Feature Article - May 2021
Find a printable version here

The Community Experience

Engaging Multipurpose Designs Lead to Long-Term Rec Center Success

By Dave Ramont


"We're currently using Virtual Reality (VR) in our design work to help clients visualize their spaces, but the technology hasn't kept up with our imagination; clunky goggles and backpacks are still necessary," said Sullivan, citing VR as a potential trend and explaining that they see the technology advancing and being adapted for immersive fitness and recreation experiences. "Imagine playing basketball in your recreation center with friends, but VR lets your friends look like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and you'll be able to hear and see roaring crowds cheer for you when you score a basket."

Many rec centers are decades old and simply need a facelift. Hayes pointed out that accessibility standards have vastly improved, whereas previously halls and doors were skinnier, toilet stalls smaller, etc. "We've defined a new standard of care in that regard in the last 20 years; having more space, more amenities, a higher level of finish… people want a nice locker room."

The community recreation center in Broadview Heights, Ohio, was built in the 1960s and was in need of an update. Sited on a 67-acre campus, there was plenty of room to grow. Hayes' firm worked with the city and citizens on a feasibility study and design for expansion and renovation, which utilized most of the former structure. "We had a community volunteer group that helped with the levy campaign and a specific individual that was part of the design process that represented the community," said Director of Parks and Recreation Amanda Hutcheson. The new facility opened in late 2018, and Hutcheson reported that the community is very happy to have the new amenities. "In January 2020 we peaked at over 6,000 memberships."

Hutcheson described some of the upgrades, including a popular walking/jogging track that seniors and moms with strollers love in the winter. "In the old facility they walked in the basement; now they have large windows and can see outside and look at the pool and fitness center." Capacity in the fitness space has doubled. "We also have a loft above the main fitness floor that has equipment as well. They get to look out over the campus with floor-to-ceiling windows. We have a new locker room for men and women and four family cabanas and extra lockers. We have swimsuit dryers in those areas as well. We added two new restrooms just outside the new gymnasiums."

Two new party rooms host pool parties, baby showers, city and staff meetings, in-services and classes, according to Hutcheson. "We can have two rooms of 25 or open it up to accommodate 50. We have sinks, TVs, cabinets and refrigerators in those rooms." Lobbies and lounges have become a bigger focus in recent years, offering spaces for community interaction, and Hutcheson described a lobby when entering their new facility and a lounge area on the main level with tables and chairs, a TV and vending. "Our seniors like this area. The lower-level lounge has a TV and games like foosball, ping pong and games with prizes in them, as well as seating for the kids. Our purpose was to have the open concept and to see into all areas from where you are at. We went with modern colors—gray, blue and whites—and high ceilings with an industrial look and a lot of windows to bring the outside in."

"We've found that part of sustainability is having a connection with the outdoors," said Hayes, "so natural light is good. It provides security, provides an idea of the activity going on inside; it's a great advertisement."

Sullivan agreed that the appearance of a bright, active, transparent building is more desirable. "Our projects tend to bring the outside in whenever possible, like the new Human Performance Center at Dixie State University (St. George, Utah), which has exterior CrossFit decks and a rooftop recreation deck with a running track connected on two levels that is half indoors and half open to the Utah sunshine."

Blaisdell and Cochran pointed to data showing universal connectivity of humans to the natural and built environment. "Access to daylight and fresh air can reduce stress, improve well-being and perhaps promote a restorative response. The challenge of design professionals is balancing access to daylight with the programmed needs of the space and the overall performance of the building from an energy standpoint."

They also pointed out that rec centers are heavily used in the evenings. "Designing the building to appear warm and inviting at night is a key issue with making people feel safe coming to the center and draws their attention to the building."

Developing environmentally sensitive facilities continues to be a bigger priority for both clients and patrons, according to Sullivan. "Especially on college campuses where the next generation is very aware of the earth they are inheriting as they become adults, designing sustainably is the least we can do to contribute to an atmosphere of stewardship for their communities." He described their Sumers Recreation Center project at Washington University in St. Louis, which was certified LEED Platinum. "The site of the 1904 Olympics, the historic structure was repurposed into a modern amenity for students and staff, and incorporates sustainable features including a rooftop photovoltaic array which contributed to a 55% reduction in energy use, a 37% reduction in water use achieved through low-flow fixtures, and an in-ground water retention system to capture and slow water runoff. High-volume low-velocity fans help cool the indoor air and reduce air conditioning usage."

Blaisdell and Cochran pointed out that local municipalities continue to have more stringent sustainability requirements. "There are increasingly more user-friendly tools to support sustainable design. A current trend is adaptability for our designs: How do they respond to the developing changes to the environment? This includes how they address water in areas becoming wetter, heat in areas becoming warmer and protecting the building in areas subject to more severe storms to provide resiliency."