Feature Article - May 2021
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The Community Experience

Engaging Multipurpose Designs Lead to Long-Term Rec Center Success

By Dave Ramont

Hayes discussed meeting with a recent client focus group that really wanted a lounge in their facility with tables and chairs. They felt that between lessons, basketball leagues and other activities, grabbing a pizza at the rec center might be the best opportunity for a family dinner on some nights. "So it's rising to the occasion and figuring out how the community center can fill some of those gaps as our lifestyles get so busy." And Hayes reiterated that part of a successful business plan is offering that variety of activities for families, so maybe your wife takes a dance class while you're in a spinning session. Or mom does a workout while her child takes a swim lesson.

Speaking of swimming, aquatics have long been cornerstones for many community—and college—rec centers. "But now, people are expecting more out of the pools," said Hayes. "Warmer water, leisure water, water with zero-depth entry where kids can be comfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, being able to provide water walking and water exercise, having a current channel for example for therapy activities. Just providing these pools with social amenities is a huge deal for communities."

"Aquatics is a great way to attract patrons," agreed Sullivan, "especially in cold-weather locations that only have four months of swim time." However, he cautioned that the realities of maintaining and managing indoor pools often makes the inclusion of these spaces the most important decision a planning committee can make. "I believe that the percentage of projects with or without a pool has not changed much in the past 20 years, but the kinds of components have: Zip lines, climbing walls, drop slides, spray parks and leisure components are more the rule than the exception."

Blaisdell and Cochran added that hybrid pools are popular—maximizing flexibility with simpler configurations and water depth. "Spas are still heavily utilized. Programming has always been important for senior water aerobics, family play areas, learn-to-swim and exercise. We're seeing portable amenities being added to pools and lap lanes that may be fun elements or challenge courses to engage older kids and teens."

At the new Broadview Heights Recreation Center, Hutcheson said they now have many additional aquatics amenities including a large slide and other play features, a rock wall and basketball hoops. "We offer group swim lessons, semi and private swim lessons, a swim team, group exercise classes, SilverSneakers classes, and the Cleveland Clinic uses the pool for patients for aquatics therapy. We have a lazy river that is popular with all ages."

Sullivan believes COVID has changed—and will continue to change—some aspects of recreation facility design. "No-touch features like sliding doors and bathroom fixtures or mechanical improvements like ceiling fans with air-cleaning features, or the use of high-quality air filters are all lower-cost solutions that I think will remain. I find that our facilities that already connect to exterior amenities will increasingly be the standard for collegiate, community and even private fitness and wellness facilities."

"The truth is that the obvious issues that the pandemic brought attention to are not new to the rec community," said Blaisdell and Cochran. "Indoor air quality, safety, cleanliness and flexibility to adapt to evolving circumstances—these have been design considerations for some time. What has in many instances been less obvious is that COVID has exposed disparities in health and wellness, which are driven by social detriments."

They pointed out that if you live in a food desert or you don't have access to programs and services that focus on health and wellness, then that's a real problem. On the plus side, they are seeing community rec projects that have made inclusivity and equity a priority. "We're seeing partnerships with healthcare providers, food providers and community organizations to expand programming to address these needs. You are starting to see how important community rec projects are to mending a broken system."

"The pandemic has also taught us how important socialization is to everyone," added Blaisdell and Cochran. "Creating these physical and social connections is just as important as the physical benefits of exercise."

Back in Ohio, Hutcheson explained how they've been slowly rolling things out and adding more offerings. She doesn't see much in the way of change necessarily, though they look to improve all facets of their new facility to serve their members as best they can. "Our goal this year is to get back to normal and help our members live a healthy life with numerous opportunities." RM