Feature Article - January 2020
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Expanding Possibilities

Designing Spaces for High School Athletes & Fans

By Joe Bush


Scott Klaus, a design architect with Stantec, said the two principles—theme and LED use—can be combined. His firm has been building facilities in Texas for use by multiple schools, and to make each school's gameday usage special, lights are combined with color tailored to the home team's colors.

Klaus said the multi-school facilities are meant to serve school districts who pool money to have a much nicer facility together than they would alone. While his firm has designed a $70 million high school stadium that has hosted Division II college playoffs, that's an outlier. There are simple ways to save money, he said, starting with reducing the number of seats.

Depending on the jurisdiction's policies, capacity numbers reach a threshold that triggers requirements for plumbing and parking, said Klaus. Keeping seat totals below those thresholds can save on plumbing and parking costs. Also, concrete seating costs more than aluminum.

"We really like to get involved before budgets are set so we can help them establish a good budget based on their desires," said Klaus.

The multipurpose buildings Klaus designs include athletic space for games, practices, locker rooms, meeting rooms and coaches' offices, and also space for community events such as fundraisers, board meetings, banquets, weddings, concerts, graduations and birthday parties. Klaus said education is becoming an attractive use for the spaces as well, and part of the pitch.

Career technology examples in buildings Klaus has helped design include sports medicine, kinesiology and athletic training, and using press boxes, radio and video broadcasting.

"Not everybody's going to college," said Klaus. "We do a lot of career technology centers and really thinking about the integration of those different career paths with these facilities. As these facilities become more like classrooms and less like sports facilities, they can become more multipurpose and add more value to the community."

Two-story press boxes serve not only their main function but just like at the higher levels of athletics can provide revenue with seating and functions on non-gamedays, Klaus said.

Klaus said another trend he's seeing with non-gameday facilities is underground rooms. Because there is less space available for building footprint, locker rooms and weight rooms can be located under gyms.

David Larson, senior vice president at TMP Architecture, said gyms are not just considered auxiliary activities to the more important academic activities going on, they are integral parts of an academic career. Though it's romantic and nostalgic to want a basketball gym similar to the one in the movie Hoosiers—small, with the home crowd close and influential to the action—those spaces are not much use for other activities.

"There are a lot of coaches and a lot of districts out there that want that, but they also want it to function as a multi-use space," Larson said. "They also want to have assemblies and band concerts and college night. The older gyms didn't do other things well. If you make it perfect for basketball but not other things, I'm not sure that's a good value at the high school level."

Larson said to be more welcoming, there should be as much natural light as possible. The acoustics should be maximized with materials like Tectum and acoustical banners made of fiberglass. This cuts down on echo and ensures that non-sporting events can use the sound system as well, he said.

"The goal is to reduce the reflection of sounds around the space," Larson said. "The reflection causes it to sound loud and muddy, and the (public address system) becomes unintelligible."

Sustainability is a priority, Larson said, and that begins with the materials used. For gyms, one of the most recognizable and central is the floor—wood or synthetic? Larson likes maple flooring harvested in a managed forest, for instance.

"It's the great debate, and there's a lot of subjectivity involved," he said. "Maple floors are like forever floors. You can refinish it and it will last many years. Synthetics are great but they will show wear patterns and are harder to refinish. Unless you go to the expense of putting a suspended substructure under synthetics, you're not going to get as much cushioning.

"You might as well buy the wood. If the rebound of the ball is important to you and if the preservation of your legs is important to you, you want a cushioned floor and you can accomplish that with wood material or a manmade material, but you will spend as much for (synthetic) as you would for wood, so go wood. It's a 50-year floor."

Other ways to save energy and money are in the materials, too, said Larson. Robust insulation and glass that has evolved with specialized coatings and inert gas between panels are the norm today.

McKee said the most significant change he's seen in the past couple of decades is with fitness for athletes. The days of only weight training and sprinting are well past, he said, in favor of multiple training methods including high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Crossfit, plyometrics and stretching.

"Having flat floor space to do those types of conditioning is the biggest growth area we see in the design of strength and conditioning," McKee said. "Station to station work, box jumps, jump ropes."

Not only is the space used differently, it can change to suit the needs of different sports. Golfers don't train like soccer players, who don't train like volleyball players.

"We sit down and we customize strength and conditioning space based on the coaches' wishes and desires," said McKee. "There's lots of moving parts in today's high school athletics as more sports come online." RM