Feature Article - May 2016
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Design Your Niche

Designing Facilities for Fitness Niches

By Chris Gelbach

Flexibility Plus Function

Creating spaces that are flexible in an era of increasing specialization is becoming more difficult. But new technologies and products are helping to address this challenge. Among these considerations for multipurpose spaces is the importance of including as much temperature and lighting control as possible to provide a wider range of dimming and cooling options. Also critical is including the power, data and wireless capabilities that might be needed for any future use.

McKenna recommends going further in facility design to consider the structure of the building itself. She noted that this is often an issue in converting old racquetball courts, since building columns were often placed between the courts. In removing the courts, the columns often had to remain, preventing the space from being as efficient and effective as possible.

"So now when we're designing systems, we're thinking about, 'What if in five or 10 or 20 years from now this all becomes more fitness space?' What walls can come down? Where do we put more structure? Where do we put the infrastructure to be able to adapt to different activities that come and go?'" McKenna said.

More wide-open spaces can provide this flexibility inherently, while also providing security benefits. "The one thing we like to talk about with our clients is transparency," Larson said. "To be able to see and even hear what's going on in the facility. And that provides a higher level of security in the building as well." A notable example can be found at the University of Alabama, where glass dashers are incorporated in the multipurpose activity courts.

More versatile products are additionally enabling greater flexibility within single spaces. Fabiano noted the example of more versatile flooring products, such as the use of synthetic rubber that looks like wood in a group fitness studio. "That can give you the performance to do other things, like have kids' programming in there," Fabiano said.

Vorhees noted the example of other products such as technologies that allow a volleyball net to come down on a court at the touch of a button, or mat rooms with tracks overhead that allow a user to pull a whole chain of heavy bags out of a closet, or put them back in to use the room for something else. "A lot of the equipment is becoming more flexible and adaptable for helping facility operators create more flexible, more multiuse and more operationally efficient spaces," Vorhees said.

In athletic training areas, Poirier is seeing facilities provide more flexibility through the use of features such as recessed slide boards placed into the floor that can be covered by rubber mats when they're not in use. Additional space is also being created through the use of wall-mounted racks and storage areas for items like stability balls that are mounted high up on the wall so they don't impede on the work area.

According to Fabiano, many operators don't want to devote sufficient space to storage, but in terms of flexibility, it's often worth it. "Donating 10 percent of your square footage in that room is a hard pill to swallow for many operators because that's square footage they see being used for active activities," Fabiano said. "Nevertheless, I think it's critically important to give them that flexibility."

Through the right choice of products, and a thoughtful approach to design, facilities are finding ways to maintain their flexibility for future uses. They're also managing to provide the elevated experiences that today's facility users expect. These approaches are helping to turn members into enthusiasts, giving customers the experiences they want and providing the heightened revenue streams that facilities need.