Feature Article - May 2017
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Space For Fun & Wellness

12 Trends in Multipurpose Design

By Chris Gelbach

#10: Creativity in Creating Destination Facilities

As some community centers strive to compete with nearby communities in the scale and breadth of their recreation offerings, others are taking a more strategic look at how they can create a unique offering that serves residents while also attracting visitors from afar.

The City of Glendale, Colo., took this latter approach with its Infinity Park, which includes a 4,000-seat rugby stadium that helps position the community as a premier national setting for rugby events. The stadium is also used for community events, and the field's jumbo screen is used on Monday nights in the summer for free outdoor movies.

Revenues from the rugby operations also help subsidize local residents' memberships at the complex's Sports Center. "If you're a resident, it's a great thing to have even if you're not interested in the rugby or the events going on," Visani said. "Revenue-wise, it has just helped the city tremendously." The destination rugby facility has become a major economic driver for the small community, which had a population of just over 4,000 residents as of the 2010 Census.

#11: A Focus on Sustainability Over Certification

Designers are also seeing clients becoming more interested in sustainable practices than ever before, from the use of non-VOC and recycled materials to the embrace of energy-efficient mechanical plumbing systems, low-flow toilet fixtures, and LED lighting and occupancy sensors to minimize lighting costs. They are also interested in providing informational signage to let visitors know about their sustainable practices. At the same time, however, they seem less interested in coughing up money for the LEED plaque on the wall.

"We've done upward of 25 to 30 LEED buildings, and I don't know the last one we've done," Russeau said. "It seems like it's falling off, specifically with rec centers and YMCAs. It's a pretty difficult certification [for these facilities] because there's so much water use, so much load, big spaces with lighting requirements and other considerations like that."

That being said, Russeau cautions that certification does require facilities to commit to commissioning that verifies energy savings, something that makes it more than just a checklist of green features. "You can put in all the recyclable materials you want, but if you're not tracking the energy performance of the building, it's really not LEED-like at all."

Even as clients are seeking certification less often, they're often implementing sustainable practices that have traditionally been uncommon in the market, such as geothermal systems for mechanical. And at the Sammamish Community YMCA, Barker Rinker Seacat recently implemented its first system to recycle stormwater off the roof, which is run through a filter system and used to flush toilets.

#12: An Emphasis on Inclusion

In some instances, YMCAs and community centers are also serving as innovative experiments in inclusive design. One notable example is the recently opened Mary Free Bed YMCA in Grand Rapids, Mich. It is the first YMCA to be certified for its adoption of Universal Design Standards. Among the design's notable features are:

  • A campus designed to eliminate steps, curbs and other obstacles to encourage ease of movement and physical activity.
  • Designated parking beside all major sports fields to reduce the distance between parking and playing.
  • High-contrast lighting and color schemes and larger font sizes to assist people with visual impairments.
  • A comprehensive signage and wayfinding system.
  • Special locker rooms with fully accessible changing tables for individuals and family members with limited mobility.
  • Hearing aid loops throughout the building for individuals with hearing impairments.
  • A wheelchair softball field and preferred gymnasium programming for wheelchair sports.
  • An accessible greenhouse, teaching kitchen and outdoor garden that promotes nutrition education for all.
  • A fully accessible playground for kids and families.

According to Danise Levine, an architect and the assistant director of the IDeA Center at the University of Buffalo who worked on the design, many people have misconceptions about inclusive design that have slowed its adoption, including the myth that it's expensive.

"Many people incorrectly assume that universally designed products are more expensive and, therefore, need to be specially ordered," Levine said. "It's actually quite the contrary."

According to Levine, many universal design features can be included at no additional cost, especially if they are planned from the beginning. Others may slightly increase the cost, but can provide benefits in overall value and usability that exceed their expense.

"Universal design is an inclusive approach that increases the usability of buildings for everyone," Levine said. "It does this by going beyond just differences in physical ability and taking into consideration other issues such as differences in age, stature, intellectual ability, the way people think and the way they perceive things. In a community building like the YMCA, where diversity is valued and celebrated, a universal design approach just makes sense."

Through universal design, a more welcoming approach to outsiders that includes lounge areas, greater attention to comfort in spaces throughout the facility, and a greater array of class offerings, the latest designs are helping multipurpose recreation facilities fulfill their promise. Their features are working to bring more people together, to entice them to stay longer, and to teach them the skills to become healthier. As a result, these features are helping community rec centers and YMCAs more fully accomplish their mission of building healthier, closer communities.