Feature Article - January 2020
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Be Well

Multipurpose Recreation Centers Take a Broader Approach to Wellness

By Chris Gelbach

Today, recreation managers and the architects who design recreation and community centers are increasingly taking a broader view of their role in creating healthier, happier communities. As they do, they are also creating multipurpose facilities and programs that help people address more aspects of wellness than ever before.

"We're finding a real upsurge in community centers, YMCAs, collegiate centers and hospital-based health and wellness centers beginning to tailor services toward other dimensions of wellness beyond just the physical," said Robert McDonald, CEO and architect for OLC (Ohlson Lavoie Corporation), an international architecture firm headquartered in Denver.

Within the recreation industry, these broader perspectives on wellness are becoming more commonplace—though everyone's definition of wellness may still be a bit different.

The NIRSA Model for Healthy People and Communities identifies eight aspects of wellness, including physical, social, spiritual, environmental, financial, occupational, psychological and intellectual wellness.

"We think that a lot of our work can really have a major influence on four of those facets directly and then the other four tangentially," said Kevin Armstrong, a principal at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture (BRS), an architecture firm based in Denver with an additional office in Dallas. "Obviously the facets we can hit the most are in terms of physical, social, emotional and environmental wellness. But we really think that we are tying into the other four through our work and our design."

Health and wellness is also one of the three pillars of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The organization's Position Statement on the Role of Parks and Recreation on Health and Wellness identifies the role that public park and recreation agencies can play in:

>> Helping reduce obesity and chronic disease through opportunities for physical activity.

>> Providing connections to nature that relieve stress and improve interpersonal relationships and mental health.

>> Helping to reduce hunger and increase access to nutritious food.

>> Boosting overall wellness and healthy habits such as tobacco cessation and providing life-enriching opportunities.

The reality is that a recreation or community center's ability to influence wellness may be limited only by the imagination in its programming and the ability of its staff and facility to execute those programs successfully.

Cooking Up Wellness

One major trend is toward facilities and programs that teach community members how to select and cook healthier foods. "We are seeing more demand not just in the senior but even in traditional community centers toward nutrition programming and having teaching kitchens," said Stephen Springs, senior principal and architect for Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, an architectural firm headquartered in Dallas with additional offices in Houston and Waco.

Springs noted that the City of Fort Worth is now incorporating teaching kitchens into all of its new community centers. "It's part of their core programming, which is kind of unique," Springs said. The kitchens feature large prep tables with mirrors above them so that people can watch the food being prepared through the mirror or through the video. The spaces are also used as catering kitchens for events and are used by area social services programs to provide meal programs for the community.

Howard Blaisdell, associate principal and project manager for Moody Nolan, an architectural firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, with several other offices across the United States, has seen similar features in recent community center projects by his firm.

These are spurred by the acknowledgement that we as a nation need to be eating healthier, a reality hard to overcome when it's so affordable and convenient to eat fast and processed foods. "We really need to be encouraging people to be able to cook and eat healthy foods," Blaisdell said. "And when we look at that, we're looking at how we can teach people to make things that are quick, easy, convenient and still healthy."