Feature Article - September 2019
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Looking Back, Moving Forward

Celebrating 20 Years of Recreation, Sports & Fitness

By Dave Ramont


Caron pointed out that mechanical and chemical systems for pools are much more complex and efficient than their counterparts from 20 years ago. "Automation, remote monitoring and increased efficiencies are the main results of the industry's efforts to provide safe and reliable systems that are easy to maintain and cost less to operate."

Post agrees that technologies are ever-changing now with regard to mechanical systems and chemicals. "Twenty years ago there was not a lot of research focused on aquatics."

Pools have become more sustainable as well. "Manufacturers have improved the efficiency of their equipment. Innovations have led to pool systems that use less water, less fossil fuels and last longer," said Caron, adding that updated laws, codes and regulations have also driven change.

In 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB) was put in place, requiring all drain covers to meet new standards. Pool lifts are now the norm, and ADA-compliant pool access is required. And while this has resulted in safer and more accessible facilities, Caron feels that "we should be striving for truly universal access in excess of what ADA requires."

In recent years, many community groups, nonprofits and local coalitions have pushed to provide swim lessons for all populations, regardless of income, neighborhood or ethnicity. Organizations such as the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), USA Swimming and the American Red Cross and YMCA have all initiated learn-to-swim campaigns. Additionally, more facilities are making U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets available to non-swimmers.

Multipurpose Spaces for Recreation, Sports & Fitness

When it comes to designing collegiate and community recreation spaces, much evolution has taken place in 20 years. "Wellness is on the mind of almost every collegiate recreation administrator," said Colleen McKenna, director of CannonDesign's Sports, Recreation and Wellness practice. She says the definition of wellness has evolved to encompass a much more holistic view of mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. "Today's students are more empowered than ever to track their activity levels, heart rates and stress indicators."

McKenna said institutions are motivated now to move beyond just the physical aspects and create centers to help students achieve more holistic wellness, citing Virginia Tech's War Memorial Hall project as an institution integrating recreation and wellness. Set to open in 2021, the facility will unite the university's School of Education, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise, Hokie Wellness and Recreational Sports under a single roof. Basketball courts and weight and cardio spaces will mix with nutritional kitchens, relaxation spaces, touch-down counseling spaces and more.

Eric Einhorn, vice president and Washington D.C. sports market leader for CannonDesign said that multidisciplinary integration is a current trend, with regard to college sports facilities. He points out that when institutions compete for top-tier athletes, a lot of focus is given to scholarships and innovative training and competition facilities that house jaw-dropping amenities. "However, increased focus on human performance, academic success and student-athlete health and safety is driving important shifts in facility development."

Einhorn described the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, a state-of-the-art football practice facility that surrounds traditional practice facility elements with unique complementary spaces, including the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance; the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and the Orthopedic Clinical Treatment Center. "By blending academics, entrepreneurship, health sciences, care delivery and more, the dynamic building serves multiple purposes for athletes and coaches, as well as the campus and community."

Another focus of campus recreation departments is evolving their facilities to become more inclusive, according to Jenny Delgado, a senior vice president at CannonDesign. "We're seeing new design opportunities like gender-neutral restrooms and locker facilities. We're also seeing recreation departments introduce international sports like cricket and digital tech like e-sports to engage as much of the student population as possible." Delgado also sees a rise in programming for individuals with cognitive, physical and sensory disabilities, helping them to achieve greater functional independence.

Inclusivity has also become a focus in community recreation design, according to Kevin Armstrong, associate and project manager specializing in recreation design at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture. "Creating inviting and welcoming spaces for all is now fundamental in the design of these facilities."

Armstrong said that over the past two decades there's also been an emphasis on diversifying the program options available to patrons of these facilities. "Gone are the days of the single-use space, gymnasium or pool. Amplifying facilities to be adaptable for multiple uses with flexibility in mind has become key in the design of high-functioning facilities."