arched shape fits with the hilly surroundings and offers some advantages over traditional, square buildings. The fabric lets in natural sunlight. There are no interior columns or supports to interfere with activities, and its ample size makes possible a wide array of sports.

Most important for the school, though, is the relatively low cost for this type of building. Materials and labor are cheaper, and the brand that Cherry Gulch chose has a proprietary anchoring system allowing for minimal excavation and even quicker installation of the structure.

"We selected [it] because of the combination of low cost and quality," program manager Kahn Borge confirmed in a case study.

Though Cherry Gulch didn't list looks as a driving factor, said company spokesman Zack Hummel, "the school is in such a pristine, untouched part of the country, they wouldn't want a structure that ruins the feel and mood that they want to exude at this getaway boarding school."