Feature Article - January 2020
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Be Well

Multipurpose Recreation Centers Take a Broader Approach to Wellness

By Chris Gelbach


A Multigenerational Approach

Community is also fostered by facilities that take an intergenerational approach and appeal to all ages and demographics within the local population. Multipurpose spaces that can adapt for different programming are critical, and elements like storage play an important role in making it possible.

"We have some spaces where we have cabinets on the walls, where during the mornings, some of the cabinets are open for the senior programs," Blaisdell said. "They close everything, put everything away at 3 o'clock, you open up a separate set of cabinets for the afternoon kids' programs. You close that up, you get cabinets that open up for the adult evening programs."

A multigenerational approach also creates an emphasis on wellness almost by default. "If you've got a multi-gen center where you've got a senior component as part of it, I think there's a natural inclination to have some programming that's more wellness-focused because that's definitely a driver in the senior market," Springs said.

And this driver is leading to trends like increased use of therapy water to serve the senior market while still, through effective design, providing program opportunities for other demographics.

Bisek noted the example of a recent facility in Hobbes, N.M., called CORE (the Center of Recreational Excellence) that incorporated a warmer-water wellness pool that's used in the morning for senior workouts and therapy. Later in the day, it's used for youth swimming lessons, since some young children are turned off by colder-water pools.

"And then later in the day because of the therapy jets and the design concept with a large video screen wall … it turns into a space where teens and adults can relax and just have conversations almost like a hot tub atmosphere," Bisek said.

The space also follows the example of effective multiuse group exercise spaces in its attention to detail to acoustics and flexible lighting that includes bright lighting for seniors in the morning and ambient lighting on the pool sidewalls for evening activities.

Flexibility in terms of variety of spaces is also important to create a sense of community and create an environment that is welcoming to different personality types. "Some people really like being out in the middle of everything … other people may want more of a private environment," Armstrong said. For this reason, Armstrong noted the importance of providing smaller and larger gathering spaces and a diversity of lounge areas that includes ones in the middle of everything and others that are more tucked away and private.

Designing for Wellness Providers

As architects see more requests for things like massage therapy spaces, they are also working on more projects that incorporate wellness and medical offices. These often feature their own entrances and lobby areas.

"If you do have some wellness offerings, they may be open to just the general public," McDonald said. "And so placing those components outside of your control point is very important so you're not mixing credentialed members with nonmembers."

At the same time, just making the effort to put these spaces within a larger recreational or community center can also help destigmatize the provision of these services. Blaisdell noted that that was an explicit aim of a recreation center project he worked on several years ago for Butler University. The center combined health and wellness services into the same building and used the same main entrance but turned down a separate corridor for the wellness services such as medical and counseling clinics.

"They wanted to put those services in the main building and have information about them along the main concourse as you walk through the main building to destigmatize and normalize them and make people feel better about it," Blaisdell said.

For the Linden facility, the design features not only a partner space for local Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs, but also a space out front of the facility that mobile health providers such as mammography trucks and bloodmobiles can plug into.

Paying attention to good acoustics is another way to provide greater flexibility in spaces that potentially could be used for group sessions or counseling as well as regular programming that may not require as much sound protection.

Flexibility for the Future

In the end, attention to these and other issues enable the design and execution of flexible spaces that can work effectively for multiple purposes and demographics without being too specialized.

"You can design a space that has good acoustics, flexible partition systems and flooring system that might be in the midrange and can accommodate two or three purposes at moderate levels," Bisek said. "The space may not look like something you're going to put in a high-design architectural magazine. But from a user standpoint, it can allow better use of different programs and allow that space to flex over time."

As wellness continues to expand as a priority for recreation and community centers, the forms it takes are sure to keep evolving into the future. "You really need a lot of flexibility in rec centers because it's inherently trendy and I don't think wellness is a trend—I think it's here to stay," Springs said. "But what is considered a wellness program today and tomorrow could very well be different programs." RM